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Need help teaching diagonals

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  • Need help teaching diagonals

    I have a new student with several years of riding experience in her past, and is now starting again. She has a good feel for riding, a nice natural seat, and is calm and confident. However, she cannot get her diagonals. She told me that no trainer has ever been able to teach her how to figure it out. She is in her 60's and has over 30 years of riding, cumulatively in her life. She's never been in the hunter/jumper realm, but has done endurance, cross country, and western pleasure. She also tried dressage for 2 years, but never got her diagonals, so she decided to go western pleasure instead because it wasn't worth showing dressage if she couldn't get the diagonals.

    I have tried every trick I know, but she's just not getting it, so I need some new ideas. I really thought we had it last week, but then this week she could not get it.

    I have tried the "ride and fall with leg on the wall" and have her look at the shoulders. That's a no go. I had her sit the trot and feel it. I said forget about the shoulder, feel his hind end. This is where it finally seemed to click and she could tell me if she was right or wrong, but then this week, it was lost again. I tried having her count the beats out loud, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1,2 and would then tell her you need to be rising on 2 so if you feel yourself posting up on 1, you need to sit a beat. This did not work either. I've had her watch another student and tell me from the ground if they were on the correct diagonal or not, and this she could do. So she does know what it is, and which leg she should be posting with, but cannot recreate it in the saddle.

    So after 20 minutes last week of trying a multitude of ways, I told her I was coming to COTH to see if there are any other suggestions out there. I know not every person learns the same way, but I've always had success with one of the 3 methods above.
    Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.

  • #2
    She does realize there is no diagonals in dressage, right? So, no negative points for a 'wrong one' (diagonals have different training effects, so different reasoning for using a particular right or wrong).

    Can she not post at all, or just no on a chosen one? Let her post on one, and then sit two 'bumps' and change it. Let her feel the one steadily, then have her feel sit and feel a given hind leg and then announce that.

    Can she tell you by looking at a foreleg (on the ground) which diagonal is which? i.e. 'right' vs 'wrong'?
    I.D.E.A. yoda


    • #3
      Can she not just take a peek down and realise that she should be sitting when the outside shoulder is coming back?


      • #4
        Originally posted by FindersKeepers View Post
        I have tried every trick I know, but she's just not getting it, so I need some new ideas. I really thought we had it last week, but then this week she could not get it.

        I had her sit the trot and feel it. I said forget about the shoulder, feel his hind end. This is where it finally seemed to click and she could tell me if she was right or wrong, but then this week, it was lost again.
        I would have her work on feeling it, and stop obsessing about getting it right....what difference does it really make? It's possible that hearing 75 different methods to tell what diagonal she is on is making things worse.

        I have a friend in her 60s who rides as well - she is very realistic about things - saying "I understand that riding different lesson horses will make me a better rider, but honestly, at my age - what's the point? Can't I just learn to ride one horse well?"

        If she wants to show, she'll eventually need to be able to tell her diagonals (unless she doesn't care if she loses, which is also possible), but I'd stop pushing it and just make her a better, more balanced rider. Little kids often post on the correct diagonal before they learn what they are, because they naturally fall onto the one that feels better.


        • #5
          Put a long piece of tape on each of the horse's shoulders and have her look at both shoulders, alternately, until she can tell which one she is standing up with. Works every time with kids who can't tell. You have to look at both shoulders or they won't figure it out.


          • #6
            I used to drop my fingers just enough to feel the shoulder area movement. That was the only way I could feel it and then eventually I no longer had to touch the shoulder.


            • Original Poster

              She can post just fine, just cannot determine which diagonal she is on/should be on. She cannot see it, but I will try tape on the shoulders next time to try and help her see it.

              She is insistent that we work on this every lesson and wants to get it down, and so I told her I will do whatever I can to help her. It's just something that she wants to accomplish for herself. I suggested we let it go for awhile, but she brings it up week after week and wants to figure it out. So I cooperate.

              She does not have plans to show, and it doesn't matter overall that she knows it or not to me. However, as this is something she wants to conquer, I am willing to help and make that happen.

              She is not discouraged, but week after week asks if there's another way I can explain it to her.
              Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


              • #8
                Ditto to the tape idea. My old trainer did this to help one girl who was having a hard time. She used the little round, colored dots on either shoulder. Having something more visual like this usually helps quite a bit.
                "On the back of a horse I felt whole, complete, connected to that vital place in the center of me...and the chaos within me found balance."


                • #9
                  Maybe imagine the outside foreleg pulling your butt forward with it?
                  Patty Stiller CNBBT,CNBF,CLS, CE
                  Natural Balance Certified Lameness Specialist ,instructor.


                  • #10
                    When I was learning my diagonals as a child I looked at the inside leg and did the opposite. For some reason that was easier for me than the "rise and fall with the leg on the wall" mantra. Maybe that would work for this woman.


                    • #11
                      Have you ever thought that your student might be dyslexic?

                      Have your student sit the trot and tell you, by saying the word "now", when the outside shoulder is coming forward. If she sees it backward, then you need to say "now" as the shoulder is coming forward and have her repeat.

                      If you do this on the lunge, she can concentrate while you control the horse.

                      Another exercise to do while on the lunge is to have her close her eyes while rising the trot. Ask her to tell you if it feels like she is being thrown outward (rising with the inside shoulder) or staying more centered (rising with the outside shoulder). Having her do walk-trot transitions on the lunge will allow her to feel the shoulders, hind legs, better, because she is on a circle.

                      Centrifugal force is a wonderful teaching tool.

                      As another poster said, if she is not going to show, then what does it matter?
                      When in Doubt, let your horse do the Thinking!


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by FindersKeepers View Post
                        She is insistent that we work on this every lesson and wants to get it down, and so I told her I will do whatever I can to help her. It's just something that she wants to accomplish for herself. I suggested we let it go for awhile, but she brings it up week after week and wants to figure it out. So I cooperate.
                        Fair enough - if it's her idea, then I agree you should try to help her.

                        I wonder if she really understands, even if she can see it on another horse in the arena - maybe if you can also find a video for her to watch at home? So she can really watch the movement of the legs and understand why people say "rise and fall with the outside wall", even if she can't do it herself?

                        I'm a visual learner, so I like stuff like that. I wonder if you could find a helmet cam video?

                        The other thing I would do is put her on the longe and have her just hold onto the saddle (or a grab strap) and just watch the legs -- then she can just forget about steering and looking out for other riders, and just concentrate on posting.


                        • #13
                          Ditto the tape or dot on the shoulder. You can also get washable glitter markers. Our instructor uses them all the time, the sparkle catches your eye.

                          I would only mark one shoulder though. You really only need to know where one shoulder is to post correctly....you'll be going with that shoulder in one direction, against it in the other, but you only need to see one. For instance, I can feel the right should moving out easily, I have some trouble feeling the left (because I'm lopsided, that's another story).


                          • #14
                            The tape thing did not work for me, neither did "rise and fall with the leg on the wall", nor did trying to feel it.

                            What finally worked was... *gasp* look at the INSIDE leg rather than the outside leg and try to sit when the inside leg is forward.
                            Professional hunter princess


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by lcw579 View Post
                              When I was learning my diagonals as a child I looked at the inside leg and did the opposite. For some reason that was easier for me than the "rise and fall with the leg on the wall" mantra. Maybe that would work for this woman.
                              Yes! This is what I just posted about! I tried all of the other tricks when I learned and this was the only thing that worked.
                              Professional hunter princess


                              • #16
                                "I had her sit the trot and feel it. I said forget about the shoulder, feel his hind end. This is where it finally seemed to click and she could tell me if she was right or wrong, but then this week, it was lost again"

                                Maybe try this for 10-15 each lesson if this is what clicked at one point. your going to have good and bad days, days when you get it and days when you don't. Practice makes perfect.

                                I also agree with the post about closing your eyes on a lunge line.

                                sometimes it is about feeling. I can feel when I'm on the wrong one, maybe looking at the leg going forward is to much to think about. I find most of horse back riding is feeling it anyway
                                The Love for a Horse is just as Complicated as the Love for another Human being, If you have never Loved a Horse you will Never Understand!!!


                                • #17
                                  Don't know if any one has mentioned this already, but diagonals do not "count" in dressage....If you were "of the french school" you would be correct to post on the inside diagonal anyway!

                                  The tape thing has worked for me, as has getting the student on the lunge line so that the bend enhances the difference in feel btweeen the two diagonals. Closing eyes while on the lungeline helps...when on the inside diagonal, most students of mine have reported feeling a "lump" under their inside thight as they sit, which is not there when they are correct.

                                  Good luck!


                                  • #18
                                    Hmmm maybe diagonals dont count in the higher levels but i can remember comments on a few intro and training level tests as a kid that I was on the wrong diagonal! Maybe they didnt count off my score tho. The judge cared enought to comment.

                                    The tape thing helped me as a kid


                                    • #19
                                      When I used to teach lots of kids I would put them on the lunge line at a walk. I would ask them to look down and say NOW everytime the outside leg went forward.

                                      Then once they had it at the walk we would proceed to trotting on the lunge line - still saying NOW.

                                      After they had that down I would proceed to have them only checking the diagonal when they picked up a trot. Doing lots of walk-trot transitions around the ring is a good exercise for that.

                                      At the same time we would work on changing the diagonal by sitting twice. Asking them to change back and forth to the wrong/right one helps to develop a feel of which one is correct.

                                      Hope that helps.

                                      Now time for a small confession: I have been riding for 30 years and still cannot "feel" my diagonals.

                                      I always have to check - but you'd have to be watching me VERY closely to catch me doing it.


                                      • #20
                                        Pehaps a better understanding of the biometrics of the horse could help. I understood diagonals as soon as I understood how the horses body moved at the trot. Watching a horse on the lunge may be helpful and I think a seat lesson on the lunge line idea would be great to just let her focus on feeling how the horse moved and understand what being on either diagonal feels like. Of couse this is coming from someone who could not even understand the concept of canter leads until I had a indepth lesson on how the horse moved and carried its body at every step of the canter movement. Then... no problem!