Posting to the Diagonal
If you watch more advanced riders, you'll notice that when riding around a ring they always rise to the
trot when a particular pair of the horse's legs moves forward. When the horse's outside shoulder
moves forward, they rise, and as the inside shoulder moves forward, they sit.
A lot of instructors focus on teaching diagonals. That's because anyone who will eventually participate
in horse shows needs to know how to ride to the correct diagonal. And at higher levels of riding, which
include intricate circle patterns, riding on the correct diagonal not only increases your comfort, but also
is important to the balance of the horse.
However, I think instructors spend too much time teaching diagonals. Most beginning students have to
look down to match their post to the outside shoulder when they should instead pay attention to where
they're going. So why am I even mentioning diagonals? At some point, your instructor probably will
want you to learn them.
Master the posting trot before you attempt to post to the correct diagonal. Ideally, you'll be able to feel
when the horse's outside shoulder moves forward and you won't have to look down. Unfortunately, it's
unlikely you'll be able to do that soon. So when you do look down, try to make it a quick glance -- just
the second or two it takes for you to see the outside shoulder move. If you discover you're on the
incorrect diagonal, simply sit down for an odd number of bounces, which will put you on the correct
Once you're in tune with your horse and posting on the correct diagonal, don't look down again, unless
you accidentally sit an extra bounce or the horse missteps and throws off your rhythm. If that happens,
once again glance down just enough to catch that forward outside shoulder motion, and then refocus
on where you're going. Otherwise, you might never get there.
The safety section in lesson 1 focused on your behavior around horses. But to stay safe, you also
need to recognize when a horse shows warning signs of impending trouble.
His ears are laid back on his head. This could be described as making an ugly face. It's definitely not
pretty. The horse looks fierce, and he means to. If you're leading a horse and he lays back his ears
and makes a face, calmly call to an instructor or some other nearby experienced person for help.
In the meantime, keep control of the horse's head by holding the reins or lead rope about five or six
inches away from the horse's mouth; if the horse moves, a strong check is in order. Be sure to stand
at the horse's shoulder, not in front of him.
His tail swishes. Horses swish their tails to get rid of flies, but sharp, rapid swishes also can signal
irritation. You need to learn the difference. A horse grazing in a pasture on a hot summer day is most
likely trying to get rid of flies by swishing. If a mounted horse starts swishing his tail because the horse
and rider behind him are too close, look out. Chances are he's irritated. You're more likely to notice
this problem if you're the one on the second horse. Stay at least one horse length away from the
horse in front to avoid a possible kick.
If you're on the ground, remember never to walk up behind a horse, especially one that's swishing his
His eyes wider and the white around the iris shows. This usually indicates that the horse has been
surprised, is in distress, or is frightened. Calmly but immediately call out to the instructor.
His nostrils are flared and he's fidgeting and sweating. This indicates a very upset, nervous horse.
Ask for another horse or ask your instructor to ride the horse first to confirm that he's calm enough for
you to use in your lesson.
He turns his rump to you. This usually occurs in the stall. The horse doesn't want you to approach
him. Get someone with more experience to handle him.
Toby is a Draft Cross -- a cross between a Draft (a large horse bred to pull heavy loads) and
another, smaller breed. Although of average height, he's big boned and bulky, and his feet are
twice the usual size. He has a long, full black mane and tail, giving him a playful appearance, and
playful he is. In the field, he's silly. He likes to take the halters off other horses with his teeth. You'll
also find him rubbing his neck on trees a lot.
Especially sweet and docile with people, Toby provides a calm and steady mount. He proves that
you can't judge a horse's temperament by his size. He's patient with beginners and won't do
anything crazy, even if you make mistakes. But like many Draft Crosses, he has a well-deserved
reputation for laziness, which can present a challenge for riders. Toby can be stubborn and refuse
|You're on track if you can:
Trot your horse at a slow and a slightly faster speed.
Post to the trot.
Use a crop safely.
Coordinate your hand and leg aids more frequently.
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049