Simplifying the Western Post

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Once thought of as an activity only for sissies or English riders, posting is now de rigueur for riders of all disciplines, at least for schooling. Of course, you rarely see Western riders post in the show world. There, the rider sits through all gaits. That works well because those horses walk, jog, and lope. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever post in a Western saddle.

People over 50 who learned to ride as kids rarely saw Western riders post. Their saddles were rigged so riders often sat ���on their pockets,” with their feet out in front, making posting extremely difficult. Then in the 1960s and ’70s, along came Monte Foreman, who developed the Balanced Ride Saddle and went around the country teaching ”horse science clinics.” Foreman combined years of cow-horse training with his Army Cavalry experience, and with the help of sequential photography, recognized you could improve the horse’s performance by changing the rider’s position.

He encouraged riders to sit with their feet under their seat, and to post — to rise out of their saddle every other trot step. That made a huge difference for horses involved in athletic work and navigating difficult terrain. Trainers today recognize that Western posting has great benefit both for the horse and the rider.

The trot is a rhythmic one-two gait, with the front left and the right hind foot moving forward at the same time. As those two feet set down, the horse springs forward, reaching with his right front and left hind foot. The more even the rhythm, the better the horse can balance himself and his rider, making for a safer ride. When the rhythm is steady, the horse can also relax his back and drop his head, making the ride smoother and allowing him to make longer strides. But when the rhythm is erratic, the horse raises his head and braces his back in order to keep his balance and to handle the rider’s weight. That makes his strides all the more jarring and makes it harder for the rider to stay in balance. Posting is less tiring for both the horse and rider, and it gives the rider an opportunity to reposition himself easily, if the horse or the terrain has bumped him off center.

Posting the trot is a way for the rider to stay in rhythm with the horse or in some cases to establish a steady rhythm for the horse. Imagine how difficult it would be for the horse to trot steadily if the rider was bouncing all around at random. It also helps the rider to stay better balanced and of course, to avoid the bounce.

It’s hard to sit the trot of big-moving horse, or a horse when he’s traveling fast or on uneven terrain. If the rider stiffens to avoid getting bounced around, the horse has to stiffen his back, too.

Misconceptions

Western riders who have never posted imagine that they have to drastically shorten their stirrups to post. The reality is that if their stirrups are adjusted correctly for balanced riding, posting is easy. With a too-long stirrup, forget about even sitting well, never mind posting. When the rider is always stretching for the stirrup, he stiffens his back and legs and makes it hard for the horse and himself.

Riders may say they don’t have enough strength to grip with their knees. That concern is a throwback to an older time when riders were taught to grip with their knees to stay on bareback. Today we know that allowing the leg to hang naturally alongside the horse is the best position.

Sometimes people think that they have to get into a jockey position to post. That’s not true, either. Posting doesn’t require the rider to get up in the air, to lean forward or to make any kind of a major move.

Then of course is the idea that because they’ve never done it, they’ll look stupid. It’s true that the first few times you do anything you feel awkward, but it’s easy to catch onto the technique of posting, if you think about letting it happen rather than making it happen.

Posting Pointers

Forget everything you may have heard about posting. Close your eyes and ride along in your imagination. We’re going to get you in a good riding position first, which will make posting easy. You are sitting squarely on your horse with your legs hanging naturally along the horse’s sides. Just as a check of your position, see if you can raise your knees (one or both). If you can’t, you may be sitting with your back arched and your tail too far out behind you (like a duck’s tail might be).

Or you could be at the opposite extreme, with your weight too far back and your feet out in front of you, like you were planning to ride a bareback bronc. See if you can adjust your position by tipping forward and back until you feel like you’re sitting on your seat bones, but not perched forward. Then lift your knees again.

When you feel like you’re sitting a little on your pockets and can raise your knees without it affecting your position, you’re probably about right.

Now let your leg hang, with your feet out of the stirrups. You might lift your leg away from the horse’s side about two inches, then let it hang again, in order to help it find the best natural position. Raise your toes, so that your foot is parallel with the ground, and move your foot around until you can feel where the stirrup hits. In some cases, you may need to have someone on the ground help you with this. When your stirrup is the correct length, you should feel it somewhere below your ankle bone but not quite down to the heel of your boot.

Now put your feet back in the stirrups, gather the reins and look straight ahead. Ask your horse to walk, and take a minute to enjoy the rhythm of the walk. Now mentally change to a one-two rhythm, thinking about a trot. Ask your horse to trot, but not too fast.

If someone took a photo of you from the side, you’d see that your stirrups are approximately under your knees, and a few inches ahead of your seat bones.

Here’s the trick about posting: When you feel the bounce, think about going from your sitting-down position — where you are now — to a position with your hips forward, as if you were sort of — standing over your stirrups, not standing straight up from the sit-down position. Instead of bumping around or standing straight up, take advantage of the bounce and move your hips toward the saddle horn. Then relax and sit down in the saddle again.

It will feel more forward-and-back than up-and down. Watch that you continue to let your leg hang long with your heel down slightly, rather than getting up on tippy-toes.

At first, it will be awkward, and you’ll probably be ”up” for too long, especially if your stirrups are too short. The better you relax into the rhythm, the easier it will get to let the horse energize your fanny. Some people find it helpful to think about lifting your seat and moving your hips forward specifically to avoid the bounce. If your stirrups are too long, you won’t have enough clearance to move forward without bumping into the saddle swell.

The Diagonals

When the horse stretches his left front foot forward in the trot, we call that the left diagonal. Left, because it refers to the left front foot. Diagonal because he also moves the diagonal foot — the right hind — at the same time.

You may hear talk of posting on the correct diagonal. That means the rider’s seat goes forward at the same time that the outside shoulder of the horse moves forward. So in a circle to the right (clockwise), the rider should post — be out of the saddle — as the left front leg reaches forward.

It’s more comfortable for the rider to be on the correct diagonal, and it helps the horse, too. As the horse makes a turn, his inside hind leg does a lot of balancing. By the rider being out of the saddle as that leg reaches forward, the horse can make a more secure placement of the foot. He does not have to balance the rider and find the best length of stride.

It takes a little practice to feel the correct diagonal and to coordinate to post when you feel it. Most riders are taught to look down at the outside shoulder and to move forward when they see the shoulder move forward. It may be easier, however, to learn to feel the hind-end movement. If you didn’t actively sit, you’d bounce, as every novice rider knows.

Just begin to post instead of bounce. Don’t think too hard about when. Count the bounces — one, two, one, two — and post on either the ones or the twos. Chances are better than 50/50 that you’ll be on the correct diagonal. Check it by looking at the shoulder or by having a friend tell you when you’re right.

Next, tell your fanny to ”listen,” essentially to feel when the inside hind foot reaches forward, and to move forward in rhythm with that leg. Some people prefer one method, and some another.

Changing diagonals is easy. Just sit one extra bounce. When you get in the habit of riding on the correct diagonal, being on the ”wrong” diagonal will feel strange. Most people can feel one diagonal better than the other. When you’re not in a schooling arena or riding circles, mix the diagonals up, so that you’re riding the horse evenly and not just posting on your preferred diagonal.

When to post

Does that mean you should always post' No. There are lots of reasons to sit the trot, such as when going uphill or schooling for your show classes (of course). But when things get bouncy or you want your horse to move out, consider a comfortable jaunt ”rising to the trot,” as they say.