The Crest Release... and how it Ruined American Jumping

My Case Against the Crest Release...
In addition to my series of posts on the rein aids, I thought I’d address releases over fences. While not exactly rein aids, they do affect the use of rein aids while jumping, so they are worth a little discussion. Most of us here in the US are taught variations of the crest release for jumping. And while it has its place in starting novice riders over fences, I think our lasting fascination with it is a detriment to our horses and riders at the higher levels.

We can thank George Morris for the popularity of the crest release. He is credited with “inventing” it, thereby allowing average riders everywhere the ability to ride and show over fences. Touted as one of his many indispensable “innovations” on the art of riding, the crest release is a sham. It’s a money-making scheme. Previously known only as a training tool for the greenest of beginners over fences, he re-branded and promoted this farce as a way to allow mediocre riders the opportunity to jump bigger jumps and get them to bigger competitions before they are ready to compete at that level.
--> As a result, a lot of unbalanced, uneducated and unskilled riders were promoted through the ranks before they were prepared, without ever having to put in the time and hard work required to perfect a secure, balanced seat and the correct, but very difficult, following release. This cheat has allowed a certain trainer to appear to be a genius at coaching due to the sheer numbers of riders, however ill-equipped, he promotes through to the higher levels. Add to that the ability of many of these riders to purchase expensive, push-button horses, and riding lessons become little more than a formality. Now anyone can be a “great” rider.
The crest release has become such a mainstay of the H/J world that all equitation and hunter riders are expected to employ it, with an unofficial understanding that other forms of release are unnecessary and may even be penalized by judges who don’t know any better. I have had instructors tell me “a hunter judge wants to see you release all the way up the horse’s ears.” Pardon me but, WTF? How exactly is a rider supposed to maintain a balanced seat with their hands – and therefore upper body – up the neck? And how is the horse expected to jump in his best form this way?

Before you get angry, I am not trying to be condescending or negative: let me assure you I include myself in all of these statements. Sadly, like most of us, this is the way I first learned to ride as well, and it is a hard habit to break once it has been ingrained. And, in the past I have gotten away with it (and have the embarrassing pictures to prove it!) I did what I was taught without much thought about it because I won countless equitation classes using it. I even competed a very quick and athletic jumper with nothing but the crest release, and with great success, despite the restrictions it placed on our jumping. But I realize now that our jumping feats were more a testament to my great horses than to my great riding.

A rare full-side view which demonstrates my point: this is an old photo of me “getting away with” a medium crest release – my equitation horse Lifeguard was an equine genius and a saint. He jumps well despite the restrictive rein. Had I simply lowered my hand a few inches below the crest to make a straight line from the mouth to my elbow, he would have gained ½ foot of rein at least, and there would have been no unnecessary tension on the reins here…

But, about 10 years ago, I started a big, powerful 17.3hh warmblood with an unbelievably ENORMOUS round jump, and I realized the crest release just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. In an effort to release his mouth over a big jump while simultaneously balancing on the neck, I would have to first slip the reins in front of the jump and then hang on for dear life as I got launched out of the saddle – where I would be lucky to land back in my stirrups and gather my reins before the next jump or turn. On more than one occasion, while reaching up the neck as far as I could, I had the wind knocked out of me by the horse’s withers as he rounded over the jump. Not a good position to be in while jumping a big course….

Now, mind you, I have a pretty strong leg and well-balanced seat, and have jumped fairly big jumps all through my riding career, so this was a very new problem for me. But I knew if I continued riding the ineffective way I had been taught, I would discourage my young horse from using himself so well over the jumps and destroy his form and confidence – not to mention inevitably landing on my head one day. So I started thinking hard about my position and jumping technique, and I realized none of my trainers had given the “following release” (or so-called “automatic” release – a term I hate) more than a cursory mention and then forgot about it. So when I asked my trainer (an international Open Jumper rider) for advice on staying with my horse better when he gave those big jumps, he rejected the idea of working on the following release and told me to get my leg down around the horse, sit up more and grab more mane – that I’d benefit more from a longer leg and the extra balance of the crest release if my horse was jumping me out of the tack.

It didn’t work. In fact, it made things worse. There seemed to be a major disconnect somewhere. I realized not even those considered “experts” always had the answers.

So, rather than continue with something that felt wrong for me and my horse, I started training myself. Being on my own and no longer working with a trainer, I finally had the freedom to experiment on my own and, after some study and practice, came to the following conclusions - which are, as you will see from the vintage photos below, nothing new:
  • The crest release forces the rider to open the knee and hip angles, which weaken the base of support and distribute the rider’s weight and balance precariously between the stirrups, knees and hands on the neck. The rider’s seat comes forward and out of the saddle, and the rider’s center of gravity is raised and moves forward over the horse’s withers/shoulders, where it unbalances both horse and rider in the air.
  • The crest release also requires the rider to momentarily drop all contact with the horse’s mouth in front of the jump and then abruptly reestablish contact upon landing, which compromises the rider’s ability to effectively communicate with and help balance the horse. In addition, this dropping of contact can cause a horse to lose confidence, balance and/or impulsion in front of the jump. Taking the contact back suddenly can cause the horse to resist and even throw his head up on landing.
  • The following release allows the rider’s seat to come backward while closing knee and hip angles, strengthening the base of support and bringing the rider’s center of gravity lower and closer to that of the horse, while freeing the hand to follow the mouth forward and down. In such a position, with angles closed, the rider is also in a better position to absorb the shock of the horse’s jump with the ankle, knee and hip joints, rather than having to grip harder with the leg or being thrown out of the saddle.
  • The following release allows the rider to maintain a light, fluid contact with the horse’s mouth before, during and after the jump, with no break in communication and no sudden “dropping” or taking of the contact upon takeoff and landing.

Kathy Kusner is one of the masters of the following release, and it shows in her horses' round, athletic jumps.
at the opposite end of the spectrum...

Magazines are full of glossy photos of our “top” equitation and hunter riders pivoting off the knee and draping themselves over their horse’s necks in mid-air. This, we are told, is great riding. I have to disagree.

What effect exactly, does weighting the horse’s neck in mid-air have on the horse? Well, obviously, the horse makes an arc with his body over the jump, using the head and neck forward and down as a balancing rod and counterweight to the hind end. So the added struggle of supporting the rider’s upper body weight on the neck logically has a detrimental effect on the horse’s ability to take off, clear the jump, and regain his balance on landing.
More specifically, weighting the neck/front end will cause the horse to gain momentum through the air and on the landing side. This will generally manifest itself in two ways over fences:
  • The horse will “cut down” on his arc, so that he will land closer to the back of the jump than he took off at the front of the jump or, conversely, he will flatten the landing side of the arc and land farther from the jump. The horse’s arc should be even throughout and always find its apex over the jump, with a roughly equal distance on the takeoff and landing sides. This does not happen when the neck is weighted.
  • Another consequence is that, landing with greater momentum causes the horse to struggle to regain his speed and balance after the jump. He will usually become strung out and/or rush after the jump for at least a stride or two until the rider can put him back together again. Or the opposite can happen: cutting down at the back of the jump can cause the horse to hit the ground in a heap and stall, which means a loss of momentum and difficulty getting the horse’s impulsion and stride length back up in time for the next jump. It also increases the concussion of the front legs.

Here you can see there is still tension on the reins despite the long release up the neck. You can also see the long stirrup length, open knee angle, lower leg slipped back, and excessive air between rider and saddle as the rider balances on stirrup, knee and hand. In addition, the majority of the rider’s upper body weight is balanced on the neck. This is indeed a very nice horse….

The “American Jumping Style” can now be described as “sticking your ass out and lying on the neck.”

In order to give a crest release, the hand must move from a position over the withers to a position about 6” to 1’ higher up the neck. This lifting of the hand unbalances the rider and, during the horse’s arc over the fence, can actually interfere more with the mouth. Unless the reins are unnaturally long, the crest release does not automatically lighten the contact with the mouth sufficiently for jumping, and this becomes increasingly apparent the bigger the jumps get. It fixes the hand against the neck and presents the horse with an immovable solid object for its mouth to slam into as he begins to reach forward with his head and neck at the apex of the jump and on the landing side.
So, what’s the alternative?
Looking at photos of different techniques, it is clear that simply changing the positioning of the hand gives a better release to the horse without disturbing his balance and while allowing the rider to maintain a more secure, balanced position.
Common wisdom dictates that in order to give a release the hand must move forward. In the case of the crest release, the hand moves forward and UP. However, the horse ideally should use the head and neck in a forward and down balancing gesture; I submit to you that, for the most efficient and effective release, the hand should move forward and downward, following the slope of the shoulder, so long as the hand does not go any lower than the horse’s mouth.

If this rider had chosen a crest release, she would have had to stand in her stirrups, open all of her angles and lie down on the horse’s neck in order to get her hands to a place where the horse would be allowed to stretch his head and neck this far (with this rein length, her hand would need to reach about the third or fourth braid from the poll.) Obviously, this would not be possible, and instead the horse would have had to curl his head and neck under and shorten his jump to accommodate the rider’s fixed hand position in crest release. By letting her hand forward and down, she is able to give the horse freedom to use his head and neck without having to alter her rein length or disrupt her own position and balance

Two beautiful examples of well-balanced, strong jumping positions and the correct use of following/low releases – notice the riders have shortened leathers; they keep their angles closed; their seats shift backward while staying close to the saddle; their upper bodies are lowered toward the withers; and they are not balancing on the hand. That they both manage to maintain soft reins, even while riding cross-country with a full bridle, as in the second photo, is impressive! And the horses look positive, relaxed and confident.

A crest release is perfectly fine for novices to use if they are only jumping up to a 2’-2’6 jump, or perhaps at the maximum a 3’ jump on an athletic horse if reins are sufficiently long. But anything higher than that and the crest release could disturb the horse’s natural bascule and risks interfering with the horse’s balance. However, small jumps are also the best place to practice the following release, and it is well worth the time and effort to use these small jumps to perfect balance and the following release.

A good intermediate step in learning to use the following release is to keep the hands below the crest and balance on the neck in front of the shoulders in what I like to call a "low release." In the photo above the horse has not jumped well, but the rider remains secure and balanced, ensuring she will not hinder her horse’s recovery from a bad jump by adding weight to his head and neck, which he needs to regain his balance. Her hand position, though not ideal, allows the horse to use his head more downward than a crest release would have, and so he is able to rebalance himself without the added obstacles of a restrictive rein and the rider’s weight on his neck.

Prevailing theory is a little more lax; it claims that a rider should always use a crest release, and only attempt to use a following release on fences 4’ and up. The exception, they say, is if the rider does not have good balance – then, a crest release is perfectly acceptable over a 4’ fence or bigger….
Excuse me, what?!?
Why would a person who doesn’t have good balance EVER be jumping 4’ or more? Or 3’ even? These riders should stick to smaller jumps and perfect their balance, not just grab a fistful of mane and go for the big jumps! Where are the trainers who are willing to take some responsibility and instill this in their students?
The philosophy today seems to be: why should anyone learn how to ride, when you can just get a nice horse and perch on top? And why train with someone who makes you work hard when there are plenty of trainers happy to take your money, tell you you’re wonderful, sell you a fancy horse and let you compete at whatever level you want? Why work hard at good horsemanship when you can change the standards of judging for an entire sport so you don’t have to make the effort to do it properly? This is the world created in part by George Morris and trainers like him, who are more interested in making a name for themselves and making money by taking clients to shows and selling them expensive horses, than they are in teaching people how to really ride correctly. Or, perhaps, becoming better riders themselves….

George Morris and his contribution to riding: the crest release. An interesting choice of release for such big jumps; notice the lack of bascule in both horses' jumping forms. The horses' backs are hollow, their jumps flat at the apex, and the arcs are being cut down by the restrictive hand. The second horse is clearly inverted as he prepares to land... on the back rail of the oxer! In the first photo, the horse’s nose is pulled in as he is prevented by Morris’ fixed hand from using his head and neck down and forward for balance – his ears kind of say it all…. The “master” and his method in action. You may judge for yourselves.


  1. I was taught a crest release also,which is fine in the beginning, as you said. The more I rode and the higher the jumps got, it made perfect sense to switch to the 'following' release. It's amazing that most trainers will not take the time to search out the correct way to release, but will just take the 'word of the day' and whoever is spewing it to be absolute law. In order to be a good trainer or rider one must always question and investigate to make certain the correct way is used for the betterment and safety of horse and rider.

    Thanks for this post. It is blatantly obvious from the pictures which release is correct and should be used. Simply by looking carefully at the pictures they will show that common sense and compassion for the horse should prevail.
    Being a more secure and balanced rider is a bonus we could all use too!

  2. GHM - it's weird, right? it goes against the logic behind the crest release - it's supposed to make you feel more stable, but instead it ends up messing up your balance. but since i made the switch, i feel much more secure over jumps - and who doesn't want to be more secure and balanced over fences? :-)

  3. This is SO WEIRD. I was thinking yesterday of commenting and begging you to take on jumping releases as your next series!!!


    This post is amazing, and it is exactly what I was wanting wrt your take on the crest release. Sigh. Not so much for me, as I am only every now and then popping over baby poles with the Big Bay, in my dressage saddle, and basically I just throw him the reins and get up off his back, b/c it's fun for him and I'm not really comfortable with the whole jumping thing at this point in my life. However, I love seeing him so happy, and I love rewarding him, and some bit of girl left in me gets a bit excited when we go airborne. :)

    The real issue is with my daughter, who is being taught the crest release and it is NOT WORKING. Now, to be fair, I suspect this is being taught as a temporary thing, but why the heck not just do it the right way from the start?

    I have been telling her in between lessons to just slip the reins and put her hands on the sides of the neck. She's riding a young horse, who is going over jumps perfectly well, but if she keeps up this crest release thing she is going to either catch him in the mouth or do her own balance in the saddle a grave injury/disservice. IMO. Which is based on what I see when I watch her jump.

    She can jump bareback and with a bareback pad, and her natural position is quite balanced and lovely. It's when the freaking crest release is pushed on her that she gets too far over the neck and it just doesn't work.

    LOL about the caption:

    The “American Jumping Style” can now be described as “sticking your ass out and lying on the neck.”

    What's up with that?

    I continue to bemoan the fact that you are up there and we are down here. I would dearly love to have you teaching my daughter. (not to mention ME) :)

  4. billie - that is weird! i was originally going to do a post on a completely different subject, but for some reason i just kept coming back to this one... i must have been picking up some vibes ;-)

    even my horses that don't jump anymore still love to pop over cavaletti - it's good exercise and a great way to break up the routine and let them have a little fun. glad you and keil bay are able to mix things up a bit!

    i think i meant to take that caption about 'sticking your ass out' out of the post :-\ whoops! but i have literally heard trainers at shows scream that at their students: 'arch your back and stick your ass out!' as if that were the secret to good jumping...

    this post ended up with a lot more ranting than i intended, but it's one of those subjects i can go on about just because it has affected me so personally - i might have ruined a great horse if i had listened to the 'experts' (my trainer at the time was a grand prix rider who was a student of george morris... ugh!) at the time i was young and ambitious so i did what i was told i needed to do to win, but i always think that if i had been a smarter rider, i wouldn't have wasted so much time doing it wrong, and spared my horses a lot of trouble as well! but, you live and learn...

    i think there may be a place for the crest release at the very beginning, but is should be a very temporary stage. and in the past when i've taught jumping to beginners, i don't even use it. i have them shorten their stirrups but keep a light contact with the saddle to the jump (no standing in the stirrups!) and, with longish reins, move their hands forward and down the neck - not up - over the jump.

    it can help to have a martingale or stirrup leather around the base of the neck to grab onto for extra support, and there are two nice squishy muscles on either side of the neck in front of the shoulders that the rider can just as easily use for a little balance without having to jump out of the saddle all the way up the neck. i call it a 'low release' and it's just a stepping stone. from there it's just a matter of lifting the hands away from the neck for a following release, rather than relearning a whole new style of jumping as you progress.

    the best jumping position, imo, is not this popular equitation pose with upper body raised, back arched, butt out, etc., which is a weak, unbalanced and artificial position designed to look nice for the judges (and ends up not looking all that nice anyway :-\ )

    the better option is the one from those older photos where the rider folds into almost a crouching position - the horse jumps up to the rider and closes the rider's knee and hip angles, the seat moves back, but stays close to the saddle and the upper body folds toward the withers - leaving the hands free. it may not win equitation classes these days, but it will keep you balanced and secure and, just as important, will not unbalance the horse!

    it is frustrating when you see a problem and the instructors just don't have the knowledge or the inclination to do something constructive about it. that's the story of my life ;-) i would say i only ever had one trainer who i could come to with a problem and he'd listen to me seriously and we'd work together to come up with a real solution, often by trial and error. i learned more from that trainer because i was allowed to really think and try new things for myself.

    but what you mostly get from trainers is dogma - no one wants to challenge the methods they learned and succeeded with until now... i had one trainer (briefly) who, contrary to every piece of information i presented to refute his theory (including a live saddle fitter,) insisted that the saddle should be placed directly on top of the horse's withers. 'that's the way we've always done it and we've done just fine' was the reasoning behind it. how can you argue with that kind of logic? :-{

    but, the 'low' and following release is the kind of thing that can be practiced at home with ground rails too, so maybe your daughter can learn it on her own?

    i wish i could be there too! i miss teaching most of all, and you all sound like you'd be ideal students! i bet we'd have a lot of fun :-) sigh.

    (sorry, this ended up being the rambling, never-ending comment!)

  5. I think I will get in the arena with her and play around with what you've described so well. I'm NOT a trainer, but I've had lessons and sat through a ton more, and most importantly, I can see when the horse is happy and balanced, and my daughter feels perfectly free to tell me how it felt for her.

    I have to confess that not all that long ago I went to one of those photographers' sites after a pony club regional rally and was for the most part HORRIFIED at the positions on these kids. There were a few who had clearly been taught differently, and they were balanced on happy horses, but mostly it was the ass in the air, lie on the neck pose, and in some cases the heels/legs were so far back on the horse I was glad the photograph didn't capture the landing.

    My problem is that I don't know enough to have a real discussion with any trainer (at least not one where I would be taken seriously) but I can see so clearly when something is just not working.

    I have to wonder if some of this wasn't what disrupted the pony's sudden sourness when they were jumping 3' - he had been doing well but then suddenly he was refusing and running out. Could landing a 3' jump (he's 12.2) from a crest release/unbalanced rider cause him to injure his hocks? He was never lame, but clearly his attitude changed drastically.

    Something happened, and as soon as I saw that he was unhappy and not responding the way he had been, we stopped jumping for nearly a year. I didn't want to ruin him by pushing so hard.

    Now, the trainer is not comfortable (she thinks I'm right but doesn't know how it can work with her training philosophy) with my new rule that we do NOT escalate the leg/whip aid with the pony - if he doesn't respond to a soft request, we notch down and ask for something slightly less, then work back up. The vet told us to assume every resistance is due to pain, not a training issue. It works for him - the issue now is more a trust issue based in a fear of pain, I think, but he will do things for my daughter now b/c he knows she won't try to force him - she will listen, and ask for something he CAN do, and then ask again for the original thing.

    Anyway, she's now jumping Cody and my biggest concern is that he does have some natural talent and tends to do a big beautiful jump up to 2'6" so far - and I don't want to do ANYthing to mess that up.

    His neck is so much longer than the pony's - if she puts her hands up on his crest, the angle of rein to bit is horrible and she literally has to slip 8" of rein to insure he doesn't get caught.

    It feels like it would be so much easier and more efficient to teach her the following release NOW and build Cody's confidence with a truly balanced rider.

    I'm ranting too. Mainly I am just longing for the Perfect Trainer - we haven't had bad ones - but we do seem to find the outer limits fairly quickly, where there isn't a way to go forward b/c our comfort zones with theory and technique part ways.

    The other thing I forgot to mention is that my daughter jumps beautifully with no reins (in the saddle and bareback, on the lunge or with the reins knotted loosely) - her body is balanced and she looks so at ease - it's definitely the position that grows backwards from the crest release that forces her into a weird place.

    I still love that article Jane Savoie wrote awhile back about being an advocate for our horses while we're riding in lessons, clinics, etc. I have told my daughter that if anyone ever tells her to do something that just feels wrong in a clinic/lesson scenario that it's fine to say "I'm not comfortable with that."

    And I've had no issue with approaching clinicians ahead of time and letting them know our parameters. I guess what I am longing for is a true mentor. Thanks for all the great info you're sharing here - it's the next best thing. :)

  6. billie - i know what you mean about being horrified! sometimes i can't watch. other times i just get annoyed... my mother gave me a recent magazine showcasing a 'masters clinic' for the supposed next generation of equestrian superstars, and all i saw was crooked horses and people laying on the neck with their asses in the air! unbelievable! but i'll stop ranting now ;-)

    your pony may well have felt overfaced by the prospect of jumping such a big jump (3' is big for a 12hh pony) with an imperfect balance situation. it may have been putting undue strain on his hind end and back at takeoff, or adding more concussion on his front legs when landing. or it may simply have been a confidence issue - perhaps he was afraid for his balance or that he would not be able to clear the jump with the restrictions of a crest release...

    my eq horse had an issue in his left shoulder that meant he had to stand off of his jumps - verticals especially - to give him room to get his left foreleg out of the way in time. as a consequence, we were never able to do the 3'6 with any consistency because of the huge efforts he would have to make. i didn't want to push him.

    but thinking back, i am beginning to wonder if part of the problem was the crest release - maybe i was weighting his front end unfairly on takeoff, causing him to struggle more than he needed to get out of his own way, and making him worry about his balance over bigger jumps... he probably should have refused to jump at all, but he was an amazing horse who would never stop - he had such a big heart he would crash a jump before he'd quit. i'll always regret not doing more to make things easier for him....

    it's probably good you don't push the pony too far outside his comfort zone until you now what's causing the problem. taking a step back, for me, is always the right solution. i only had one trainer who would LOWER a jump if the horse had an issue with it so we could work our way back up with confidence, and hopefully spot the root of the problem along the way. rarely did he suggest pushing the horse or going to the whip unless the horse was blatantly just not paying attention...

    ...unlike the nightmare trainer i had who picked up a jump pole and swung it at my horse's hind end because he refused a liverpool the first time ever seeing one! and then laughed at me when i asked if i could get off and lead him over it once. i did get off, led my horse out of the arena and never trained with him again. having those boundaries and standing up for the horses is so important when working with any trainer. (and doing it my way, my horse will jump liverpools without blinking all day long now ;-)

    one of the smartest things i have ever heard a trainer say (though i can't remember who said it) was never to overface a horse or put him in a position where he's going to make a mistake - you always want to show them what they CAN do, not what they can't. so putting them in a position where they crash jumps or have to refuse reinforces the 'can't,' while building the horse up slowly and always going back to things he's good at reinforce the 'can.' that's become one of the core points in my training philosophy - make it as easy as possible for the horse to do what you ask; make the horse feel smart and confident; and praise him for what he does well rather than punish him for what he gets wrong... if you're lucky, in the process you'll also earn the horse's trust.

    the problem you are seeing with your daughter and cody sounds a lot like the problem i was having riding bigger horses over bigger jumps - i was altering my position to serve the crest release, and sacrificing balance and security in the process - for me and the horse. learning to release out of hand might be just what she needs to maintain what sounds like a good natural position....

    i'm also always on a quest for a mentor, but they are in short supply :-\ if you find one, let me know! in the meantime, i'm certainly not the perfect trainer, but i'm always happy to share my experiences and discuss all things horse-related if you have any questions or ideas :-)

  7. Thanks for the feedback - and lest I seem crazy - the perfect trainer to me is one who always matches the method to the horse/rider, which it seems is your bottom line.

    I have had a few trainers who did really nice things but at some point got caught up in their own theories, to the point that when a scenario didn't fit, they wrote it off as "that horse... blah blah blah." Instead of - this doesn't work with THIS horse, so I have to tweak my method to fit.

    None of us are perfect, but I do think having an open mind and being willing to be wrong/humble go a long way toward the ideal.

    The thing about Cody is that he is one of those very honest, big-hearted horses. The pony has enough chutzpah to say NO WAY, but Cody will do anything you ask, so it seems that much more important to make sure we don't ask unreasonable tasks of him.

    I went back and looked through all the photos you posted again. I love those ones where the horses are so free to stretch and round themselves without struggling against the rider's body/reins.

    A while back on a local horse forum there was a wonderful man/trainer who had learned to ride under one of older cavalry style trainers. He had a lot of knowledge and experience, and often thought outside the box (based on current training methods) and he ended up getting run off the board b/c his examples stirred so many people up.

    He started a new forum that was based on classical riding - not just dressage, but all around riding, which was his forte - he believed everyone should be able to hack out with confidence, jump up to 2'6" safely and with balance, and that a balanced, secure seat was the key to any upper level sport. I have lost track of what his forum was - it kind of died out, mainly b/c there was no gossipy stuff on there, just the pure theory and stuff that generally only appeals to serious riders, or people like me who maybe were serious riders in another lifetime. :)

    I can't even remember his screen name, much less his actual name. That has happened twice on the forum - smart, knowledgeable horsefolk getting run off. Sigh.

  8. billie - i have to agree with your definition of a good trainer. not that i'm saying i am one (i try ;-) but for me, beyond my love for the horses, what makes riding and training so interesting is finding that key that unlocks each horse... and they're all different. you never ride two horses the same way, so it's a creative process learning what the horse needs and adapting each time... that's the real challenge of riding.

    it's too bad that cavalry-oriented guy wasn't heard - it sounds like he was very knowledgeable... not to mention having an alternative pov to offer. i have a hard time coping with those forums for that very reason - people aren't there to exchange ideas so much as to listen to themselves talk.

  9. "The “American Jumping Style” can now be described as “sticking your ass out and lying on the neck.”" So funny, and so true. Thank you for posting this very interesting and informative piece.
    I always looked at the old photos of my father and my uncle (open and puissance jumpers) and noticed something radically different about their positions over (comparatively) monster fences from what I see today. Now I understand the difference.

  10. enlightened - it always amazes me that, even with the advantage of quality horses bred specifically for jumping (or dressage), and all the advances in veterinary medicine and management, our riders today still seem to be lacking something the 'old timers' had... not that we should go back in time, but i wish we hadn't forgotten so much of the stuff that worked...

    how cool to have such accomplished horsemen in the family! would you ever consider posting the pics?

  11. Since I got started in horses late in my life, I've avoided jumping. I would have loved to do it when I was younger, however.

    With that being said I have always wondered looking at pictures and sometimes events, how in the heck those horses were managing to pull off such jumps with all of that weight right over their shoulder.

    I know as a rider in pleasure classes that keeping my weight back over my seat where it belongs keeps me out of my horse's way so he can do his job. Seemed to make sense to me if a horse had to be flying over jumps effectively it would be even more important for the rider to say out of the horse's way. The following release makes a whole lot more sense to me as the way to get that done.

    Thanks for another great post.

  12. JME, I too found out long ago that the so-called 'experts' are just normal people who got lucky. And in my opinion, to be a so-called 'GREAT' trainer (someone like Philippe Karl, for example) you have to be innovative, and always searching for a better way. It's taking what you learn, and then /asking the horse/ if it works. It is amazing how many trainers I have in my area that charge over 80$ and hour, and .I. could train .them.! The complete lack of knowledge at a higher level really needs to be eliminated. (It makes finding competent trainers difficult!)

    Sidenote, but I remember several years back watching a jumper class at Devon that was on TV. The jumps were at least four feet, if not more--it was a big dollar money class. And I was watching riders legs fly backwards and out and off of the horse with every jump, and when they were posting, their legs were popping all over the place and they were bringing the reins up and popping the horse in the mouth every time! Expensive horse + Crappy rider indeed!

    I've been jumping baby jumps (1'3") with my Paint, and they are enough of a challenge for his lazy butt to keep him interested, and they are low enough so that I only have to get out of his way. I kept trying to do the crest release, as one of my trainer friends was indicating, and I remember looking at her and saying, 'you want me to put my hands UP THERE?!' there was no way possible to stretch my arms THAT far AND stay back in the saddle. Now I've just taken to giving him enough rein to figure it out himself (good thing he doesn't veer anywhere... lol) while I try to put my butt back, not up, and my hands try to follow him without having the ability to catch him (yay for loose reins). Until I find someone competent, he's doing fine and loving every second of it. Strange boy.

    (Also, take a look at the ass-up jumping style of Findlay's english riders... lol. I've talked to a couple trainers and apparently they come out jumping like this 'American jumping style' you're coined. :P)

    Very informative post! Loved it. :)

  13. I had a really long response posted, but it got eated. I am not happy. So, will post the cliff notes:

    -I am unhappy with the so-called 'elite' riders and trainers. Most do not know nearly enough for the level they are at--most just got lucky.

    -Findlay's English program apparently churns out a startling number of ass-high jumpers.

    -In jumping my lazy paint, we're keeping the jumps super small (1'3"), but he's still interested and challenged, so it works. My lower leg is secure, and the crest release was NOT working for me (now I know why...) so he's just been getting rein so I leave him alone and can figure out a following release.

    Very informative, loved it!

  14. Also, there's an award for you over at my blog.

  15. DIJ - ha, i guess i was just lazy about checking my e-mail and didn't get your comment until this morning... but i love the abridged version too! i agree completely! and i also admire philippe karl - wonder if he ever comes here to do clinics?

    Rising Rainbow - an award... for me? thanks so much! i'll be right over :-)

  16. Haha! I feel silly. I think I totally forgot that you approve comments, and I thought to myself, 'Why didn't it post?! oh no, I lost the whole thing!!!'
    Man, I'm already sounding old with this darn-fangled new technology! LOL

  17. don't worry, i do the same thing :-) i'm hopeless with technology...

  18. Oh! I am going to learn sooo much here. I am pleased to have found you!!
    I am jsut jumping in the woods right now and taking some lessons with a trainer off site from my boarding facility. The trainer there does NOT like my mare because she has issues "between the ears", as she says. I thik My mare is wonderfully talented and can do anything if asked and taught correctly.

    I grew up in Pony Club in the 70's and was taught to run my hands up the crest..don't remember them using the term "crest release".Yet, why would we do that if it was not?
    We jumped a lot without stirrups and reins in clinics..of course I thought it great fun at 10 -15.

    Jsut wanting to get back with it as my mare is phobic of circles and likes to engage things on the ground.

  19. hi kk - so glad you stopped by! good for you for sticking with your mare. i know i've had horses my trainers didn't like, didn't know how to train or thought they could replace with fancier ones, but i love my horses and always found it more rewarding to keep trying with them - through the good and the bad. and i agree that any horse, if you can just can be trained with patience and correct methods - some are harder than others, but that just makes the successes even more rewarding :-) good luck with your jumping!

  20. OK,I'm jumping in to comment...(pun intended).
    The photos clearly speak for themselves and as an avid horseperson and American I'll take the Kathy Kusner style and approach hands down...(pun intended again).

    As for the "American Jumping Style" I have to say it's very funny but also embarassing as hell.
    For God's sake and the sake of horses everywhere who must put up with this STOP!!! People if you can't understand about a secure, balanced and centered seat and the ability to help your horse use himself with the form and function he has in place to jump NO amount of crest releases,2 pointing and ass up in the air is going to get you there and it's not a pretty picture.

    jme...don't even get me started on what a "Working Hunter" is today and what those classed were originally intended to do.

  21. ugh! it is embarrassing isn't it? i also feel a little cheated that i didn't learn the right way and had to teach it to myself after years of doing it wrong! i jumped 5' with a stupid crest release! i wish more people would go to the trouble to learn it and maybe we could start reforming the american 'asses up' jumping style...

    and don't even get ME started on today's so-called working hunters! that might just turn into a post topic in the near future... i could go on for days :-}

  22. Oh what the hell,go ahead and get me started on it!!! It would be a great topic for you to put on the blog.

    As to your ? of if I have a blog of my own I must chuckle and almost spit my drink out as I am not a wizard with the computer keyboard or anything technological!
    Hell,I'm proud of myself for finding these blogs and successfully getting things to post.

    Coming from a strictly fox and field hunting background when I first ventured into the show ring the hardest thing for me was the jumping....I had never had to "count strides between the lines" as there aren't ANY when you hunt all different types of terrain and jump things that aren't going to fall down.You had to know how to ride to whatever you came upon and know that you had a horse under you that could adjust,get in deep or cover and clear if you were short and also make adjustments for whoever might be along side of you or right behind you.Trust me when I say my ass was never in the air unless I was no longer on my horse!There is no way anyone could be in 2 point and laying on the horses neck for 3-5 hrs. 3-4 days a week.

    Back in olden times (pre George Morris)Working Hunter Divisions were mostly for bragging rights and the competitiveness between avid field hunters clubs and as a short version of what we all did and loved. There was always a coup and a water jump and very often an outside course as part of the division AND you had to PLACE in the top 8 or 10 in the hack AND the horse you rode was stripped of tack and judged on conformation...then those horses and riders moved on to the jumping classes.

    You could also elect to compete side saddle if that's how you hunted.Oh for the good old days!!

  23. ok, now i'm definitely doing a post on this after i finish with this last subject! and, i may need to pick your brain about more of this stuff - i wish there was more information about the 'good old days' of riding and showing... it sounds really interesting and i want to know more!

    me, i went backwards - i started out showing hunters, then equitation, then jumpers and progressed to hunter pacing and then hunting :-P it's a whole different world out there, but i love it! now i don't know which one will suit my current horses best, so i'm doing dressage and hacking out in the field these days.

    i've got an equestrian identity crisis - or i guess i'm hoping to do a little of everything when my horses are ready ;-)

    and, for the record, i think counting strides is a joke even in the show ring! i can see counting to 4, maybe 5 tops, but i actually saw a trainer counting to 9 whole strides in a bending line - i wanted to say to him: 'at 9 strides, don't you think you could manage to ride it off your eye? i mean, you are impersonating field hunters in this class! wing it!' geez...

  24. Hi jme,

    I went to the attic and found some stuff from my grandmother. A complete program from the Rose Tree Hunt Club dated 1929!It has some great photos in it and a description of the courses for their hurdle and brush races.Also some history of foxhunting in Pa.

    Rose Tree was in or near Media, Delaware County,Pa.It has long since disbanded and I'm pretty sure most of their hunting area is now all paved,blacktopped and either offices,Granite Run Mall
    or all housing developments.

    I will keep rooting around.I know I have a bunch of hunting related photos,articles and who knows what else.I gather from the title page of your blog that you are a fan or at least enjoyed some adventures in the field.

  25. oh, i wish you could scan those and post them for us! sure you don't want to start your own blog? ;-)

    i've been shopping around online for old-timey horse books looking for just that sort of thing. i want to see the riding positions, the tack, the types of courses and jumps, what they were looking for in the horses, etc. i'm not saying everything today is bad, but i'd like to know the history... compare and contrast a little.

    i've hunter paced all through my riding career, but only started real hunting a few years ago. i'd usually cap once or twice, but i managed recently to fox hunt for a whole season and loved it. we have since moved away and the horse i hunted died over a year ago (he was just wonderful - started his career as a show ring 'working hunter' and ended up the real thing ;-) and when we weren't hunting in the summer, we showed dressage - how many dressage horses fox hunt in the off season do you suppose! lol!)

    i don't have another one suitable at the moment - the other horse i tried to hunt, normally the quietest one i own, spent his entire first time out on his hind legs, and i got the feeling they didn't want him back :-\ but i'd definitely like to learn more about it and maybe check out the clubs near our new farm. who knows, maybe one of these days...

  26. Nice post and so enjoyed the pics of Kathy Kusner. Would you consider Jane Dillon's "School for Young Riders" on your reading list, particularly for young or new riders?

    Just found this blog and am off to peruse, so ...later!

  27. jme,

    I do not own a scanner and even if I did I doubt if I could figure out how to get the scanned photos to your blog.I really am quite inept on all things computer related.

    Here are some sites for the active hunts still in my area.You may be able to get some great info from them and lots of history. They have a great online bookstore

    There is a great book recently published by a beloved huntsman and vet in our area.It is called
    A Backward Glance:Hounds,Horses and Veterinary Medicine by H.L.Todd Addis It is available for $55.00 P.O.Box 2 Elverson,Pa. 19520

    I will continue to look for stuff I might have here.I will mail you the Rose Tree Hunt program if you would kindly return it to me.You can email me at with your address.It even has ads for horse vans and stables circa 1929.The photos alone are priceless.

  28. thanks, linesend! i love those pics too - something to aspire to ;-) thanks for the book recommendation! i have one of her small paperbacks but i hadn't heard of this one - i just added it to my amazon shopping cart!

  29. LMTB - thanks for the links and other recommendations! i will check them out tomorrow when i have more time to dig in...

    and i really appreciate your generous offer to let me look at the program! that would be amazing, and i'd love to scan it and return it to you if you don't think it's too fragile for that much handling... i wouldn't want to wreck it :-|

  30. You aren't supposed to rely on your hand for jumping.

  31. WOW! Thank you for writing this post. i had never thought of why everyone does the crest release. it makes so much sense to use the following release and i am shocked that i have never been told to use one or even rarely seen anyone use one. this is going to revolutionize my riding.

  32. thanks anon! glad you found it helpful, and good luck! i think you'll find a whole new outlook on jumping, as i did, when you start to get the hang of this :-) and your horses will thank you too ;-) let us know how it goes!

  33. I've been riding for 20+ years, but unfortunately in a group lesson/occasional lease arrangement. I'm an adult intermediate rider, and I've experienced a wide range of instruction in my 20 years. I've ridden in America, and in Europe, when I lived there. I love to jump, and I had classical/balance seat training in my riding experience. I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog!!! Thank you for posting what I have felt, for a long time.

    I try to explain to my trainers that despite my informal training, I know when a jumping style "feels" right, or doesn't. It is usually when I'm being forced into the H/J box of the crest release mantra that I feel most stiff, unbalanced, and uncomfortable going into fences. I always jumped my best when I did it my own way, feeling and gauging the release as the horse required. I've been told I'm not doing it "right," but when the horse I'm riding clears a fence smoothly, without the restraint of a crest release, and sails on without my hands interrupting, and my seat is balanced, I don't care what is "right" or not.

    I had the benefit of riding at a barn for over a year, where all our riding was without stirrups (flatwork and jumping). It taught me a lot. It taught me to read the horse, feel how to balance, and how each horse rides and feels differently. I really think some riders are so fixed in doing what they are told to do, and not learning how to feel the horse beneath them, that they loose much in the process.

    Just my two cents.

  34. hi MB - thanks! i'm glad you contributed your two cents :-) it's nice to know there are more of us out there trying to find another way of doing things!

  35. You are missing the fact that GM encourages riders to you an auto release. A crest release is suppose to be used as a stepping stone. Once the rider becomes secure, they are suppose to move on to the auto, which GM tells riders regularly. As far as I know the American Show Jumping team is doing ok for themselves. I mean, Olympic Gold isn't exactly something to sneeze at and GM has been coaching them for years. Highly suggest reading Hunter Seat Equitation before you write something like this.

  36. anonymous - believe me, i have read hunter seat equitation and, while there is some good basic information (pretty standard stuff one finds in most books on equitation) there is much in there that completely ignores the laws of physics, is only about appearance and not good, balanced mechanics, or is downright absurd. which is why i write these posts. i realize the majority of the h/j world worships the man, but i spent years on the circuit watching him in action, listening to him teach and watching his students ride and was not particularly impressed by the ways in which he has strayed from classical and sensible methods and principles to promote this very pedestrian style of riding that i feel is harming the sport. after coming to that conclusion, i went to train in europe, to learn another perspective on things. which is not to say they are perfect there either. they certainly have their share of charlatans, buy-ins and fame whores too, but the scene is nothing like it is here.

    i have also read and studied as much as i can on these subjects so that i have a broad base from which to draw my conclusions. how much have you studied? how many other schools and disciplines have you studied and ridden? there is a wide world out there and hundreds (actually thousands) of years of horsemanship behind us, so i don’t just take one man’s version as gospel. i don’t take anything as gospel. i study it all with a critical eye. are you willing simply to ignore the information and let your eyes be blinded by the gloss of a corporate magazine cover or the sparkle of an olympic medal?

    there is a big difference between a team having the most skilled riders, and the team with the most corporate/financial backing and the best/most expensive horses. think, nona garson. how on earth does a rider like that make it onto the olympic team without some reeeaaaaly generous sponsors and nice horses to ride? trust me, i’ve seen her up close and personal on a horse and she gets jumped out of the tack over every fence. so is the olympic team really that good, or are they just better equipped?

    Think about it; anky won a gold medal and she’s the ice queen of rollkur!!! is she a great dressage rider? someone we should emulate and worship? or does she have a huge corporate backing and no soul? i consider her training to be absolutely brutal torture for horses, and the style of her modern dressage is ugly, disjointed and incorrect. It is painful to watch. so do you suggest we are not allowed to judge her because she won a gold medal? please.

    continued below...

  37. i’m talking pure horsemanship here, not ribbons. i don’t give a flying duck who has won what because it’s all relative. what i care about and have dedicated myself to is pure horsemanship. that is what this post is about – the best way to achieve balance and maintain a secure position while allowing the horse to express himself to the fullest extent of his ability naturally and safely.

    as for whether gm promotes the use of the ‘auto’ release, yes i have heard him speak about it, but then i have yet to see him or any of his students actually employ it but on the most rare occasions. if riders were meant to move past the crest release, why haven’t most of them – including gm himself? I’ve never seen him use it in person or in the photos of him riding over bigger fences. i’ve seen his clinics where he gives it a passing mention and then everyone goes right back to the crest release. so save the bullshit. the proof is not in what one says, but what one does. it’s all well and good to talk the talk, but gm does not walk the walk. if he truly believes that the crest release is only for beginners, then why don’t his intermediate and advanced riders use the following release? why not his equitation kids? Why hasn’t it become a requirement in the big eq? because he’s a hypocrite and a fraud, that’s why. and he is killing our sport.

    ps – i’m happy to entertain opposing viewpoints in this space and engage in healthy, honest debate, but if you are going to leave sarcastic or condescending remarks, at least have the balls to leave your name with them. anonymous comments are for cowards.

  38. Thank you thank you thank you!
    I am so sick of trying to re-teach my fellow american jumpers about not laying on the neck. and why
    too many riders these days just do what they are told without any expectation of explanation or understanding, they just do it.
    I constantly try to teach my student to THINK about what is happening physically and physiologically.
    It always tees me off when i see these american neck laying hunters winning over the riders who actually give a good release
    Thank you!

  39. hannah - it's so nice to hear from other like-minded trainers! it makes me nuts too whenever i see a magazine cover with the latest 'great' riders laying all over their horses' neck while correct riders get ripped apart by judges and clinicians for doing it right. hopefully, if we keep at it, we can eventually convince the rest to give up the crest release, even if it is one student at a time...

  40. Hi
    I read your article about the crest release with interest. The old photos are great. Anyway between your article and photos I think we have a common interest. I invite you to take a look at my blogs http://ushorsemanship.netm, which is about the history of horsemanship in the United States. You'd particularly be interested in the posts on about crest release, base of support etc. Please also take a look at the video "Effects of the Crest Release" And then also particularly which has a video and article about the crest release and getting ahead during jumping.
    I'd enjoy having your comments on my videos and posts especially those about the history and use of the crest release.
    Keep up your good work with your posts. Wouldn't it be nice to see the horse as sport once again instead of an "industry"?

  41. hi barbara, thanks so much for the comment! i can't wait to review the links you sent when i have my other computer in front of me! (this tiny screen won't do your posts justice...) it's so nice to know there are like-minded horsemen out there. maybe someday we'll reclaim the sport for 'real' horsemen :-)

  42. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this article. It was so well-described. I wish that more trainers would teach this.

    A few years ago, I first read about the following release and sort of self-taught myself how to use it. I think it's a wonderful way to let the horse jump, and your article very clearly explains why it is better (for both horse and rider) to use. :)

    By the way, I would like to know what the HELL is up with people pawning off pulling back on the reins as the following release?! (This may turn into a rant. I don't mean to bash anyone, just so you know) What horse in the natural form throws his head up and back toward the rider in order to balance before the jump?! This is something I have noticed with today's eventers the most, and somewhat in the jumpers. They pull back violently on the reins as they stand straight up in the irons, then as the horse jumps, they either keep them in their lap or return their hands to the place they were (on the CREST) over the jump. Do you have an explanation for this?? It drives me insane.
    Most of all, it has been Jimmy Wofford's commentary and several other equestrian personalities passing this pulling-back-detriment-of-a-crest-release as an automatic - or "following" release (which it is clearly not in this case).

    Am I totally off-base here? I always thought the FOLLOWING release meant that you would soften your elbows and FOLLOW the horse's head forward and down rather than pulling his head back at the base.

    Rant, indeed, that was.

    I've taken lessons from oh-so-many instructors over the 14 or so years I've been riding (I'm now 17). Not a single one told me how to do a following release, but I will say that at least one recognized that I was doing one. That's some hope for the future, right?

    Anyway, thank you so much for posting this article! I wish it could be published in Practical Horseman. :)

    I would love, love, LOVE to take a lesson from someone like you. You seem to be someone who tells it like it is - I can not STAND the instructors today who just sugar-coat everything and say, "great," "wonderful," "thank you," and "you're doing so great" in their fakey, high-pitched, irritating voices all the time. Stroking people's egos does nothing but create even more un-qualified instructors (sorry, now they're all called "trainers") for the future. (Wow. Another rant...)

    And about Pony Club, I am in Pony Club, and I think that is the most disgusting group of riders I have ever seen. It's like they're regurgitating the same gimmicks all over again. They only let ex-pony clubbers teach. The new gimmick they're coming up with is standing up straight in the stirrups, setting the hands on the withers (by the way, I couldn't count on my right hand how many riders I've noticed actually release at all in pony club, or otherwise at shows or rallies I've gone to recently), and gripping with the back of the leg with the toes sticking straight out while the knee comes completely off the saddle. (that was a really bad run-on sentence. My english teacher would have a fit.) Jeez, I wonder what would happen if you stuck these riders on the old flat saddles instead of these high-tech saddles with all the blocks and buffalo leather? 0.o

    Ok, I'll stop now. It just feels good to let my thoughts be known. :D

  43. hi reesie - thanks so much for your comment! rants are ALWAYS welcome here ;-) i certainly do enough of them myself! and i hear where you're coming from. i wish at 17 i'd had the brains and the guts to question my trainers a little more and make them teach me the right way! but, you live and you learn, right?

    i've also been horrified by the 'pull-back-at-the-last-minute-balancing-on-the-mouth' version of so-called automatic release. and i have no explanation for it except that i think the riders who do it know it is better to do the auto release but don't have the balance for it standing in their stirrups and hanging on the mouth as they do, so they just continue to balance on the reins as the horse jumps up to them. i guess they are happy fooling themselves they do it right because they didn't grab mane like short stirrup kids or something, but in my book it's worse - at least the ss kids don't yank their horses' faces off over every jump. it's no wonder you need a million dollar horse to compete these days... it's a rare horse that will keep jumping for you when you keep hanging off its #$%! teeth!

    but i guess that sort of commentary is why i'll never be published in practical horseman - all that magazine does is suck up to the george morrises of the horse world and kiss the asses of anyone who wins, good or bad.

    i've never been in pony club, but i can only imagine. i rode on an intercollegiate team and that was such an embarrassment to horsemanship, and then, when i couldn't find a trainer i respected closer to home, i traveled to the UK with one of my horses to train with the british horse society as a working student; love their philosophy in theory, but the reality fell far short. the centre i worked/rode at was such a nightmare and the instructors had their heads so far up their asses it was obscene. plus they nearly killed my horse a few times when i wasn't around :-\ but i hear not all the centres are that bad, so who knows, maybe i was just lucky. i just can't believe the people who were running the thing were certified at the highest level and still had no clue. i despair for the future of horsemanship everywhere :-(

    i'd love to teach a student like you, if that were possible :-) but at the very least, if you have any questions you'd like to discuss or pictures you'd like to send, i'd be happy to help if i can :-)

    good luck and keep doing what you're doing.

  44. I am so glad I stumbled upon this website. It's definitely the best one I've seen out there for trying to better yourself. xD

    I'd LOVE to send you some pictures!! I also have tons and tons of videos on youtube. Thank you so much! :D

    I came up with something else to rant about in the meantime, hehehe :)

    I have noticed in the local hunter barns that there are a whole lot of strange fads going around, like wiggling the butt in a hula-hoop motion and setting the hands in front of the pommel (as well as making the martingale so tight that the horse can't use his neck at all.) They like to call this, the "posting canter," and I've seen a less-disgusting version of it in the jumpers and upper level equitation and hunter rings, but at the local levels, it's absolutely grotesque. Is there any point in using the posting canter? What purpose does it serve? I've heard some people say that it helps "slow the horse down". 0.o?

    I hope all that made sense, due to the sleep-deprived semi-awake state that I'm in. :P

    I'm going to send you some pics now!! :)

  45. hi reesie,

    thanks! i didn't get any pics yet. what e-mail did you send them to? you can also send youtube links if you want :-)

    on the subject of posting canter, i have seen it and am horrified by it too. though i have never heard of someone doing it on purpose or claiming it had any benefit! it was always something we made fun of the stiff little equitation girls for because they were neither able to properly sit a canter nor stay in a balanced 1/2 seat - posting canter was the weird hybrid somewhere between the two.

    it might 'slow' the horse down though, as it is a great way to get a horse hollow and tense in his back, which seems to be the favorite h/j method of getting what they think is 'collection' - something i could rant about at length!

  46. Haha- wow, it seems my presence on your board has caused a complete halt in comments! ;) But thanks for putting up the online clinic, by the way! I'll see if I can get more pictures... but I wish more people would join in!

  47. ha ha, don't take it personally! comments on most of my posts have dried up lately... :-\ to be fair i have been away from posting for a while and commenting on other blogs, so people haven't had much reason to visit. i'd love to see more pics - a lot of people had positive comments for your last ones :-) it would be nice if others would join in!

  48. I love your article, don't forget the "ass out" position puts unnecessary strain on the back of the rider and inhibits their ability to ride fluidly. I applaud your focus on the following release which I was taught and still use. To complement it, take a look at jumping with an open seat initially to build the balance, adding a closed seat and larger fences only when the rider is stable.

  49. hi jenny - thanks for stopping by. you are absolutely right - i forgot to mention what this position does to the rider! and what you say about the open seat is interesting. i do use both, but never considered using it to help develop balance - will have to try that! thanks for taking the time to comment :-)

  50. All I can say is thank you :D This post is fascinating and enlightening, and has helped me to get the best from my mounts when jumping.

    I was taught for seven years to use crest release, and I knew no differently. I would see "top" jumpers in the US with the fancy, draped-over-the-neck positions, and thought it was correct as everyone seemed to use it. I realised at the end of last year how wrong I was while resarching how to get the best from the horses I ride. It was pure luck that I came across this, and I am so thankful I did.

    I ride a powerful, round-jumping, beautifully trained TB at home, and I used to sit his enormous jump with a crest release, and restrict him in the hope of staying on. He hadn't jumped in years, and was really eager, and my methods of re-teaching him were counter-productive.

    After I saw your post, I tried following release, and hey presto!, it worked. He positively leaps over everything, and I can stay aboard, in balance, without compromising his beautiful style. I've employed following release in lessons too, and every pony I ride jumps out of their skin, and shows their potential. Even a tubby, round cob that everyone seems to hate riding because he is "lazy" jumped a 3 foot oxer with me because I tried to help him out. I know it doesn't sound big, but th highest i've jumped is 3'6", so I'm proud.

    Sorry for wandering off the point, but I just want to thank you so much for helping to improve my riding style so much :D

    Aoife :)

  51. Aoife - thanks so much for your kind comment! i am so happy you found this post helpful! i love that you've got so many horses giving their best with just a few small changes in technique, and i'm sure they thank you for it. and, btw, 3'6 is nothing to sneeze at, you should be proud! congrats to you and good luck with your future riding. :-D

  52. enlightening article. My OTTB's jumping is very erratic - some of this is my fault as I am a beginner rider but I am going to try the full release and see if he is more confident going into over and out of the jump!

  53. This is a great post and I am so glad I stumbled across it. I've been thinking that I want to learn the following release for a couple months now but my trainer has been saying that it will come by feel eventually. However, I think it would probably be better to learn the following release now by practice rather than by feel.

    That said, how does one do a following release? Is anyone able to describe in detail?

  54. hi eva - thanks for your comment and the great question! i've never come across a really helpful description, maybe i will put together a little post on the subject if you're interested...?

  55. That would be wonderful if you wouldn't mind doing it. :D

  56. sure, i'd love to :-) it may take a day or two, though. i have some other stuff i need to finish first...

  57. Hello (:

    I found thhis very interesing, and agree 100% with what you're saying...

    I have been around horses all my life but have never heard of the 'following release' (which i think is also an automatic release?)So obvioulsy i have thought of the crest release as the perfect, and only way to jump. I am only 15 and only jump very small, say around and under 50cm- i love it, but i am very cautious.I am only now beginning to jump bigger but when i read this curiosity came the better of me and i went theough all my photographs of myelf jumping. I have come to a conclusion that i don't have a defined crest release, but it's far from a following release. So i guess my real question is, is it okay to have a crest release while only jumping very small? And can you manage a following release correctly and fluently jumping 50cm and under...

    And i can't express how great i think this blog is, you've worded everything beautifully! Great job!

    Thanks, Ellie (:

  58. hi ellie -

    thanks for the kind words! to try to answer some of your questions...

    - yes, the following release is the same as the automatic release.

    - yes, it is perfectly ok to use a crest release over smaller jumps, especially if you are just starting or getting your confidence jumping. (it's also ok, imo, to use it as a last resort in those hopefully rare holy-crap moments when you're about to fall off, no matter how big the jump is ;-)

    - and yes, it is possible to use a following release over small fences. if anything it's easier because you can think of the jump as sort of like another canter stride. so, if you're following the motion of the canter properly, a fluid following release over the jump shouldn't be all that different. it's also the best place to practice before trying it on bigger jumps.

    anyway, i hope that answers your questions. good luck to you! :-)

  59. What abour at a trot... Since you don't have that movement of a canter. And yes thankyou, it did answer my questions (:

  60. ah, trot is trickier... since the head and neck are more stable at trot, there isn't as much following motion to worry about leading up to the jump. but you could think of the jump almost as a trot to canter transition where you have to go from a more still hand to a more following one. it's easy at the trot to get a little stiff in your arms because there isn't as much movement, so it's just something to be aware of and practice if you're going to jump out of trot... sorry i can't help too much more than that! trotting fences is always going to be more difficult :-)

  61. Thank you so much! I'm away at college, and I was just looking to brush up my jumping position because I haven't ridden in a while. I don't jump very high... 2'6" at the most, but I do train H/J ponies for younger riders and I want to be correct.

    I was taught the "crest release" in a form... basically just to "grab mane" over the jump so that you don't hit your pony in the mouth as they jump--which makes sense. However, I've always had trouble with my weight shifting forward as I go over the jump. I think this "downward/forward release" will be helpful in reminding me to stay back in my seat instead of coming forward.

    Thank you for this post! I found it extremely helpful :)

  62. hi anon -

    thanks for stopping by! i hope it works out for you. good luck and let us know how it goes :-)

  63. Thank you for writing this post!
    Decades ago I tried to learn how to jump, and I never got very good. Around 20 years ago I learned I have Multiple Sclerosis and I blamed my MS for my inability to jump. But reading your blog I realize now that the crest release may have compromised my already horrible balance so much that I had NO HOPE of ever jumping right.
    I am definitely going to talk with my riding teacher about this. It would be so great even if I could jump one to two feet. You have given me hope. Thank you so much.

  64. hi jackie - so sorry for all of your troubles, but good for you for sticking with it. if you have any questions going forward or want to let us know how it's going, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me!

    good luck!

  65. Thank you for your reply. I tried e-mailing you but it would not go through.
    I write blogs on Barnmice ( under my name Jackie Cochran, 136 short blogs so far. Could I quote some from this blog, two of your bullet points and some sentences, in a blog on Barnmice?
    Most of my blogs are about me riding with MS but I have some on theory and position too. It will take me a while to get strong enough to jump so my first one will be a philosophical discussion on why I could never jump.
    I promise to credit you and give this blog's address.
    Thank you,
    Jackie Cochran

  66. This comment has been removed by the author.

  67. Thank you sooooo much for this article. I'm a 46 yr old riding instructor that was taught the "vintage" forward & down release. I teach this to my students, but was recently told that I was teaching an outmoded (the person said "70's style") way of releasing. Because I didn't see the merit of a crest release beyond using it for the first few "pole hops", I haven't changed what I teach. Nice to know I'm not the only one that still believes that the forward/down release is a much better option.

    1. hi michelle,
      nice to hear there are still some of us out there who prefer this method :-) but i recently came across a forum in which people were saying almost the exact same thing! that crest releases were modern and following releases were old fashioned and out of style. they were not making scientific arguments, but simply trying to define who were to cool kids and who weren't. none of them had any evidence to back up their support for crest releases other than that everyone these days were using them, and they hadn't seen anyone using the other kind in a long time, so it must be out of fashion... :-/

      thanks for continuing to teach this method to your students. at the very least, they will have a variety of techniques at their disposal, and can judge for themselves which is the more effective, rather than letting the fashion of the day dictate!

  68. Great post. I learned to crest release as well as I learned jumping in the states. I'm back in Korea (Koreans ride European style) and they have been commenting non-stop about my Hunter jumping style. Although it may look "pretty" at first, I think the UP and DOWNWARD hand release with the closer and stable balance to the seat during the jump MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE!
    I'm excited to work on this new, proper and safer technique tomorrow! Thanks a bunch!

  69. Great post. I learned to crest release as well as I learned jumping in the states. I'm back in Korea (Koreans ride European style) and they have been commenting non-stop about my Hunter jumping style. Although it may look "pretty" at first, I think the UP and DOWNWARD hand release with the closer and stable balance to the seat during the jump MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE!
    I'm excited to work on this new, proper and safer technique tomorrow! Thanks a bunch!

    1. Hi Jae,
      Thank you for you comment. Please let us know how it works for you! I am always interested to hear from riders in other countries and about how they do things. Good luck to you! :-)

  70. Some good points about the importance of learning an automatic release. But a very poor characterization of George Morris's teachings, the aim of the crest release, and the overall aim of most american hunter-jumper trainers. The crest release (for non-beginners) is a show-ring technique to make the horse look smooth, flat and easy to ride in the show-ring. It is not the only release they know how to do in every situation. Every hunter trainer I know would say that a rider without a good automatic release has no business starting a strong, green, 17.3 hand horse with natural bascule. The fact that you did so doesn't mean there is a problem with the crest release. It means there is a problem with your skill set and the advice you were receiving at the time. Likewise, the goal of a crest release is NOT to reach for the horses ears, and this is NOT what a competent hunter judge is looking for. So the fact that one trainer told you this means there is a problem with that trainer, not with the idea of a crest release. And that first picture of George Morris is just plain unfair. The horse in in the process of crashing the jump! Probably, he misjudged the takeoff; something that can happen occasionally to even the best pairs regardless of what kind of release they use. You cannot judge a horse's form or a person's equitation based on an atypical crash! (and I think we would all agree that crashing fences like this is not typical for Morris. He has quite a successful recccord.

    1. Hello Jo-

      Thank you for you comment. Sorry for the delay in posting and responding. I am in Scotland at the moment and was hiking hills and moors most of the day :-) also I am posting on my mobile so please forgive any errors...

      I'd like to address a few of the points you mention if I may...

      I do understand why people are so eager to defend the crest release and its proponents: most of us have used it fairly successfully ourselves and are very attached to it. We're comfortable with it--it's what we know. And we all are influenced by the effects of motivated reasoning: We all seek out evidence that supports our existing beliefs and preferences rather than considering facts that might alter our perception of reality. Change is usually uncomfortable, especially when the community we belong to might disagree with us (and maybe we'll stop winning). Worse still, there seems to be evidence to confirm that it works. It works ok in our experience--we get by with it. And advocates point out that successful horse and rider pairs accomplish great things with the crest release, therefore, the reasoning goes, the crest release must also be great! However, this is a non sequitur--a logical fallacy known as a false cause. Even if the crest release is used and the horse performs well, the good performance is not necessarily a consequence of the rider's use of crest release--in fact, I and many others contend the horse performs well IN SPITE OF IT. I believe these horses would perform even better without it, or rather, with a better alternative.

      But we shall never know, shall we? Because the crest release is so firmly entrenched in our current system of riding that most riders have adopted a religious attachment to it that they will defend no matter what.

      But why? What's in it for them?

      I think it's a simple matter of security. It is the comfort and safety of the familiar. We know we do ok with the crest release, so why fix something that's not broke? We're resistant to change, even change for the better--especially so when it requires work.

    2. On a separate note, I'm never sure why the goal of a show hunter is to "look flat"? Again, this is why I stopped showing hunters. That is simply retarded imo and I won't school a horse to jump flat for anyone's show ring. I'd love to know: Who made that a thing? These people obviously never hunted for real. A horse like that would get you killed in the field. But I digress...

      The horse I was referring to was an AO jumper prospect. I did have an "auto" release as I'd been riding and training jumpers for many years, and starting young imports for a major breeder and dealer in the NE. However, I made the mistake of bringing this horse to a well known trainer who I thought was knowledgeable about upper level jumpers. He explicitly told me not to use it. What I got instead was advice about grabbing mane and crest releases :-\ it was not the first time I'd heard that.

      I agree that every hunter (and jumper) trainer I know and have heard of would SAY that a rider should start a green horse with an auto release, or advanced riders use it at least under special circumstances, etc., etc. I thought the same. But show me just one who actually DOES... They ALL say these things. And I'm sure they even believe them. They all like to talk the talk, but who walks the walk? Nobody. I call bullshit on all of them for being total hypocrites. Sure, they'll do a quick demonstration, five minutes in a clinic, show off over a jump once, or maybe do one by accident when they miss a distance. But none of them ride this way as a policy. Why not?

      A philosophy is all well and good--but only as good as the practice you make of it. Do they ever put their money where their mouth is? No. Again, why not?

      It's bullshit. Just as is all the talk about the value of proper flatwork, and then they all school the shit out of horses over-bent in drawreins, or longe them to death in sidereins. Or they speak with reverence for the softness of a skilled hand and a simple snaffle while they saw and rip at a horse's gaping mouth with every kind of designer twist, wire, corkscrew, (worse in the jumper ring) etc. and tie its face shut with a tight noseband. Meanwhile, I picked up a random edition of the ridiculous "Practical Horseman" and read about how using the pulley rein is common and recommended! among top hunter riders for everyday normal steering on course. This is what passes for horsemanship. It only goes downhill. And everyone can fool themselves they're doing it "right" if they're winning.

      These are the realities of hunter trainers, jumper trainers, dressage trainers, and everyone else in horses, at the top, bottom, or in between. I've worked for all of them. I've been through many stables at all levels, in all disciplines, from importing and breeding through breaking and training through to the A circuit. I've been in all the barns and schooling rings, where I've seen the good and the bad--but mostly the bad. I've also watched Mr Morris school his horses, ride, teach, and give clinics--and though I've nothing against him personally and he was always kind to me, I never found his methods to be the holy grail that so many others have. I've tried them and they don't stand up to hard scrutiny if one cares to apply it. There is better out there. It's just not popular in a show ring :-(

    3. If the first picture of George Morris is unfair, then so is the second, because he is crashing that jump as well. What is more unfair is what he does to his horses in both pics as he is crashing the jumps: he refuses to help them. He made the mistake that landed them on the jumps, then he braces on their necks and puts tension in the reins, interfering with their recovery. Sure, everyone makes mistake, but the horses pay for ours.

      Trainers are all the same, despite their high-minded talk--some better, some worse. They may have high ideals, but they all take the shortcut to ribbons if they want to succeed in business. They're all full of shit because they all have to compete in the same ring, and for the same clients, i.e., cash. Mix in a bit of ego too. There is no place in that world for people who want to do it right, only for people who want to win, whatever that looks like at the moment. Sadly these days it looks pretty desperate.

  71. Jme, I feel sorry for you that you have such a negative opinion and view of trainers. I have books and videos of GM clinics and in each of them he talks about the auto release and how the crest release is only for introductory riders. I agree that there are too many American trainers who want to push their students too fast and get them showing for whatever reasons, but I've also found trainers that have no interest in their riders showing who focus more on safety and fun. I think it's unfair of you to say GM and all hunter trainers fit this stereotype you're describing just like saying all blonds are idiots.

  72. I saw the picture I link here in an online version of my hometown paper and followed their link to the Chronicle, where the comments referenced (quite negatively) something called the "crest release" which I had never heard of, having been away from horses since about 1978. (But having noticed in televised jumping events such as the Olympics, a hand position quite different from what we aspired to, which was "a straight line from mouth to elbow") So I googled it and found this article (congratulations on being the number one google result for "crest release" btw).

    Anyhow, what Mrs. Oare shows in this vintage photo is what I was taught and saw in and around Warrenton VA in the mid 60s to early 70s, in both show ring and hunt field. (I'm pretty sure I remember this horse but I may just be imagining it. Of course I remember Mrs. Oare!) But why I post it here, so long after this thread has probably been forgotten by the eloquent author, is the incredibly positive commentary on Mrs. Oare's positioning, by one George Morris!

    Maybe the battle has been fought and won by jme and other proponents of a lower and IMO more natural and balanced release? And the putative villain of this 2009 piece has surrendered and come over to the side of the angels, in the 6 year interim?

    Anyhow, here's the link:

    Isn't this a beautiful picture?

    1. hi uptown brother paul,

      thanks for your comment, the link, and the great picture. i will definitely add it to my reference file of 'yes, this is how you do it!' photos!

      it is very interesting to find the commentary of mr. morris (and others!) along with it. i hope that it's a sign of things to come. i've been hard on mr. morris for many of the frustrating things he has written and said over the years as a trainer. but everyone has a right to change their mind and to evolve. maybe he will, too, seeing the damage it's wrought... because of the way people follow him like a prophet, i'd love to see him 'reinterpret' or 'clarify' some of his earlier statements and teachings, especially regarding the crest release and its misuse everywhere. wouldn't that be something?

      if he and other 'big-name' trainers would take more responsibility for the bad riding practices out there, then i'd applaud them. especially if it means re-examining and changing their own methods and standards. that would be very admirable. of course, i'll believe it when i see it in action, but the first step is admitting you have a problem ;-)

      (btw, had no idea we were #1 result. cool! i never imagined this would be such a controversial topic :-)

  73. Hi there, I came across your really interesting post searching for tips on how to improve my position. I know that I lie on the neck, stick my bottom out and have to tip my head right back to see! I am having a hard time changing this. My stirrups are short enough, I don't get left behind or pull on my horse's mouth, but I am not stable, and I know it flattens out his jump and makes picking things up on reception that much harder. My teacher is saying to stop doing it, but I feel as though I need to learn the physical sensation of the correct position, the angles of my joints, where my weight is etc... I wondered whether you had any more tips or exercises you could recommend to get the feeling right. I totally understand if this isn't the right place to ask for free advice though! In any case, it was a very interesting article. Thanks very much, Karina

  74. hi karina,

    thanks for the great question. this is a really common problem, so you shouldn't feel discouraged. if you're struggling to maintain your position over fences, or to get a feel for it on the flat, the first place i recommend starting is on the ground. your basic alignment and sense of balance on your horse and on the ground should be the same. so, like equestrian yoga, standing with your feet apart and your knees bent in a 'riding' position, practice moving smoothly into and out of jumping position with your feet firmly on the ground. keep the bend in your knees, let your hands and upper body move forward as if following the head; your seat shifts back. then 'sit' back up smoothly. keep your eyes on something ahead of you (practice while watching tv ;-) so you keep the correct position and get in the habit of looking forward. it will also help with your balance. it's harder than you think! then, for the advanced version, try it balanced on a (low) step, with your heels down. hint: the secret to this is remembering to bend (not extend!) through the knees during the forward reach. it's like doing squats...

    once you get the hang of that, i also find riding up and down hills, even small ones, really helps. it not only strengthens the seat, but it lets you practice the smooth transition in your position from upright to forward and back again without the complication of a jump. you sort of get to practice jumping position in slow motion while on a moving horse. picture the hill itself as one long, slow jump. adjust your position and keep a soft, following hand along it accordingly. you can do this at any pace you're comfortable with. walking is fine. when you have the hang of that, try it in your half seat/two point position. then go to trot, etc.

    i hope that helps. let me know if you have any questions. good luck!

  75. Thank you very much! I will start practicing :) For me this was a really helpful tip "hint: the secret to this is remembering to bend (not extend!) through the knees during the forward reach. it's like doing squats..."
    It's exactly this I need, to sort of 'feel' how my joints and body should be working or moving over the fence. Amazing to think I can be sitting in my apartment in Paris learning great tips from you this way. I'll put it into practice on my horse this week. Merci beaucoup! Karina

    1. you are most welcome :-) i'm glad you found it helpful. best of luck!


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