Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Diagonals and Directions

Our First Topic Today...


The trot is a two beat gait. When a horse trots it reaches forward with its left foreleg, and right hind leg, and then reaches forward with its right foreleg and left hind leg—the diagonal legs are synchronized. With a trot there are always two hooves on the ground and two in suspension. The footfall pattern remains the same whether the horse is turning left or right. So the horse doesn’t actually have diagonals. At a trot it is the rider that needs to be aware of what diagonal pair to rise or sit on to help the horse balance and flex. When circling and turning, the rider rises when the outside foreleg and inside hind hits the ground. Nothing about the horse’s trot changes when the rider changes diagonals, which they will do when they change direction to circle or turn in the opposite direction.

Basic's for the Cutting Horse...

Today Boss-Man's Assistant Trainer asked me to trot both ways on the horse I was warming up for him. I thought he was checking her soundness. After I was done he asked me if I'd ever ridden English, I replied with "Uhm.. not really.. why?" He just shrugged and said, "Because you know your diagonals." I stared at him blankly, before finally squeaking out (wondering if I was being a total idiot and generally confused about what was happening) "Yes. Doesn't everyone?" Apparently not, according to him, a lot of people he sees in the industry don't seem to know their diagonals. He told me that, in fact, it was only a few years ago that he found out about trot diagonals from a past Boss' wife who rode Dressage. Our two year old trainer chimed in that, he too, did not know about diagonals until recently and said "I thought it was an english thing..."

Please remember that these are both pretty accomplished guys that both have a keen interest in proper technique and training. They regularly have in-depth conversations about the "mechanics behind the proper footfalls in the turnaround." Like, what does that even mean? & they didn't know their diagonals until a couple years ago...

Now, are most of you shocked that people who ride competitively don't know their diagonals? Because I most certainly was.

Assistant Trainer finished off the whole diagonal discussion with explaining to me why he was so interested in diagonals lately. He claims that he's noticed a lot of our horses hopping into their lope departures, and he's been spending a lot of time working on bending them and working them slowly at the jog and trot. He said that one of his ideas behind why they are doing this is because some of our lopers don't use the correct diagonal, and when they ask for the lope departure in the corners of our arena, it is causing the horse to have to over-compensate into the lope. He said he wasn't sure if that's actually why they were doing it, but that it's one of the ideas he's working on. Finally, the discussion turned in to one of the basics of horsemanship, and how he believes that the industry is lacking a sense of horsemanship, and that it's sorely missed. All in all, very interesting.

This story has a point... i'm getting there... I promise.

I have a very hard time picking up my right diagonal correctly. I literally have to count the gait out to get it, and it frustrates me to no end. It's literally a mind over body thing, i'm getting much better but every once and awhile I have to do the 'ol double-bounce into the correct diagonal and I always get embarrassed about it. So, to find out, that a) my co-workers probably weren't even noticing and b) hey, I'm doing something right that other people aren't... is a nice feeling.. because it brings us all to:

Our Second Topic Today...


Ie. Where am I going & What am I doing & [insert general spiral downwards here]

Toto... we ain't in Kansas anymore..

Looking back on my "career" thus far at the ripe 'ol age of 21, i've grown exponentially month by month with horses and my own riding since I was 16. When I was16, I didn't know how to pick out a horses hoof... let alone my diagonals, leads, leg yields etc. As I get older and have more time to devote to riding and my general focus on horses, that exponential growth seems more directed, and rapid. However, I am ridiculously hard on myself, and I can't help but compare myself to other 21 year olds that are winning in the cutting pen, that are finding themselves already in the Hall of Fame, are working amazing jobs where they are training high-level horses etc. etc. I'm just not there yet, I'm barely there, I have a toe kind of in the door and i'm death-fighting to get another in. It can be very frustrating. 

BUT, today I was thinking hard about all of these things i've mentioned... my direction is atleast on the right path and i'm hungry for it. Hungrier than i've ever been for anything. I think that fighting instinct, that i've had for the last couple years, is a really good thing. I'm not slowing down and i'm fighting to keep going faster in the right direction. 

Plus, I need to remind myself that comparison gets you nowhere. I'm not those people, the only person I can be is me, so I need to take that for what it's worth and just keep on going. However, yes, a tiny little piece of me felt a little gratified that, for once, maybe for the first time ever, it was pointed out to me that I knew something about riding that the people around me didn't... and it was so simple!

Finally, horsemanship is very important to me, and one day I want to be able to have an intelligent, comprehensive discussion about the proper mechanics of the footfall of the turnaround, and more...! Today, I watched a video on my facebook wall of someone working a horse on the flag... it was not very flattering. I am beginning to be able to pick up on the nuances of what is good, and what is bad when working a horse on the flag, and on a cow. That's something I wouldn't have been able to do even 6 months ago... So, it shows me that i'm learning, i'm growing and i'm somewhere on the right track, even if i'm stumbling around on aforementioned track.

Perhaps this post was really more for me than anything, but hey - maybe you'll enjoy my introspective ramblings as well.

We've come a long way baby..
a wee 15 year old Louisa & Windsong


  1. Soak up the learning, young lady. You'll reach your goals in due time, and it's always nice to be acknowledged for what you already know.

  2. Bravo on nailing your diagonals. That is something I am ashamed to say I can still slip up on, particularly when someone is watching me and I start to worry I might not be on the right one.

    It took me years to understand there is a world of difference between a good seat/the ability to muscle a horse into doing more or less what you want, and having precise control over every single footfall. The one just takes some time and some guts. The latter is something most will never achieve because of the massive investment it takes to pay that much attention to something so subtle for long enough to figure it out. Just having that out there as a goal puts you way, way ahead of the average rider. :)

  3. Follow the outside shoulder up is the best way to remember the correct diagonal. And yes. I find that absolutely crazy that everyone doesn't just automatically know what trot diagonals are!

  4. I find this interesting, I didn't start riding till I was older than you are now and I knew nothing and even then I mostly did it on my own and with ranch horses and so I never knew what a diagonal was either, I do know how to ride on the right one but often just change regularly cause it hurts my hips to trot in one all the time. I do wish I didn't have loans and stuff to tie me down so I could do what you are doing, but then again I am OK with where I am now and love that I have the time to do it just for me not as a job. I find if I sit the trot for a step or 2 it is way easier for my horse to break into a lope. Sounds like an interesting trainer you work for, like he is always looking for more knowledge as well. And I agree, no point in comparing yourself to others there is always someone with more than us and someone with less, just as long as you are learning and moving forward (and are happy) that is the best there is.

    1. Sometimes I wonder if having this as a job will one day "ruin" my love for riding. There was something very special about when I was 16 and could steal away for the day and just ride a horse to ride a horse you know. haha So i think your point about being happy where you are is definitely a good one!

      I generally always sit the trot into the lope, that's how I was taught, so i'm with you on that one. The trainer I was talking about in this post is actually my boss' assistant... he is definitely always looking for more knowledge, but him and my boss have kind of different ideas about horsemanship which is too bad.