Back in the days of yore, when the only mode of transportation had a mane, a tail and four hooves, people would spend much of their travelling time upon a horse's back. When you stop to consider that towns were few and land was plenty, you can imagine that people would spend a whole lot of time upon a horse's back.
And so the rising trot was invented - mainly to save the poor horse's back from repeated rider bounces and conversely, to save the rider's back from repeated jarring. It makes sense, no?
At least, that's what I was told way back when I was first learning to ride. I have no idea if this theory is true at all - but after several years of endurance riding (over distances up to 55 miles) I can vouch for the relief that rising trot gives when you are considering horses as a means of long distance travel. In fact, rising at the trot can also invigorate your legs that have probably gone numb from sitting the whole time, even if you were moving at just the walk!
OK. Rather than pontificate on what I don't know, here's a cute video that is probably much more accurate and describes how the word "post" was adopted into the horse riding dictionary.
Let's face it. Many horses have bumpy trots and sitting the trot immediately may be an insurmountable task for the average beginner rider. It might actually be difficult for even the experienced rider who might have enough physical difficulties or pain to ever sit a trot correctly.
And so, one of the first things we learn to do as horse riders is to "rise to the trot" - that is, we get off the horse's back in one moment of the trot stride, and then we sit in the saddle the next moment. Over and over again, we rise and sit.
The second thing we learn is that we HAVE to coordinate the rise moment with the moment that the horse's outside front shoulder swings forward. So when that leg is off the ground, we are off the horse's back. We call this "posting on the outside diagonal" because the legs move in diagonal pairs in trot.
So we spend months - and for some of us, years and years (!!) - learning to post on the "correct" diagonal in effort to do what is right for the horse.
But do we know WHY?
There is a perfectly rational, bio-mechanical answer to why we insist that riders rise when the outside front leg begins to lift off the ground. But first, we should discuss a little theory.
How Do The Horse's Legs Move In The Trot?
If you slow down the horse's footfalls, you can see that the horse trots in diagonal pairs (unless the horse is gaited, which means that there is no trot and therefore little reason to post!!).
The above video of this gorgeous horse clearly shows the right front leg moving in tandem with the left hind. Then the left front moves with the right hind. This is why we hear a two-beat rhythm of the footfalls at the trot.
When we're first learning to ride, it's fairly easy to actually see the outside shoulder as it moves. But we're not really interested in the front leg at all.
If you're told to rise when the outside front leg is coming off the ground, what is happening to the inside hind leg? Take a look at the picture below.
Clearly, the inside hind leg is off the ground.
This is a very important moment in the stride.
Because this is the only moment - out of all of the other trot stride moments - that we can influence the inside hind leg.
Why Do We Want To Influence The Inside Hind Leg?
When we rise at this moment, we are in fact encouraging the inside hind leg to step deeper underneath the body. We want that deeper step to:
- provide better overall balance on turns (less leaning in)
- carry more weight on the hind end (rather than the forehand)
- have more pushing power into the next phase of the stride
- support the horse's back through the movement
Then we learn that there is such thing as a "wrong" diagonal. Because if you rise when the inside shoulder is reaching forward, what is happening to the inside hind leg?
It's on the ground. Bearing weight. Unmovable.
Therefore, you can't influence that leg at all. You might be using leg aids for more energy, but that inside hind leg is immobile, weighted down. You might want better bend, but that leg is stuck on the ground.
Timing is everything, my friend!
(you knew there would be a "however..." didn't you?)
There are indeed times when you want to post on the inside diagonal. (Did I just say that??!!)
There are absolutely instances when you might want to influence the outside hind leg while travelling in a direction.
Maybe you feel that the horse needs more encouragement to use that leg deeper underneath the body. Maybe you just want to strengthen that leg for some time. Maybe you want to improve the horse's outside balance.
When we rode on our long endurance rides, we were taught to be very diligent about our diagonals. Because we spent much of the time riding straight lines on the trails, we would be strengthening (or resting) one leg at the expense of the other leg. And so we would consciously change diagonals at regular intervals in order to evenly develop and use the hind legs.
OK. Go out there and play around with the diagonals. See if you can feel the increased thrust of the inside hind leg when you are in the forward phase of your post. See what it feels like when you post on the outside diagonal. How does it change your horse's balance? Can your horse bend better on a turn or circle if you time your aids to match the timing of the diagonal?
Most importantly, have fun!
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