The Do’s and Don’ts of the Crest Release

Whether you’re jumping 18″ or 3′, giving the horse a correct release is one of the most fundamental aspects of a rider’s movement over a fence. The crest release is widely seen in the hunter, jumper, and equitation ring and is an essential skill for riders of all levels. As simple as it may seem to move your hands up the neck for a few airborne seconds, performing a crest release is deceivingly complex. So what are the must do and must not do elements of the popular release? We chatted with industry professionals to find out.

The Release

Though appropriate for riders from cross-rails to grand prix, the crest release is most commonly used by riders who are beginning to learn to jump or those with less experienced hands. Originally introduced by George Morris, the release requires a rider to move both hands forward, along the horse’s crest, from takeoff to landing. This gives the horse freedom of movement, allowing the horse to stretch its neck over the fence, and prevents the rider from catching the horse in the mouth over the fence.

DO Take the Horse’s Needs into Account

It is important to note that the length of the crest release—long or short—will vary depending on the horse and their preferences. “A long release will allow the horse more movement, and a shorter release will help to flatten out and shorten the jump,” says Allegra Valberg, founder and trainer at Ridgetop Farm in Holliston, MA. A short crest release, where the rider only moves their hands a few inches forward, can work well with a horse that tends to land heavier. “If the rider is pushing their hands into the horse’s neck with a shorter rein, the horse bumps themselves on landing and, with leg, will hopefully come up to meet the bridle,” she explains.

Because some horses are more sensitive than others, a crest release, especially a longer one, may be appropriate even if the rider is able to execute the more advanced automatic release. “Every horse is different and there are plenty of horses out there that prefer a long crest release over an automatic release,” Allegra adds. “It is a great release for a horse that does best with little to no contact over the jump. If your horse is sensitive to the bit, a longer crest release will ensure that the rider doesn’t accidentally hit them in the mouth as they (the horse) use themselves over the top of the jump.” A longer crest release can also be helpful in situations where the horse needs to jump with their neck more than normal, like over a wide oxer.

DON’T Move the Hands Independently or Quickly

Aside from the fact that a horse and rider’s form should be fluid over a fence, quick and uneven movements with the hands have a negative effect on the horse’s ability to jump. “Very often when learning about releases I see riders fling their hands—and sometimes themselves—up a horse’s neck. This only succeeds in speeding the horse over the jump in an effort to catch up with its speeding rider, knocking both horse and
rider off balance,” Allegra says. In addition to moving slowly, both hands should move forward together to prevent pulling the horse off kilter. “You will also see riders who don’t use their aids evenly. They might do a nice release with their right hand and stiff the horse with their left hand—again, not fun for the horse. This one-sidedness makes both off balance and might cause the horse to cut in or out or, at worst, run out from a jump.”

DO Press Lightly onto the Neck

One of the most important things to do while performing a proper crest release is to simply and gently place the hands onto the horse’s neck without using a large portion on the rider’s body weight. “Only press the hands into the horse’s neck just hard enough to keep them there with a relaxed arm, like the rider is just trying to press an egg into the neck without breaking it or letting it fall,” explains Jamie McCabe, instructor at Liberty Hill Farm in Lancaster, MA. “This keeps the arm and hand following the horse’s motion over the fence without interference.”

Too much weight on the horse’s neck disturbs the horse’s stability, impeding their ability to effectively jump and use their neck over the fence. A release should never be an aid for a rider’s poor stability, meaning it is just as important to not lean the upper body on the neck with the hands. “Regardless of the release size or style, it is important that we, as riders, are responsible for our own weight and balance,” Allegra adds.

DON’T Over Exaggerate the Release

A common mistake when trying to perform a crest release is over exaggerating the release. Not only does this increase the likelihood of the rider leaning on the horse’s neck, but it can also restrict the horse’s movement. “Over exaggerating the release and moving big can quickly throw the horse off,” says Allegra. The rider may feel as though they are giving the horse more freedom, but she is often doing the reverse. DO Use the Leg as the Base of Support In a correct crest release, a rider’s legs should be acting as the base of support. If not, the leg can slip back, making it easier for the rider to lean up the neck over a jump, which, as previously stated, is not ideal. “The leg should always be the base of support. When a rider rests the weight of their whole upper body on their hands and arms, thus on the horse’s neck, it encourages the leg to be loose and swing back or forward, creating a rider with a weak, insecure base,” Jamie says. “It also encourages the upper body to come way too far forward, throwing off the horse’s balance and making their job much more difficult. When jumping a course, both of those things leave the rider and horse in an unbalanced heap upon landing, which makes things like keeping a consistent pace and navigating to the next fence smoothly almost impossible.”

The crest release is a great technique for inexperienced riders and a helpful skill to have for those that are more advanced. When properly executed, it produces a happy, balanced horse and rider who are ready to tackle a course.

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