What is a diagonal? A diagonal is “joining two opposite corners of a square, rectangle, or other straight-sided shape.

When you are driving a diagonal there can be different lengths. 

  • There’s the long diagonal from the corner on one side “F” to the opposite corner on the other side of the arena “H”. 
  • Then there is the short diagonal that starts at the corner “F” and ends at the opposite side at the middle “X”.
  • Or it could start at the middle “X” on one side and end at the corner at the opposite side “H”.
  • There is what we call the “ice cream cone” that starts at the center of the end of the arena, between the corner and ” C” and goes to the center of the long side “E” where you just came from as in Preliminary Test #6.

Then for all the diagonals, the speed you must go can be a working walk, a walk on a long rein, a working trot, collected trot, lengthened trot or a lengthened trot on a long rein.

The Long diagonal

Let’s start with the most common diagonal which is the one that goes the full length of the arena, one corner to the opposite side corner. When you come around the corner at the short end of the arena, is when you need to start setting your horse up for driving a diagonal. 

You are going to make a left turn from “A” and start your diagonal at “F”.  You are on your right rein, so just as you turn the corner do a half halt on the right rein to slightly slow your horse down, this will let him know that something is going to be asked of him. Once you horses’ nose is at “F”, you will ask him to turn left. When he is lined up straight to “H” is when you ask him to proceed at whichever gait the test specifies.

At letter “X” you will change rein so that you will be on your left rein!

When the nose of your horse gets to “H” then you will do a half halt on the left rein to slow him down and let him know a change is coming. You will want to finish the right turn at “H” at the gait specified in the test.

In training test “4”, the long diagonal is split into two gaits.  You start with a free walk on a long rein and the at “X” you change to a working trot.  Again, just before “X” give your horse a half halt so he knows something is going to change.

The Short Diagonal

The short diagonal is driven the same as the long diagonal except you have half the distance.  There is less time at which to show the judge your walk on the short diagonal, which is generally what is asked.  Although training test “4” has two short trots in it.  When driving a diagonal on the short diagonals, make sure the change of gait happens when the horses’ nose passes the point where the test says you are to change gait.

There also can be a long diagonal where you trot half the distance and then upon reaching “X” you change to a walk. Preliminary test “6” goes from a lengthened walk to working walk, to working trot all on the long diagonal.

The most interesting diagonal comes as you drive what we call the “ice cream cone”.  Preliminary test “2” has a cone starting at “B” with a 20-meter half circle ending at “X” where you start the short diagonal to “M” on the side line.  When doing this movement, you need to keep your horse going forward at the working trot through the half circle right into the diagonal.  

The ice cream cone can also be done with the movement starting with the short diagonal “M” to center “X” with the 20-meter half circle at the end.

The judge will be looking for that constant pace through the entire movement.

Diagonal Hazards

A few things that you need to look out for when doing the diagonals:

  • If you practice at home and start your diagonal at the same place all the time, your horse will learn to anticipate the movement.  Mix it up! Long diagonal can be started from four different letters “H, M, K, F”.  Short diagonals have at least twelve places you can start them at!
  • Remember to use your half halt!  I generally put the word “listen” with the half halt.  It is just the slightest of pull with your pinky finger.
  • Make sure that your rein change is right at the “X” on the long diagonal!  The judge will be looking for it there. Your horses head should show that slight tilt of the nose to the inside.
  • When coming around that corner to start the diagonal, be sure your shoulders are relaxed, and you are looking at that “letter” across the arena.  By looking that way, your inside shoulder will drop, and the rein will pull lightly, thereby helping your horse around the corner.

Like any other movement in a dressage test it takes lots of hour of practice to get the diagonal perfected.  Remember to alternate your practice of the diagonal with other movements, such as circles, or just straight lines so both you and your horse don’t get stressed while learning the movement.

The judge will always find something about the movement that they don’t like!  None of us are perfect, not even the judges!

Most of all remember to have fun driving your horse!