Glenshee's First Online Riding Clinic, Part I

One of our readers has very generously agreed to participate in a virtual clinic here on the blog.  Reesie found GEC through a previous post on releases over fences.  She was good enough to submit some of her own photos for review.  In this post, I will critique some of them, which I hope will be helpful.  Please feel free to comment on the critiques or let me know if you think there is anything I've missed or I haven't explained well.

 While this pic is blurry, it's easy to see a positive effort here.  I really like to see the low/following release and well balanced, centered position.  Her lower leg has slid back a bit, but her angles are well closed and her weight is in her heel, giving the impression of confidence and security.  That her horse looks positive over a solid xc fence is further proof.

As anyone who has ridden xc knows, a crest release just doesn't cut it in the field over solid jumps.  This is a good example of correct basics in conjunction with what appears to be a good low release in which the hand is in line with the mouth but rests gently in front of the shoulder on the neck.  It is a compromise between the support of a crest release and the balance and give of a full following release.  There is slight tension on the left rein, but I am assuming that is for straightening or steering purposes.  If a rein aid needs to be given in mid air, tI would prefer to see an opening or direct rein used, rather than the direct rein of opposition, but in this case it does not appear to be having a negative effect.  There is some slack in the right rein, but this actually makes sense when giving directional aids in mid air, so as to make them very clear to the horse without having to be overly strong.  

I like her closed angles and weight in her heels, though her lower leg appears to have slipped back a little more than is ideal, which leads me to believe there is either too much weight on the stirrup or too much grip in the knee.  In a 2-point, the base of support should be divided between some grip with the knee - allowed first to come forward and down - and a firm placement of the lower leg against the barrel just behind the girth, with only a small percentage of weight on the actual stirrup.  More specifically, the part of the leg involved in this base is the back inside portion just below the bulge of the calf muscle and above the ankle.  I have found this is most effective when it takes advantage of the natural curve of the horse's barrel for support, which also helps to keep the base close to the horse's own center of gravity, making it easier to stay with the motion, especially over jumps.

 The same is true of this photo.  Another nice effort, with good low/following release, seat shifted back toward the cantle and angles closed for balance.  I am a fan of short stirrups for jumping, and this length might work well, but again her lower leg has slipped back a little further than I'd like to see.  It may be partly due to the short leathers, though there are probably other forces at work as well.  I should make clear that, in this case, it is not a major fault because she remains well positioned and balanced otherwise.  I still feel confident in her security, but as the jumps get bigger, recovering on the landing side will become more of a challenge with the lower leg moving back so far in mid air.  I would recommend working on maintaining the same basic form while keeping the lower leg more to the front of the bulge of the barrel.  On a separate note, how often do you see a horse, even off of a short distance like this, jumping in such confident, relaxed form and allowed to use its head and neck forward and down normally?  I wish more horses in all disciplines looked like this.  And the secret?  Good, balanced riding and a correct release.  Well done :-)

Here is a great example of the correct position of a following or "automatic" release.  Note the perfect straight line from bit, through hand to elbow, as well as the consistent contact on both reins.  Her basic position looks correct and secure.  Her slightly roached lower back will not likely win any equitation prizes, but in this case is more about function than form, as it is very difficult to give a proper following release and arch the back at the same time.  In fact, doing so is very artificial and risks the rider getting overly stiff and posed.  A straight back would be ideal, but I don't actually mind the slight rounding in this case because the rider has remained secure, her eyes are up and, more importantly, she has given her horse a good release.  My only suggestion for improvement in this photo is possibly shortening the stirrup leathers a hole or two.  

It is very common to see riders who, in conformity with the fashion of the day, ride with longer leathers over fences and begin to stand in their stirrups and often become unbalanced over fences (which is also one of the reasons for the popularity of the crest release....)  That has not happened here, but I worry about the tendency in riders who have habitually long stirrups to stand up over fences.  Just something to watch for.  

Over a small fence like this, a longer stirrup is not a big deal, but I'd like to see her knee angle closed a tiny bit more, which would allow her knee to come more forward and down, strengthening the support possible between ankle and calf.  But this position is sufficient for this height; her weight is in her heels, her seat has remained over the back of her saddle, and she has closed her hip angle rather than standing in her stirrups and laying on the neck as is the fashion today.  Very refreshing to see!

What can I say?  Jumping bareback, heels down, angles closed, eyes up and a nice, CORRECT crest release!  It looks as if this cute horse may have gotten deep to the fence and jumped it a little big, but she's stayed balanced and secure.  I'm impressed :-)
Although the standard is blocking most of her leg, what can be seen of her position presents a very correct picture.    This is a good demonstration of the correct way to use a crest release.  Although there is still some tension in the rein, the amount is not significant and the horse is jumping in good form (he's a cute little horse, too!)  But, more critically, the rider has not sacrificed her position to serve the crest release or used it as an excuse to use the neck for support of her upper body.  Instead she has, correctly, shifted her seat back in the saddle toward the cantle and closed all of her angles (knee and hip,) which allows her to balance her center of gravity over the strongest part of her base of support - her leg - eliminating the need to balance on the hand.  My only small concern is that, without being able to see her lower leg position, and no toe visible near the girth, I wonder if her foot may have slid too far back...  But either way, I'd call this effort a success.  If you must use a crest release, this is the way to do it.  Nice job!


  1. I thought this was very informative and clearly presented. In the future I would hope that this might become a regular feature. If I had any pictures of me jumping or actually riding a test in dressage I'd send it in for a critique but I really have no pictures presently. Good job!

  2. Very nice, and useful post. I'm glad she volunteered - her basic position and use of the release is excellent - I do get tired of the "mannered" crest release, where people are just perched on top in a position that wouldn't work if the horse weren't a flat jumper and on auto-pilot. Very few trainers teach a good automatic release, and there should be more of it.

  3. What a great post and I'm impressed with the rider!

    I think my age and knee function has me wanting to lower stirrups inappropriately (I liked the one shot where the stirrups are lower, but it's more b/c I can feel the strain on my knees when I see the shorter ones!) - but it's been so long since I jumped anything more than a baby jump I'm out of the loop on how it even feels to stay in balance over a sizeable obstacle.

    I love the head position in all the photos - so many times these days you see riders crouching down with their faces right on the neck, or looking down to one side.

    By keeping upper body up and open to what's ahead, I think this rider gives the horse the message that she's "with him/her" and confident in the horse to take her on through the course. Not to mention keeping the rider weight well-centered.

    I agree with ghm - you should do this regularly!!

    I wish I had some photos to send!

  4. billie - thanks! i wish i had more willing victims ;-)

    i don't mind longer stirrups over fences so long as the rider stays well disciplined and can resist the urge to stand in them. it's hard but it can be done.

    but i'm also a believer in closing all the angles to basically the same degree over a jump, which is harder to do with longer stirrups. for example, if the knee is at 90 degrees, the hip should also be at around 90. but if the knee is closer to, say, 145 that would require an awkward upper body position, and the rider ends up either sitting up too much (and maybe getting left) or throwing the upper body forward (and needing the crest release to balance.)

    so i think it works over smaller jumps, but not over the bigger ones where the rider needs to crouch more to stay with the horse and absorb the shock of the jump by letting the angles compress more.

    does that make sense?

  5. Makes total sense and in no way do I disagree. It's that compression of the angle of the knee that I can "feel" in my now older knees that makes me want to lengthen the stirrups - this was one of the reasons I turned to dressage when I returned to riding. The first lesson I had in a close contact saddle with stirrups at the "normal" position I almost died. My knees totally locked up on me!

    It might be that by now I could do it, but I haven't been brave enough to make another attempt!

    The times I have jumped on Keil Bay have been in my dressage saddle, and interestingly, I unconsciously drew my legs up and left the stirrups dangling - so my guess is that my body returned to what it learned when I was young, which was those correct angles. It's the riding around with the stirrups that short that I can't do!

    Is it correct to say that if you are on a balanced horse, and you the rider remain balanced, the horse sort of folds you into the correct angles if you follow his body with yours? That's always how I think of it now, but it's based on memory, not anything I've been able to really test out at this point.

  6. ha ha, i can totally relate to knees not wanting to bend that far! the last time i wanted to go for a good canter in the field i cranked up my leathers and my knees started screaming at me :-\ if i get back into jumping this year it will be interesting to see how that affects things... maybe the answer is jumping without stirrups! then you can't stand in them and no stress on the knees ;-)

    i think it is absolutely true that the thrust of the horse's jump and its actual movement over the jump naturally fold the (balanced) rider into position.

    i think the trick to successful jumping is not actually in standing up, leaning forward and folding down, as some do. these more active jumping techniques unbalance the horses, i think. i see it more as resisting the natural force of the jump in subtle ways that prevent you slamming into the horse's back or being launched away from it at various stages of the jump. all that takes a lot of good timing and coordination, but the basic movement is all created by the horse.

    so may people get into trouble thinking that staying with the horse is about actively jumping with the horse, but i think it is more about staying balanced and absorbing the shock of the jump with the ankle, knee and hip joints, which requires letting the horse jump up to you and controlling how far he joints compress...

    hope that makes sense!

  7. Perfectly described - thanks.

    I've watched my daughter in some jumping lessons where it felt like (to me) the instructor was almost saying too much about what to do with what part of the body. Mostly because of using the crest release, which seemed to force the issue that you put your hands here, and then the rest of the body sort of had to line up behind that construct.

    Whereas, my sense as a mom standing on the sidelines was that telling my daughter to focus on her own balance over the horse, and as you said, taking the shock in those 3 places, and following the horse's neck/mouth with the hands, would then allow the natural position to "fold/unfold."

    The thing I've seen a lot of is that when you tell young riders their hands need to go up on the neck in one fixed position, it does all kinds of crazy things to the rest of the body. As illustrated by the fact that when you take the reins away, and even the stirrups, you see the same rider's position correct itself b/c that rigid hand position is not in the picture at all.

    Anyway, as usual, I'm rambling on here, but it's been awhile and you're so much fun to discuss this stuff with!! :)

  8. i love discussing this stuff with you too! really gets my brain going (which isn't easy to do ;-)

    i used to have the exact same problem using the crest release - i would want to reach way far up the neck, but then i'd have to open my knee and hip angles to actually reach that far, and everything would fall apart! good for you for spotting the problem - that's more than most instructors and judges manage to do :-)

  9. I really like this post! Very informative. That bareback rider left me gasping - approaching fences with a saddle would terrify me, let alone bareback..ahhhh....

  10. thanks michelle :-) yeah, she really made jumping bareback look easy, but it's definitely not!

  11. hi kate! i have no idea how i missed your comment! i must have accidentally deleted the notification e-mail :-/ oops!


I enjoy reading all your comments and welcome discussion and debate. I do my best to answer most comments in a timely manner, but this may not always be possible. I will publish all comments providing they are relevant to the subject.

Thank you for reading. We look forward to hearing from you.

Copyright © J.M. Elliott 2008-2018. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.