Simple Setup #6- Long Diagonal and Finding ‘X’

Diagonal lines are not only an essential arena figure to learn..but they are also a wonderful way to incorporate several other riding skills (like reining, looking ahead, bending) and life skills (like spatial awareness, critical thinking, planning ahead) into a lesson.

Arena Setup Instructions

8 cones– The cones will be set up in ‘pairs’ around the arena. It will works best if you can have four cones of the same color (see image to right). The same color cones will go on the same diagonal line. Each pair of cones should be set at least 3 or 4 feet wide to start with (possibly wider if you will need to fit a full team of volunteers through there!).

Tip: Make sure you walk on foot (or ride on horseback) through the cones to make sure that you are setting your student up for a correct diagonal line. Don’t be afraid to adjust the cones if needed during the lesson if they are guiding your student to the wrong point, if your student does this at a trot, etc.


Printed Pattern or Handheld Whiteboard– Some times (really most times) verbally explaining a pattern is not enough so having a copy of the pattern or a handheld white boardwith the pattern drawn out may be a very helpful tool for you to maintain clarity and set your student up for success.  Having the pattern printed out can also be a visual tool for you to help explain the different terms you might use.

NOTE: The exercises and Simple Setup is for ‘long diagonals’ and is a great way to introduce change of rein across the diagonal. There are also ‘short diagonals’ in an arena as well. Want to work on incorporating long and short diagonals or make long diagonals a little more difficult due to less visual markers? Check out Simple Setup #4

Exercise #1- Riding the Diagonal Line

Riding a single diagonal line

Start by first explaining what a diagonal line is by giving the general definition. If it is suitable to your student, you could ask them where a they might be able to make diagonal lines in the arena (before you give them the answer or show them the pattern). You can also ask them if they have heard of the term ‘diagonal’ in every day life (math class? art?) or where they have seen diagonal lines before. Incorporating questions like these are great for building critical thinking skills in your students and keeping them engaged during the times where we have to explain things (those can get a little dry if we just ‘talk’ at our students.)

Tip: If you have introduced the posting trot and posting diagonals before, you may need to clarify that there are posting diagonals and diagonal lines that you ride. See if your student can figure out why it’s call a ‘posting diagonal’ (hint: diagonal pairs of the horse’s legs). 

Riding diagonals lines 'back to back'

Once you have explained what a diagonal line is, show them where the diagonal lines are in the arena and explain how your student can use the cones as guides to help them find and ride the diagonal lines. To teach to visual learners you can incorporate your printed pattern at this time or actually go out and demonstrate (on foot) how to use the cones to make a diagonal line. 

Make sure that “common sense terms” don’t accidentally sneak into your explanation and are left without an explanation. “Common sense terms” are those terms that us horse people use on a regular basis without second though and we forget that most people need an explanation of what they mean and/or how to do them. So what terms might sneak in? “Riding into your corner” “Going deep in the corner” “Short rail” “Long rail”…you get the idea.

You will also need to teach and/or reinforce the riding skills your student will need to be able to ride this figure.  How, when, and where will they use their reins, leg aids, or what specific points should they be looking too? Incorporating the whats, hows, whys  of the riding skills that they will need to ride the diagonal lines keeps you from sounding like a ‘traffic cop’ and just telling them where to turn and walk. Whats, hows, whys of the riding skills should not only be present in the initial explanation of the activity but also throughout the lesson. (see the end of this post for more details).

Don’t forget to tie in to your lesson the ‘why’ learning how to ride diagonal lines is important. Some examples: 

  1. Diagonal lines are a way to change directions
  2. Diagonal lines are often a piece that is added into a bigger pattern (in competitions)
  3. You might hear the term “diagonal line” in your daily life or at school….so why not learn it here with the horse!

Do you have other ‘whys’ for learning diagonal lines? Shoot me an email! I would love to hear from you

Variations of Exercise #1:

You can have your student ride diagonal lines back to back at first so they can get in the rhythm of what diagonal lines feel like. Once they get the hang of diagonal lines you can then have them ride on the arena rail and call out “change of rein across diagonal” and challenge them to ride to the next place they can start a diagonal line. This is where it gets tricky….often times rider’s think that they can just turn in any corner and go across and they are changing reins across the diagonal. However, you have to ride through the second corner on your short rail in order to be able to start your diagonal  line. If you turn after riding through the first corner you just make a sharp turn (riding an incorrect diagonal line) and end up looping back the same direction in your next corner. Depending on your rider’s ability to process, you can change how much lead time from the start of the next diagonal line you give the cue.

The lines of the diagonals form an 'X' in the center of the arena (if ridden correctly) Seeing this visual X in the middle makes it easy to remember that the letter name for the middle is 'X'

Exercise #2- Finding ‘X’ 

First, have your rider perform Exercise #1 where they ride the diagonal lines a few times. Once they have done this, have them stop and look at their tracks in the arena (this works best if the arena has been recently dragged or the footing is damp). As they are looking at their tracks, ask them to identify where they think the middle of the arena is and what letter the lines draw out (you can refer to the printed diagram again if needed). Explain that the center of the arena is also called ‘X’. 

While they are still looking at the center of the arena and they can see their tracks, go out and walk on a diagonal line. Ask your student to call out ‘stop’ when they think you are in the middle of the arena at ‘X’. This will help them ‘see’ the center of the arena and you demonstrating a stop in the middle at ‘X’. 

Once they have seen you (or a helper) go out and stop at X while walking/riding on a diagonal line, have them go out and try it! Ask your student to halt at X each time they ride across the diagonal line . This is a great way to have them practice the spatial awareness and also (short term) planning ahead

Variation of Exercise #2:

Once your rider is able to halt at ‘X’ while riding across the diagonal, you could then change it up and ask them to trot and change their post at ‘X’ on the line. Of course, this is assuming you have taught your rider how to trot, their posting diagonals, and how to change their post at the trot. This Simple Setup is a great way to incorporate all of these skills just listed!

Diagonal, centerline, and midline all cross at 'X'

Variation incorporating past knowledge of terms:

If you have done the Simple Setup for centerline and midline practice patterns you can also remind them that where the midline and centerline cross are also at ‘X’. Have them halt at ‘X’ and point or motion or motion to where the centerline, midline, and diagonal lines run across the arena.

Suggested Riding Skills to Incorporate in above Exercises:

Remember that as an adaptive (therapeutic) riding instructor you should be focusing on teaching a riding skill(s) during your lesson and reinforcing them with a pattern or arena figure. Don’t get stuck on teaching the pattern or figure and leave out incorporating the necessary whats/hows/whys of the skills  your rider needs to be doing in the moment to be successful.

The exercises in this post are suitable for all ability riders. If you have a lower functioning rider that is still working on the fundamentals of position, reining, etc. then take the time to break your skills down and do a Super Fundamental task analysis of the skills used in this lesson. Incorporating terms like ‘diagonal’ is a great way to challenge all of your riders….you never know what terms will stick even with riders we think may have trouble communicating. Some riders may be non-verbal  or cognitively younger than their physical age but it does not necessarily mean that they can’t understand a wide range of  words and/or keep growing their vocabulary.

Both exercises above can easily reinforce steering, transitions, looking ahead, etc. For ideas on how to incorporate these topics check out the explanations at the bottom of Simple Setup #3.

Other skills you can reinforce could be:

Changing your posting diagonal– Where do you change your post if you are trotting across the diagonal? Why?

Bending– Diagonal lines are a great way to incorporate bending…specifically changing bend. The rider starts off the diagonal line in one bend (say the left), rides in a line across to the diagonal corner, then rides through the corner in a new bend (to the right). The straight line between corners is a great time to prepare riders for the new direction and change of bend coming up. The cones also act as great markers for when to start preparing your horse for change of bend or asking them to straighten out after a corner. Why is bending important?

Inside/Outside: You can talk about the terms ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ when referring to reins, aids, the horse’s body, etc. When you change rein across the diagonal you also change inside/outside. You can quiz your rider on where the inside/outside of their horse is during various parts of the exercise. Why is being able to identify inside/outside important?


Written by Saebra Pipoly. Learn more about the author by clicking here.Send Saebra an email at saebra.p@hooffallsandfootfalls.com, subscribe to the Hoof Falls & Footfalls newsletter, follow on instagram, and subscribe to the YouTube channel! Want to easily design, edit, and share your own arena setups? Check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab with S Pen  

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