Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.
How to Post on a Horse
If your instructor has not begun to teach you how to post yet, here is some information that I think will help you when the time comes. Posting is a technique used by both Western and English riders when trotting their horses. The trot tends to be a horse's bounciest and sometimes an uncomfortable gait to ride. Why is that you ask? Essentially, the horse is pushing its hind legs up underneath itself which makes its back rise and fall, causing the rider to bounce in their seat. Posting makes trotting more comfortable for both the horse and rider.
Step 1: Start Standing Still
Each instructor has their own way of doing things, of course. For me, when I think it is time that my student is ready to start trotting, I will start to teach them how to post while walking. Since your horse isn't bouncing you at the walk, if you can learn to post without the momentum of your horse's back rising and falling, then posting at the trot will just be a matter of learning the rhythm and timing.
To practice posting at the walk, you first need to make sure that you have learned the properly balanced seat with a straight line from shoulder to hip to heel. This is the foundation of balance. Without it, posting will be quite difficult.
So, once I have made sure my students have the basic correct position at the walk, I have them stop their horse and while standing still, try to stand up on their stirrups and stay standing. I remind them that they should still have that straight line from shoulder to hip to heel.
I also remind them that their lower leg position is the foundation for the rest of their body's security in the saddle. In other words, if their lower legs slide back behind them, they won't be able to stay standing up because their shoulders will fall forward. If their leg goes forward, then they won't be able to stand because their shoulders will go too far back.
Step 2: Try It at the Walk
Once they can stand up on their stirrups and stay standing, I have them try and do it as the horse walks with one hand down on the horse's neck for support, using the other hand for steering the horse.
Once they can stay standing and walk the horse, change direction, all without sitting back down or pulling back on the reins, now we start working on the posting itself—the standing up and sitting.
You can encourage them by telling them that we are just making sure that they can hold a centered position while lifting up out of the saddle, and that if they can stay standing, then posting will be a piece of cake.
You can also excite them by telling them that being able to stand in their stirrups with a straight line from shoulder to hip to heel is the beginning of not just learning to post, but also two-point position. Two-point is what we need to do in order to learn how to jump, so by learning these things, you are well on your way to learning new and exciting things.
Step 3: Stand Up and Sit Down
Now that the student can stay standing up using their secure lower leg and proper position and not their horse's mouth, I have them stop their horse again. While standing still, I have them try to stand up and sit again—"up, down, up, down." We talk about how you need to raise your body up and ease your seat back down in the saddle gently. We aren't going for the jackhammer effect. I want them to understand that they are using their muscles and body control to lower themselves down into the saddle, not slamming down.
Once they have the hang of it while standing still, then try to do it at the walk. Reminding them again about the importance of lower leg position and also keeping their hands still. If you rely on your hands to pull you up while posting, your horse will think that you want him to stop and you will have a hard time getting him into a trot.
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Step 4: Try It at the Trot
Once your student can post while standing still and while walking, without pulling back on their horse's mouth, they are ready to try it at the trot. Remind them that the trot is going to be bouncier than the walk, but that we were going to use the horse's momentum to help lift ourselves off the saddle.
It's all about rhythm and timing... learning to rise up when the horse's back is helping you by lifting up and then coming back down in the rhythm of the horse's back being down—up when the horse's back is up, and down when horse's back is down. It is all about timing. Learning this timing is something that just comes with practice.
More Helpful Hints
- For some riders, learning to trot on a lunge line is beneficial if they are nervous about it. They will feel more confident in knowing you can help them control the steering and speed of the horse and be better able to focus on what they need to do with their bodies.
- A good way to test if your student is ready to try posting at the trot is to have them while standing still on the horse try and let go of the reins and keep their center of a balance with their arms stretched out to the sides.
- Eventually, once your student can post well, you can use the above exercise on the lunge line as a great confidence builder at the trot. The kids and even adult students get excited when they can say, "I did it with no hands!
- When you are emphasizing that the rider is following the motion of the horse's back as it lifts up, we need to remind our riders that we are not standing up and going as far as the horse's back takes us up, but we are trying to move with the horse's rhythm and movement. Later on, we can use our posting to influence our horse's stride, but that comes a lot farther down the line. For now, we want to post with our horse's natural gait.
- I have found that reminding the student to bring their hips forward to follow the horse's motion makes a huge difference. Again, because of the way the horse's back moves at the trot, they bounce us up and forward. To follow the motion of the trot, we need to lift up our seats from the saddle but also our hips will move forward since that is where the horse's trot is sending us in the saddle.
- When you get the hang of posting, you will realize that if you are riding in a centered position then once you start trotting, the horse is doing most of the work and we are just following with our bodies (making it more comfortable for the horse and ourselves).
Posting on the Correct Diagonal
Posting on the correct diagonal means that you are rising up as your horse's outside (leg closest to the arena fence on the circle) front leg is stepping forward. Posting on the correct diagonal, in my opinion, is best taught after your student has learned the basics of how to post and follow the horse's motion.
That is hard enough for some in the beginning that adding the factor of figuring out when to stand just leads to not only frustration but also weakens their position. Since they start looking down to see if their diagonal is right or wrong.
I let my students get established and confident in their posting, the basic up, down, up, down and following their horse's rhythm first. Then learning how to post on the correct diagonal and how to change diagonals if you are on the wrong one is the next big step that they need to learn.
Stay tuned for a future article going in-depth on help with learning diagonals. Get the basic posting motion down first and that will come next!
Break It Down: Small Steps Lead to Success
By breaking it down into small steps and making sure your student understands why and how we do things, you will lead them to be more confident and successful in their riding.
When you are teaching new riders, there is no such thing as taking it too slow. A good foundation and a basic understanding of why we do things help to build confidence in riders of all ages.
Always remember there is no rush—it is way easier to take your time and learn correctly and slowly than to regain back lost confidence because you rushed to do something you or your student was ready for.
Ellison Hartley (author) from Maryland, USA on August 19, 2018:
Thank you for reading my article! I hope it helps new riders make sense out of posting a little more easily,
Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on August 19, 2018:
Very informative. Will be useful for novices