How to Recognize the Correct Diagonal at the Trot

Teenage girl riding horse
Even on trail, changing diagonals when you trot for a long time is a good idea. Johner Images / Getty Images

While you are learning to ride at a trot, you may be told to pay attention to your diagonals. Diagonals are important when working in a circle, or in an arena. If you are riding in an equitation class in a show, whether or not you are on the correct diagonal will matter to your overall performance. Diagonals may also matter to your horse. A horse can learn to recognize the rider’s diagonal as part of the cue to canter or lope. If you’re riding a sitting trot, diagonals won’t come into play. They only matter when you are posting the trot. You might not think they matter when you’re out pleasure riding, but they do. If you always ride on one diagonal, over time, your horse might start traveling crooked, and could even become stiff or lame on that side.

How to Recognize You're on the Wrong Diagonal

Recognizing when you are not on the right diagonal can be tricky when you first learn to ride. Understanding how and why to ride diagonals at the trot can be very confusing. There’s a lot to remember as you try to lift out of the saddle, keep your ​legs steady and your hands still. Try to remember that you will be rising out of the saddle as the outside front leg is reaching forward. Lower your eyes and use your peripheral vision to check the motion of the outside shoulder. Don’t look down by tipping your head as this will put you off balance. You will learn to feel when the outside shoulder is forward. Try listening for the footfalls too. Eventually, you will develop a feel for the stride pattern of your horse and posting on the correct diagonal will come naturally. This takes practice, but it’s all part of learning to ride by feel.

Horses Can Throw You Off

Some horses chronically throw you off the correct right diagonal. This means they could use some training to learn to travel straighter and may even need some chiropractic help. On these horses, you may find you’ll need to check your diagonal more often as you can slip onto the wrong diagonal without noticing. You’ll probably find you favor a particular diagonal too. If your horse favors the opposite, you’ll balance each other out. But if you both favor the same side, working on the opposite diagonal can feel very awkward until you get things sorted out.

Helpful Tips

A helpful way to remember what leg you should be posting on is to repeat to yourself 'rise and fall with the leg on the wall'. The leg you will be rising with is the front leg, the one on the wall or fence side of the ring or arena. Out on the trail, try to remember to change diagonals every once and a while. This will help your horse.

With practice, getting the right diagonal will become easier, and more automatic. So don’t be discouraged if you often hear your instructor say "wrong diagonal." Just sit those two ‘bumps’ and you will be back on the correct diagonal.