Following Release Follow-Up Questions

AoifeTheRambler asked some great follow-up questions in a comment on my previous post, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to answer them because I think they are important issues we all deal with when using the following/automatic release.  While I don’t claim this is the definitive ruling on any of these issues, in my opinion and based on my experience, this is how I’d address them:


Q:  “I used to keep my shoulders back (along with most of my torso) no matter what back in the age of the crest release, but now I curl up slightly when I go forward. Is this due to the release, and if so, do you have any tips to fix it without interfering with my release?”

A:  Most of us are taught to ride with an arched back and square shoulders to go along with the crest release.  And with the crest release, this kind of position is possible because the elbows are bent and the support of the upper body rests in the hands, not the hips and back.  Pressing into the hands will actually tend to push the shoulders back.

But when you remove the hands from your upper body support, all that changes.  Now it’s mostly up to your hip, back and abs to hold and balance your upper body.  Arching your back and squaring your shoulders is only going to lock your upper body position in place, preventing you opening and closing your angles naturally with the motion of the jump.   And it’s also going to restrict the following motion you need in your shoulder and arm to give the release properly.  (Try it now while sitting in your chair – it doesn’t work! ;-)

I would say you should still aim to maintain a straight (not arched) back by folding at the hip rather than the waist, but don’t get too upset if your shoulders round forward a bit as your whole arm reaches forward and down to follow the mouth.  I think this is perfectly natural and any attempt to keep the shoulder square while releasing and stretching the arms forward is going to cause unnatural bracing and have weird consequences elsewhere in your position.


Q: “I'm not fully sure about how much contact I'm meant to feel over the fence. I sometimes feel like I'm giving away too much rein, though longer reins suit my horse. How should the contact feel?”

A:  One of the most important advantages of the following release is consistency.  It doesn’t catch the horse in the mouth suddenly in mid-air or completely drop the contact in front of the fence the way a crest release does.

I would say the best guide for how much contact to have in the release is dictated most by the amount of contact you have in the strides leading up to the fence.  If you are steadying to the jump with a stronger feel, then that is probably the best level of contact to maintain over the jump; that won’t upset the horse’s balance in front of the fence and has the added advantage that you’ll have the same steadying contact on the landing that you did on take-off, so you’ll be in a better position to manage the pace and collection to your next fence.  You still have to follow, but it’s ok to keep that feel as you do.  And, of course, if your horse is light and soft, a light soft contact in mid-air and on landing will work beautifully.

The biggest goal is to make as few sudden changes as possible; treat the jump just like another canter stride as much as possible.  But when in doubt, always err on the side of giving away too much rein than holding too much.  Between grabbing the horse in the mouth/restricting with the hand and having too loose a rein, the loose rein is always the lesser of two evils.


Q:  ”Is it a sin for my leg to be further forward than my hip? I try to "crouch" like the cross country riders in your original post on the automatic release, but it's hard to close my angles while maintaining the line between hip and heel. How do they work in unison?”

A:  From a technical standpoint, it is the most balanced "ideal," and if it’s something you’re worried about, there are a few things you can check first.  Does your saddle have a forward enough flap for your stirrup length?  Sometimes if stirrups are too short or the flap isn’t forward enough (or both) it will be tempting to keep the knee anchored in a secure place and orient the rest of the body around it. Keep an eye on stirrup length and practice the habit of riding with your knees forward and down, allowing your heel to come back under your hip as your knee angle closes.  And, yes, your lower leg will move back behind the girth where many riders are taught the leg should never go; this is normal, so don’t panic if, as you shorten your stirrups and close your angles your leg moves back a little.  It may end up a hand or two behind the girth when you’re in position.

But not everyone has the same conformation, and it’s possible your angles just aren’t going to close that way.  That’s perfectly normal.  It’s also the case that, the shorter the stirrups, the farther you’ll get from the “ideal.” Our bodies are designed to balance themselves by keeping the foot more or less under our center of gravity.  Your position will be strongest when that center lines up with your hip and your heel.  But everyone's is different depending on how they're built, and neither position is static – your center of balance will shift slightly depending on the rest of your position.  The more you shorten and crouch, the more out of line it wants to be; think of a jockey’s position.  It’s more important to keep your ankle under your center of balance than in line with some theoretical ideal.

So no, it’s not a huge sin so long as your balance is secure.  My rule of thumb for position is based on function.  The best question you can ask yourself about your jumping position is:

“If I were picked up off my horse and placed on solid ground in this exact position, would I still be able to stand comfortably on my own in good balance?”  Be brutally honest.

If the answer is:  Yes, this is easy… then you’re fine.

If the answer is:  Well, maybe if I put my arms like this or flail around a little, etc…. then you may be asking for trouble.

And if the answer is:  Ouch!  I think I just fell on my ass!... then you’ll need to work on getting your heel under your hip a bit more.

That’s also one you can test out now off your horse – first, make sure no one is watching ;-) Then, stand up and crouch down into a jumping position, closing all the necessary angles (don’t forget your ankles!)  Test how it feels with your hips in front of your heels, in back of your heels; open and close your hip angle, etc..  Anything you can maintain comfortably, keeping your eyes up, your back flat and your shoulders loose while moving your hands forward and back in a following motion is where you want to be on your horse.  Anything that makes you feel like you might fall on your face or your ass is going to need adjustment…

This rule, for me, applies to your riding position at all times, on the flat or while jumping.  If it doesn’t work on the ground, it’s not going to work in the stirrups.  Not everyone will agree, but it makes the most sense to me.


Anyway, hope that answered your questions.  Let me know if there’s anything I can make clearer or if you have any other questions!


8 comments:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. You've made a lot of things much clearer. Especially, the answer about the the contact and feel with the reins.

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  2. thanks! glad it made sense :-)

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  3. I have been waiting for the answer to the "curling" question!

    Because: every trainer my daughter has had fusses if she curls even the slightest bit. I have always told her (w/o really knowing why) that when I see her jump, the curling happens when she's doing everything else RIGHT. She has a long torso and long legs, and that extra bit of body has to do something! On a really big horse, the curl is much more slight.

    When she locks things into place and looks like they tell her to look, there is usually something wonky going on with her release. (at least in my mind!)

    The current trainer doesn't belabor the curl but notes it. I feel like shouting "but look at her balance over the fence! look where her hands are!"

    To me, the point is to get over the jump safely, comfortably, and in balance with the horse.

    I almost wonder if the key (if competing) is to find the horse that best suits your personal "conformation" so that you and the horse look good together over fences. I'm shooting from the hip with this idea, so tell me if I'm nuts! :)

    I am so glad someone finally explained this in a way that makes sense and is based on a solid position instead of the position du jour.

    Thank you!

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  4. billie - yeah, i think both your instincts are right. the mechanics of balance and giving a good release make it impossible to keep the shoulders completely back. i think as long as you are folding your upper body at the hips and at the waist, and keeping the back flat, you're still correct.

    i hate to keep saying it, but i think george morris is responsible for that fallacy too, because he's so obsessed with superficial appearances. but if you read and listen to what he says, he lets men totally off the hook for rounding their shoulders and even roaching their backs because they are supposedly taller and have more upper body to manage (which has nothing to do with it), but he expects all women to pose perfectly on top of the horse. well, excuse me, but i'm tall too! i know he's a man with his own particular "preferences" but that just bugs me.

    and i definitely think there are some horses we'll just struggle more to ride than others because of our respective conformations. my eq horse had the perfect depth of girth and roundness of barrel for my leg and the perfect length of neck to balance my upper body. we just worked. i feel like that on nate too. but i've ridden horses i didn't feel as balanced on and even though we still did everything right, it just wasn't the same. so maybe there is something to finding a horse that fits you, not only personality- and ability-wise, but physically too. at least if you want to compete in judged events :-\

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  5. It only makes sense that how a person is built will affect the correct position for the horse. I mean just look at the laws of physics. Those don't disappear just because you're talking about people. They are still the same so how one is built and how one's horse is built will most certainly affect the proper point of balance.

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  6. Thank you so much for answering these! I tested my position in my kitchen and got some funny looks from my family :L Everything makes much more sense now that you've explained it :) I'll definitely keep these in mind when jumping, thank you so much!

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  7. rising rainbow - it makes the most sense to me to think of it that way :-)

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  8. aoife - no problem! hope they help. let us know how it goes :-)

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