Horses lend us the wings we lack.

In riding a horse we borrow freedom.

The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Crest Release

The crest release vs the automatic release is probably one of the most debated topics when it comes to jumping equitation. Relatively new to jumping, I was taught the crest release but when my release was recently questioned by a fellow rider who uses the automatic release, I took it upon myself to do some research about how the crest release became popular and why it is used by modern day coaches in the jumping world.

Over the years, jumping techniques have drastically changed. Most techniques derived from military influence. Barbara Ellin Fox, has explained beautifully the evolution and major influencers of the modern day crest release. She writes:

The biggest change is attributed to Capt. Federico Caprilli, an Italian Cavalry officer who started the jumping world toward making the transition from the backward seat to the Forward Seat.  Caprilli, who was able to devote hours a day to riding and training, firmly believed that the hands should follow the horse’s mouth over the jump [the automatic release]...

The Automatic Release; the hand following the horse's mouth

In 1938 , Capt. V.S. Littauer, published  book titled, “More About Forward Riding”, he argued, “Following the movements of the horse’s neck and head through the air requires a very strong seat and a great deal of rhythm, and might be impractical in many cases of amateur riding.” Littauer was a public instructor and believed a riding technique needed to be developed for the occasional, less athletic rider. [Littauer suggests that] “keeping a firm position, while having the hands in the air, requires a very athletic body and constant daily practice, I would suggest that you help yourself remain in balance by supporting yourself with your hands laid on the horse’s neck.”

Barbara Ellin Fox continues that...Caprilli believed that the horse should be allowed to travel and jump as naturally as possible and that it was the rider’s responsibility to impede the horse as little as possible.

Then came George Morris, the one accredited for popularizing the crest release in modern riding, especially in the hunter/jumper ring. Barbara Ellin Foxs simply explains the crest release:   

The crest release is a method of placing the hands on the horse’s neck during jumping, so the rider does not interfere with the horse’s mouth. Riders are encouraged to support their upper body via their hands on the horse’s “crest” 

The Crest Release; the hand pressing on the horse's crest

Caprilli, Littauer and Morris all influenced the evolution of on the forward seat and the modern day riding technique of the crest release all to minimize interference with the horse's mouth and to stabilize the upper body over a jump with the forward motion of the horse.

Of course anything practiced or taken to the extreme isn't a good thing. The critique of the crest release is that some overemphasize George Morris's technique by being too forward out of the saddle, too flat against the horses neck and thrust their legs back too far. The dependency of the rider to lean their forward weight onto the horse creates a weak forward seat, and the weight on the horses neck can cause the horse to become unbalanced during the jumping motion.

The extreme crest release, note the rider's flat upper body and backward motion of their lower leg

The crest release, if executed properly can be a very useful tool to help riders learn how to engage a forward seat without impeding the rider's balance or the horse's mouth.  Originally introduced to help novice riders, it now used by all levels of riders to safely get over a jump.  Though it may not be the only type of release, it is definitely the most common practiced technique in North America.

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