Posting-the act of rising and sitting in the seat of your saddle- isn't only for chasing the hounds anymore. Just take a look in rodeo rings, western show pens, and trail systems around the country, and you'll see riders of all disciplines doing it.
Posting in rhythm with your horse's trot helps you absorb the horse's natural movement. Whether you ride for recreation, work or sport, posting is an indispensable riding skill that can make long hours on horseback even more enjoyable.
Leslie Lange of Greeley, Colorado, coaches amateur and youth all-around competitors, and in 2003 she was honored as the American Quarter Horse Association Professional Horsewoman of the Year. She and her husband, Tom, operate T & L Quarter Horses, and over the years Leslie has taught scores of people how to post in both English and western saddles.
What Goes Up
- Practice posting in an enclosed area on the lunge line so you can focus on your riding.
- Concentrate on the two-beat rhythm of the trot and count out loud, "one-two, one-two."
- Let the horse's movement propel you forward naturally rather than exaggerate the up-and-down motion with your body.
- Keep your hands steady as you rise and sit. Rest them on the pommel, horn or neck to keep them still if you need to.
- Stay relaxed through your knee, hip and ankle joints.
- Use the saying "Rise and fall with the leg on the wall," to help you post on the correct diagonal.
The Reasons to Rise
Maybe you've ridden western for years without ever posting, and you're not sure why you should start now. Or you're a new rider and shelved the skill as something you'll learn later. Either way, there are several good reasons you should give posting a try.
• To save your back. You know that jostling feeling you get at the trot and the soreness you feel in your lower back after a long day on the trail? When you sit the trot, your back is absorbing every beat of every stride your horse takes. Simply by learning how to post, you can move with your horse at the trot, instead of against him.
• To save your horse's back. If your back is sore after trotting for long periods, you know your horse is feeling it, too. Posting, when done correctly, can alleviate your horse's back strain, which means he can carry you even farther without fatiguing.
• To cover more ground at the trot. English riders traditionally posted the trot while covering ground on the hunt field, so it's no surprise that posting is a great tool for recreational and working riders. "Whether you're pushing cattle or riding down the trail, moving a horse into the posting trot is a good way to cover ground quickly and efficiently," Lange says.
• To create a stronger seat. "Anytime you get your butt out of the saddle, you're creating strength in your riding," Lange says. "Posting makes you a better rider and helps create balance, which is necessary for anything you want to do at a higher level of riding, both western and English."
• To develop rhythm and confidence in young or green horses. A young or green horse needs all the support he can get when it comes to moving forward in a balanced frame. By posting the trot, you can transfer your own balance and rhythm to the horse.
"A lot of young horses don't have that slow jog or trot that's easy to sit yet, so posting is a way to make both you and the horse more comfortable at the trot," Lange says. "Once you become confident posting, you'll find your horse taking stronger and bolder strides at the trot."
Focus on the "Do's"
"There aren't a lot of tricks to posting," Lange says. "Basically, you stand in your stirrups on one beat and sit on the next."
However, in that simple sit-and-stand sequence, there's a lot of room for error, especially when you're first starting. The best thing you can do is to create a mental checklist for your posting sessions. That way, you can focus on what you're doing right.
Post with your seat, not with your hands. Riders new to posting have a tendency to post with their entire bodies, including their hands. This creates confusion for the horse, who relies on your hands for communication. Keep in mind that, as you rise and sit, your hands need to stay in one place. This will take practice, so keep your elbows soft and let them hinge as you post up and down. For extra security, fix your hands in one place by resting them on the pommel or horn of the saddle.
Adjust Your Stirrups to Post Perfectly
When you post, your stirrups are an important part of positioning. While you shouldn't rely solely on your stirrups to help you rise out of the saddle, they do help with your balance and create a base for you to post, says professional horsewoman Leslie Lange. Too long of a stirrup and you'll struggle to clear the seat. Too short and you might just launch out of your horse's orbit.
In general, you should rise out of the saddle high enough to fit one of your hands sideways between your seat and the saddle, meaning your stirrups have to be short enough for you to stand at least four inches clear of the saddle's seat. Here are some tips to make sure your stirrups are adjusted correctly.
Hunt or jumping seat: The correct leather and stirrup length for riding in an English hunt seat saddle is approximately equal to the distance from your finger tips to your underarm. Measure your stirrups by placing your fingers on the buckle, pull the leather taut and hold the iron in the pit of your arm.
Western or dressage: Both dressage and western riders tend to have a longer leg in the saddle than hunt seat and jumping riders. A longer leg also means a longer stirrup. Although western and dressage saddles look very different, riders in both disciplines tend to use the same method to adjust stirrups. Sitting in the saddle, drop your stirrups or irons. With your legs relaxed, the bottom of the stirrup should hit at or just above your ankle bone.
Of course, both methods are just basic rules of thumb. Use your best judgment or consult someone knowledgeable when deciding on the proper length of stirrups for your body. And no matter what kind of saddle you ride in, make sure both of your stirrups are the same length.
Adjusting your stirrups to the right length will make posting easier. The tread platform on western stirrups should be approximately ankle height, allowing for a slight bend in the knee, making it easy to rise but not too high.
In an English saddle, stirrup length is only slightly shorter, allowing for a nice bend in the knees, with heels down and toes turned out on a slight angle. Too short a stirrup and you'll be boosted out of your saddle higher than you want.
Stay mindful of your horse's mouth. Along with posting with their hands, many riders new to the rising trot will unknowingly balance on their horses' mouths or "water ski" their way up, meaning they pull on the reins to help themselves rise out of the saddle. This can seriously hurt your horse's lips, gums, tongue and palate, and contribute to a hard mouth.
To avoid this issue, concentrate on maintaining a light and consistent contact with your horse's mouth as you post. If this is a particular struggle for you in the beginning, use the saddle horn or a bucking strap to help you rise.
Keep your knees, ankles and hips soft. The rising trot is a simple up-down, up-down rhythm, which doesn't allow time for a full stand. You'll find that just as soon as you rise up, you're sitting back down again. As you rise, stay relaxed in your joints rather than locking your knees, ankles and hips into a standing position. On the way down, just gently touch the saddle with your sit-bones rather than thudding down on your horse's back.
"You don't want to let your legs get completely straight," Lange points out. "When your legs get too straight, you lose flexibility, mobility and control."
Post with your horse instead of against him. When posting the trot, you'll find your horse does a lot of the work for you. You sit, and then his forward momentum will push you out of the saddle again. Just remember that the trot has two equal beats, so you'll spend equal time posting up and sitting down, Lange says.
Only rise a few inches off your saddle. You don't need to thrust yourself out of the saddle. Instead, when you're keeping your joints soft and posting with your horse, you'll find you only need to rise a few inches out of the saddle.
"It's up to you to control how far out of the saddle you post," Lange says. "Four or five inches of clearance are all you need."
Putting the Post into Practice
Posting the trot is a lot like learning how to drive a manual transmission. It takes practice, and you may feel like you're never going to get the concept. "You're going to lose your balance, fall into the saddle, and bounce at first," Lange says. Then all of the sudden everything clicks and you're off and running or, in this case, trotting.
Begin posting by picking up the trot and just feeling for the two-beat rhythm of the trot. "Some folks find it easier to start from the sitting position," Lange says. "Others are better off starting from the standing position. It's about personal preference and what works for you."
If you find it difficult, stand in your stirrups, using the saddle horn or a chunk of mane to catch your balance, and absorb the two beats in your ankles, knees and hips. As you feel for the rhythm, keep in mind that each horse moves in his own way, so you may feel a distinct up-and-down or a side-to-side sway with the beats.
"I have my riders count 'one, two, one, two,' out loud, as opposed to just counting to themselves," Lange says. "Oftentimes, when they count, they're unaware of when they're off the beat, and I can help them find the rhythm verbally by counting with them."
The counting is then translated into the physical movement of posting up and down, Lange says. If you aren't riding with an instructor, ask a friend to count out loud with you with the rhythm of the horse's trot.
Once you feel the movement, it's time to just jump in and try posting, Lange says. With one beat sit in the saddle, stand with the next beat, and then sit again. Continue ad nauseam with the up-down, up-down motion until you get a feel for it. Believe it or not, you're now posting. Okay, maybe not perfectly, but you're getting closer.
At this point, if you're struggling to find your balance at the posting trot, go ahead and reach for the saddle. "One hand on the reins steering and the other on the horn is a great way to start posting and find your balance in a western saddle," Lange says.
You can also ride while a friend or instructor on the ground lunges the horse. This lets you focus on your riding rather than the horse. "If someone's lungeing the horse in a controlled environment, then you can drop the reins and use both hands on the horn or the horse's neck for balance," Lange adds.
Ride the rail of any hunter-jumper event and you're sure to hear the constant hum of "wrong diagonal," making the term seem like the unattainable Holy Grail of horsemanship. Lange's advice: Don't fear the diagonal. Instead, understand it.
The term "diagonal" simply refers to the way in which the horse moves at the trot. The trot is a two-beat gait. Each beat is made by diagonal legs working together. The horse's left front leg moves with his right hind, and the right front moves with the left hind. That's it.
To better understand the trot, try wrapping your horse's diagonally paired legs in different colored polo wraps, say, white on the left front and right hind and blue on the right front and left hind. Then put your horse in your round pen or on the end of the lunge line at the trot. Focus on his legs and watch how the diagonal pairs (and matching polo wraps) move in unison. Now you can actually see your horse's movement in motion and understand diagonals.
So what's all this business with being on the correct diagonal? Well, when posting is done properly, the rider rises as the horse's outside front leg (the one against the rail) is moving forward and then sits as the same leg is on the ground. "We use the saying, 'Rise and fall with the leg on the wall,'" Leslie says.
When posting on the correct diagonal, your weight is in the saddle when the horse's driving inside hind leg is on the ground. In theory, this means the horse is balanced and correctly supporting his weight and your weight, especially in corners and tight turns. "Posting on the correct diagonal facilitates the movement of the horse," Lange explains. However, she warns against getting too caught up with correct and incorrect diagonals when you're first learning how to post.
"Correct diagonals are really secondary to learning the motion of posting," Lange says. "You just need to focus on that up-and-down, two-beat rhythm and not worry about what diagonal you're on when you're beginning."
Posting on the incorrect diagonal will not hurt your horse, she adds. And, bonus, if you're trotting straight down the trail, there is no wrong diagonal. A note to those who ride gaited horses: If your horse doesn't trot, you don't post. Period. Instead, kick your gaited horse into his higher gear, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Balance and Confidence
Posting can take anywhere from 20 minutes to more than a month of constant riding to learn, says Lange. As time goes on, you can start focusing on riding on the correct diagonal by looking at the shoulders or feeling the stride and changing diagonals by sitting an extra beat.
The key when learning, Lange adds, is to develop balance and confidence through practice at the posting trot. Your back and your horse will thank you.