Choosing The Perfect Release

Photo by Adam Hill.

BY Hannah Fichter

You enter the ring, and as you’re approaching a fence, you’re juggling many thoughts. You’re making sure your horse is heading in straight while calculating the perfect distance for the jump and trying not to forget which fence is next. Oh, and there’s the small matter of ensuring your horse doesn’t stop mid-stride. It’s a mental whirlwind unique to the jumping arena.  

Now, let’s add another layer of complexity: your body placement, especially your hands. No two horses are the same – some have long necks, others short. The type of release you choose depends on your horse’s physique and the kind of jumping you’re doing. It’s a nuanced dance tailored to each unique pair of horse and rider. 

The release you select may vary from fence to fence, but the underlying principles remain the same and as you develop as a rider, you might find yourself favoring a particular type of release. Still, knowing your way around all types of releases is crucial, as well as understanding when and how to use each one.  

The Crest Release 

The Crest Release is a fundamental skill for all. When executing a Crest Release, you slide your hands up your horse’s neck as they’re about to jump. The idea here is to give your horse the freedom to use its head and neck for balance. It’s called a “release” because you’re letting go of the horse’s mouth as they take off. Just remember, don’t cling onto your horse’s mouth over the fence because it could hinder their performance and annoy them.  

The Crest Release comes in two types: long and short. Each has its distinct advantages and is used in different scenarios. The type of Crest Release you choose will depend on factors like your horse’s experience level, the complexity of the course, and your jumping position. 

The Long Crest Release  

The long crest release is usually the first one you’ll learn as a beginner. Here, your hands move more than halfway up the horse’s neck, staying steady as they jump. This release offers the horse plenty of freedom but leaves you with less control.  

Remember, the trick with a long crest release is to avoid throwing your whole body toward your horse’s ears. You only want to move your hands and elbows. If you throw all your weight up the neck, it becomes harder for your horse to jump as all the weight is on the horse’s front end while they’re trying to lift up to get over the fence. 

When To Opt For The Long Release 

For beginners, the long crest release is a lifesaver. It provides maximum position support while ensuring the horse has total freedom of their head and neck. More experienced riders use the long crest release for different reasons. For instance, with a green horse that might make an awkward jump, this release shields the rider from unintentionally messing with their mouth.  

In the Hunter ring, the long crest release is used to highlight the horse’s jump by ensuring the rider doesn’t interfere. As long as the release isn’t overly dramatic and doesn’t divert the judge’s attention from the overall picture, it’s an excellent way to flaunt your horse. It’s best used on seasoned horses that you trust to continue straight after the fence.

The Short Crest Release 

With this release, you glide your hands up your horse’s neck, not quite as far as the long crest release. The beauty of the short crest release is that you stay in control even mid-air, allowing you to be able to move to the neck fence with ease. 

The Perfect Timing for the Short Release 

Imagine a course riddled with turns and pace changes – equitation or jumper classes, for example. The short release is your secret weapon, reconnecting you to your horse’s mouth rapidly post-jump, saving you precious seconds.  

The short release is a trusted ally when you need to land and pivot swiftly without fumbling for reins. It’s often the go-to for green horses, offering them less freedom but giving the rider more control.  

Although the short crest release is common in the Hunter ring, don’t be surprised to see top riders in both Hunter and Jumper rings showcasing variations of this release.  

Example of a crest release. Photo by Adam Hill.

Automatic Release: The Pro’s Secret Weapon 

Envision a ballet dancer gracefully following their partner’s every move. That’s exactly what an automatic release is in the equestrian world. Instead of resting your hands on your horse’s neck like other releases, your hands naturally glide alongside their neck. Picture a straight line from your elbow to your hands to your horse’s mouth.  

Depending on the jump, you’ll lower your hands about three to six inches below the crest. It’s okay if your hands are slightly above this line, but dropping below it can cause discomfort for your horse. The beauty of an automatic release? It offers increased flexibility, the ability to turn mid-jump, and lets your horse freely use their neck when they jump. 

Unlike other releases where your hands follow your horse’s head and neck, automatic release keeps the same contact with your horse’s mouth throughout the jump. But beware your hands won’t provide support for your position, meaning this technique is reserved for riders with a secure jumping position.

Grabbing Mane

The art of mane grabbing over the fence is a matter of debate among trainers. Some see it as an essential tool to prevent beginners from inadvertently catching their horse’s mouth, while others dismiss it entirely. If you’re new to the equestrian world, clutching the mane might be your safety net, ensuring you don’t pull on your horse’s mouth if you miscalculate a distance.  

The mane-grab trick is also employed by veterans when they’re coaching green horses. Let’s face it, teaching a newbie horse to jump can feel like trying to tame a whirlwind. They might surprise you with odd distances, overzealous jumps, or unpredictable reactions. It’s crucial not to instill a fear or negative association with jumping in these green horses, so keeping the training experience positive is key.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to releases. The choice you make depends on a blend of factors: the evolution of your jumping position (think balance, base of support, and timing), the level of training your horse has, and the complexity of the course. Envision your arms as a pair of smoothly oiled hinges working in harmony with your horse’s movements.