“Rise and fall with the leg on the wall.” Many riders who went through Pony Club learned this ditty for remembering their posting diagonals. But why does it matter which posting diagonal we use? There are plenty of riders who have no idea which diagonal they are on, and their horses seem happy. So what difference does the posting diagonal make?
The posting trot formally came about in the 19th century. Early critics said that only bad riders posted the trot because they couldn’t sit it. However, it has now been thoroughly adopted in all English disciplines. If it was only something for “bad” riders, how could it have become so widely accepted? There are a few trainers that look down on the rising trot, but by and large, it has been accepted in dressage and other disciplines. Many old treatises do not go into great depth on the posting trot, but individual classical masters used its benefits to their advantage when training the horse.
What makes the “Right” Diagonal Right?
Most riders have learned to accept that the “right” diagonal is right without really understanding it. However, there is method to the madness. When you rise and sit as the outside shoulder goes forward and back, your seat is landing in the saddle as the outside front foot and inside hind foot land on the ground. This adds weight to the inner hind, which is the hind leg that we’re trying to strengthen and bring under the horse’s center of gravity. The inside hind leg carries the horse through turns and corners, preparing for collection. Like everything in classical dressage, everything is preparation for an advanced movement, even posting trot! If you ride equally in both directions, theoretically both hind legs will be strengthened equally. If you post on the “wrong” diagonal through the turns, you are putting more weight on the thrusting leg, which can unbalance the horse.
But is there ever an application for the “wrong” posting diagonal?
There are a few classical trainers who use both the “right” and “wrong” posting diagonals for further developing the horse. These recognize how the different diagonals influence the way the horse carries itself. They also try not to stay on the same posting diagonal for a long period of time without a reason. The posting trot is treated like shallow single-leg squats. If it takes your horse 65 strides to go around the arena, your horse is making 65 single leg squats! While we want to strengthen the horse’s hind legs, we also want to be fair to our horses. So, we can either alternate directions regularly to switch legs, or we can alternate posting diagonals every so often. This is especially helpful on the trail or on endurance rides. Some endurance riders will change posting diagonal regularly, such as every 10 strides, in order to work the hind legs more evenly.
It is very interesting to see a horse’s response to this kind of work. Some horses I’ve ridden have felt so unbalanced that they almost felt lame! Within a few weeks, the horses feel amazingly stronger and more balanced. You need to be careful that you don’t do to much of this work on curved lines without supervision, as your horse may compensate instead of work in more balance.
Challenges with the Seat
Many riders struggle with their seat in the rising trot. Some feel like they’re sitting too heavy when they land, while others get tired quickly. Many problems riders struggle with in the rising trot can be solved by not relying on the stirrup for the “up” phase. Relaxing the ankles and keeping the toes light in the stirrups allows for the seat to stretch and coil more easily, flowing with the horse instead of working so hard to “stand and sit.” Allow the horse’s movement to bounce the seat up and absorb the landing of the seat with elastic, supple legs. Posting the trot without stirrups is a great way to achieve this feel.
While the rising or posting trot seems so easy and straightforward, it is obviously much more complicated! However, understanding this basic movement, how to use it in schooking the horse, and getting rid of any physical blocks can help you use this basic movment as a building block for later stages in training.