Why Not Get Off Your Rear and Post?!

Story and photos by Leslie Desmond Published in the September 1995 issue of The Trail Less Traveled


To advance your riding beyond the beginner level you'll want to learn to post and to learn the left and right diagonals.

As you learn to do this at the walk, your ability to ride with balance in the middle of your horse will improve. Other benefits of this exercise are to help you learn where the horse's feet are (important to know for turns, stops and lead changes), and to develop your coordination and strength. After a few sessions, You'll crave the springy action of those rear legs at the trot to boost you up and out of the saddle.

To prepare for posting, first get accustomed to the feel of each hoof as it strikes the ground at the four-beat walk. Notice that each shoulder mirrors the four basic movements of the front hoof below when it is 1) picked up, and 2) brought forward, as it 3) strikes the ground and as it 4) carries the horse through the stride. Choose a shoulder to move in time with, and practice rolling up and forward into your inner thigh as the hoof comes off the ground and reaches forward. Keep your lower leg as still as possible, with your heel under your hip. Don't clamp your calves around the belly. Hold that position until the hoof is placed back on the ground, then release yourself to gravity and the saddle, settling your weight into your inner and lower thigh, not your tailbone or back pockets. Repeat this procedure until you are pooped, rest a few strides and try again. Most folks tire of posting at the walk almost immediately. If this happens, don't despair. Only a few have super strong lower abdominals, inner thighs and butt muscles that come from using yourself correctly at the posting trot.

While you post at the walk, sit straight up in your saddle and look forward to your destination. Watch out for the shoulder slouch and the overly arched lower back. It's tough to avoid looking down, but you'll need to at first so that you recognize when the shoulder reaches into the next stride. Concentrate mainly on your awareness of accurate timing and the rhythm of the horse's feet. Your posture will improve.

hrs8 1The closer one gets to lining up the back of the heel beneath the hip, the easier it is to maintain balance in any gait. If there is ever a call to stand up in the stirrups, this alignment will reduce the chance that the rider will fall back or forward, startling the horse or unintentionally yanking on his mouth, which can confuse or hurt the horse.         
hrs8 2Here the weight is too far forward and, therefore, the leg is out of position. Avoid this position.
hrs8 3This shows having your feet on the dashboard. This is not the desired leg position. Don't do this.         

Note: Novice riders, and anyone lacking good balance and physical fitness, should begin the following exercise on a lead or lunge line. When you can rise and sit in time with either shoulder at the walk through feel, drop alternate stirrups every few strides so that you come to rely more on your legs and less on your stirrups. One day, you'll rise and sit without stirrups without a grimace, and without a bodyful of Charlie horses. If you decide to keep the reins, be careful not to haul yourself out of the saddle by pulling on the horse's mouth.

The sin known as "posting off the mouth" is a ruinous habit. It robs the "feel" from a sensitive horse's mouth, which leads to misuse of the rider's legs, which dulls the horse's sides. This frustrates the novice rider, creating insecurity in the saddle. This leads to poor balance, harsh hands and the tendency to look down. Next are wrecks and the tendency of the person to give up easily and blame the horse for a crummy ride. So, to avoid all these problems, lay off the horse's mouth.

As the horse quickens the one-two beat of his front feet in the walk to become the trot, he also speeds up the rear legs until they actually "catch up" to the forelegs in a diagonal two-heat rhythm. The left hind will stride in time with the right front, and the right hind will travel in sync with the left front.

Diagonals are referred to in terms of the front leg associated with the term. When you speak of the left diagonal, it refers to the left front leg and the right hind leg. Conversely, the right diagonal always refers to the right front leg and the left hind leg.

To post on the correct pair of diagonal legs on a circle or turn, you must get in time to rise and sit with the outside shoulder and the inside hind leg as they move. Translation: On a circle to the left, you would post on the right diagonal and on a circle to the right, you will have optimum balance if you post on the left diagonal. To switch diagonals as you switch directions at the trot, sit a beat, and then start rising in time with your "new" outside shoulder and inside hind leg.

Good luck and have fun. Once you learn to post, you'll be glad you took the time and spent the effort.

What Posting Is...

Posting is about keeping yourself well-aligned (heel, hip, shoulder, ear) when you roll up and forward out of the saddle, onto your inner thigh, in time with either one of the horse's diagonal pair of legs as they stride forward at the trot. Allow most of your weight to rise up and forward a couple of inches out of the saddle before returning to your horse as the hooves strike the ground. Let yourself back down gently into your own thighs and seat. Place just enough weight in your stirrups when you rise and sit to keep them firmly under the broadest part of your foot. Hold them steady, and practice until you can hold them still. When you keep your lower leg and foot still, chances are you'll also have developed a light, independent hand on the reins. This is an essential part of good horsemanship.

What Posting Isn't...

Posting is not about flexing your ankles and knee joints to stand up with all your weight on your toes in your stirrups. This guarantees clumsiness and a sad return to the saddle, marked by knees and thighs flopping open as your feet swing forward on the dashboard. Some horses are too sensitive to stand it and will buck you off. Contrary to what's been taught for years (I was taught this and I've taught it myself), gripping with the knees to post is outdated advice. It doesn't even work in a pinch because it is a pinch and it leads to holding your breath and a tightening of the lower back muscles. This makes a rider tend to hunch forward and be inclined to ride while looking at the ground. Also, with your knee joints mashed tight to the saddle, it clouds up the clear communication you hope to establish with your horse and makes proper alignment of your body in the saddle just about impossible.