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Learn how to improve your balance so that you feel more secure when riding. This book is the second in this series and it shows you how to increase your balance. It contains 18 lessons for you to follow in your own time.

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Rising diagonals

Approximately ….words article


The subject of rising diagonals is a source of confusion for many riders, but it needn't be! It is very easy to understand what they are, why it is important that you understand them and how you should ride them, when the subject is explained properly. This article will help you with all of the above with the added use of diagrams to aid your understanding.

If you have not read it already, read the first section of the book Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance -The Gaits - Trot (free, follow the link). This will help you to understand exactly what is going on when a horse trots.

In a nutshell, when a horse trots, they are ‘jumping’ from one diagonally opposite pair of legs to the other diagonally opposite pair of legs. It is the upward ‘bounce’ caused by the horse jumping from one set of legs to the other that throws you upwards when trotting - and it is gravity that brings you back down again.

As a rider develops their skill they learn how to absorb this bouncing movement that is happening underneath them. They can either sit to it - ‘sitting trot’ - in this case their seat stays in the saddle and they absorb all of the upward and downward movement into their body, or they can rise to it - ‘rising trot’ - in this case they utilise the upwards bounce and the downwards pull of gravity to ‘bounce in time’ with the movement of the horse. In a good sitting and rising trot the rider’s balance, timing and use of muscles coordinate to absorb or utilise the movement that is happening underneath them (this is covered in detail in Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance). There is also a third way that you can ride the trot - standing trot - this is also covered in detail in the above book).

Rising on the correct diagonal

Remember the section ‘The gaits’ described trotting as a two beat gait that has a period of suspension between the two beats and that the horse’s back ‘bumps’ the rider upwards as the horse ‘jumps’ from one pair of diagonal footfalls to the other. This can make riding the trot quite difficult to do and most riders have room for improvement in terms of how they actually ride the trot. The following three sections will give you plenty of food for thought.

Make sure you read the HRM website article Rising diagonals. Even if you do not generally ride in circles you need to work the muscles on both sides of your horse’ s body equally. You do this by changing your rising diagonal in rising trot.

When you are riding in a circle (in rising trot) it is generally thought correct to rise out of the saddle as your horse’s outside shoulder (and inside hind leg) swing forward. So, if you are on the left rein (that is, you and your horse are travelling anticlockwise and the left rein of the bridle is on the inside of the circle), your seat will swing up and forward as your horse’s right fore and left hind leg swing forward and your seat will be in the saddle as your horse’s right fore and left hind leg (the same legs) are in contact with the ground.

If you are rising on the wrong diagonal the usual way to change it is to sit for two beats instead of one. You would ride the following: up, down, up, down, down, up, and this then causes you to rise as the opposite pair of diagonal legs moves forward. Sitting for two beats is the accepted way to change the diagonal and the way you should do it during a dressage test.

A good exercise to further improve your rising and to improve the control of your position and balance is to practice changing the diagonal through two ‘rises’ rather than two ‘sits’. This is also a good way to change your diagonal (once you are proficient at it) if you are riding a very sensitive horse that tends to hollow their back, or anticipate going faster, when they feel the rider sit down.

Learning another way to change the diagonal in rising trot:

Start by asking your horse to trot and begin rising. Turn as much of your attention as it is safe to do so to your rising and sitting.

Say out loud, or in your head, ‘up, down, up, down, in time with your rising and sitting. Then say up, down, up, up, down while you match with your seat what you are saying/thinking.

Notice how you need to use your core (abdominal) muscles to do this.You might get left behind slightly on the second beat, so it is a good idea to use a neck strap at first.

With practice it becomes easier and you will add another useful skill to your riding repertoire.

In the final section about trotting you will learn how to always rise on the correct diagonal by feel alone, but first you need to work through the following sections about standing trot and sitting trot.

Quick summary of this lesson: In rising trot change the rising diagonal through two ‘rises’ rather than two ‘sits’.

You are ready to move on to the next lesson when you can change your diagonal by staying up for an extra beat (rather than sitting for an extra beat) without getting left behind the movement of your horse.

 Final trot lesson 1: Rising straight off on the correct diagonal by feel alone

Make sure you read the HRM website article Rising diagonals. Even if you do not generally ride in circles you need to work the muscles on both sides of your horse equally. You do this by changing your rising diagonal.

Now that you have mastered the three styles of trot you are ready to learn a very useful skill. Many riders never learn to do this but it is not difficult once you know how.

The skills that you now have, in particular, being able to feel what your horse’s back is doing (and therefore knowing what your horse’s legs are doing at any point in the stride), coupled with the other skills that you have learned from the previous lessons, means that you can learn to strike off on the correct diagonal in rising trot without having to look down to check.

A common way that riders check their rising diagonal is to glance (although many stare for several strides) at their horse’s outside shoulder (on a circle) to see if the shoulder is going forward as they rise up and forward out of the saddle (picture previous page). If instead the outside shoulder is coming back as they rise they know they need to change their rising diagonal.

It is possible to learn how to check by  feel rather than having to look.

Learning to rise on the correct diagonal by feel alone:

On a left hand (anti clockwise) circle ask your horse to move up a gait from walk to trot.

This means you are trotting on the left rein.

(If you prefer to start on a right hand (clockwise) circle (the right rein) you will need to do the opposite to the following directions).

Feel with your seat (pelvis) and legs (heels) for your horse’s left hind (and right fore) swinging forward (remember you will feel this as a dip in your left seat bone). This is when in a previous lesson you said ‘left’ if you had an assistant to check for you.

Instead of saying ‘left’ now say ‘up’ and simultaneously lift your seat and let your horse’s back bump you up.

At first you may need to ride for a few strides in sitting trot saying ‘up’ when you feel your left seat bone dip. When you have got yourself organised you can try rising as you say ‘up’.

Don’t forget, at the same time that your left seat bone is dipping your right seat bone is bumped upwards by your horse’s right hind leg as it comes into contact with the ground. This is what actually gives you the upwards push to rise.

It is up to you, you may feel better identifying the lifting of your outside seat bone and saying ‘up’ or ‘rise’ as you feel it lift.

It will take a few goes before your timing becomes coordinated.

You will find (with most horses) that they tend to push you up on the correct diagonal on one rein, almost if not every time, and push you up on the wrong diagonal on the other rein, almost if not every time. This is because a horse is usually developed more in one set of muscles than the other (and are therefore stronger in those muscle groups). Most people are the same (unless they are virtually ambidextrous i.e. they are neither left nor right handed) and they prefer to say swing a tennis racket with one hand rather than the other (usually their right hand).

When you are practicing this you will notice that it is much easier to get it right on one rein that the other. Keep changing direction until you can do it easily on both reins.

Unless you have an assistant you will need to quickly glance at your horse’s outside shoulder to check until you are confident that you are getting it right every time.

Quick summary of this lesson: In sitting trot identify when your horse’s inside hind leg is swinging under the body and rise at the same time as you feel this. You may prefer to identify when the outside hind is on the ground and rise in time with that. Both will get you rising on the correct diagonal by feel alone.

You are ready to move on to the next lesson when you can rise on the correct diagonal by feel alone.