Tuesday Tip! The Dreaded Diagonal

For those of you who struggle to “get the diagonal” this little ditty may be of help to you…


Now for the explanation….

1. How many beats are there to the trot? Two you say? Correct!  You can say up-down-up-down if you like but the trot is always a one-two-one-two beat. As the rider rises with the trot, (or “posts” if you live in the USA) they should always be rising and falling with the horse’s outside foreleg.

2. Why does the trot have a two beat rhythm?

Well, when a horse trots his legs move in what we call “diagonal pairs” with a “moment of suspension” in-between. This means that while the outside (left) foreleg comes forward the opposite hind leg – the inside hind (right) comes forward with it – while the opposite legs, the inside fore and the outside hind, are going back.

As the legs move forward and back, there is a moment in between when all four of the horse’s legs are completely off the ground.  This is what we call the moment of suspension. Which explains the “bouncy” feeling to the trot.

If you or your student struggle to grasp the above try it on yourself. Bring your left arm and right leg up together at the same time while imaging your right arm and left leg going back. You’re welcome to get down on all fours to really understand it (makes for an amusing lesson!), but alternatively, a more dignified method is to watch someone else while they ride, paying particular attention to how the horse’s legs move in the trot.

3. So now we know that the trot has two beats, that the horse’s legs move in diagonal pairs with a moment of suspension, so how do we learn or teach diagonals?

Firstly, in walk test the rider to see if they can FEEL the outside hind leg coming forward. Looking forward the rider should concentrate on the motion. When they are able to identify when the outside hind comes forward test them to see can they feel any other legs. Emphasize the use of the seat to feel the motion, the rider’s hips rocking with the horse’s walk. Pick any leg at random, or all four progressively.

The rider should be able to identify when each leg moves forward or back. They may need prompting – don’t leave them hanging in no mans land as learning to FEEL does not come naturally to everyone!

Now move onto trot. Using the same concept of feeling the moment as in the walk, test to see if the rider can identify which foreleg they are rising with. Ask them to have a look at the horse’s shoulders as they trot if they need help. When they can identify which foreleg they are rising with we can move on to learning how to RISE AND FALL WITH THE LEG ON THE WALL.

4. So now, if a rider is rising on the incorrect diagonal they must know how to change it. This is done by sitting to one beat of the trot. HUH? What? Sitting to a beat? How?

We are so used to saying or hearing “up down up down up down” or “one two one two one two” while learning to trot. So to teach the change simply practice the following:

up DOWN up DOWN up DOWN DOWN up (sitting to one beat)

Or, one TWO one TWO one TWO TWO one

Repeat the exercise multiple times until it is ingrained!

Finally… Understanding why we change the diagonal

Imagine a body builder, working out every day, but they only ever pump iron with their right arm. What happens to the left? Nothing. It stays weak and underdeveloped – it’s the same with the horse.

Like people, horses will have a more favorable or stronger side, so it is very important that we work both sides evenly. If we only ever rise on one diagonal, we only every work on one side of the horse.

Not changing the diagonal may lead to future issues regarding balance and feel which are very important for a rider’s progress. Plus, we don’t want our horse’s ending up like Zoolander – only able to turn one direction…


Tuesday Tips are short answers to help with the most common issues novice riders and horse owners experience. Your input, suggestions and experiences are welcome in the comment box! 

Also feel free to ask questions or make suggestions for further Tuesday Tips!


2 thoughts on “Tuesday Tip! The Dreaded Diagonal

  1. Thanks Anne, I always teach diagonals at an early stage. It’s the first introduction to understanding “feel,” helping novice riders understand canter strike offs and leading legs and so on. Plus, I love seeing younger riders faces when they get it, always so chuffed with themselves!


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