We asked what you thought, and here’s what you had to say –
“Learning the art of riding is a process … The crest release is part of the process as the rider works on perfecting balance with the horse. Executing a crest release is a means to the end. The wonderful aspect of horsemanship is that the pursuit of perfection never does end!”
Kindred Spirit Horsemanship & Riding
“In responding to whether or not a crest release is important, I believe that for the ‘beginner’ jumper, it is. It teaches the rider where to put their hands and helps to keep them off the horse’s mouth. By learning so early on (hopefully when starting over ground poles), we anticipate that we will have a very soft and confident rider versus one that is clingy and grabby. As the rider develops, I let them decide if they still need to continue to use it or if they prefer to just keep their hands above.
“I have found that most who advance are very strong with their legs and bodies and, therefore, end up keeping their hands just above and no longer using and/or needing the crest release. What I have noticed in recent years is that most beginner fundamentals are no longer taught, so we are seeing more and more clingy riders holding and grabbing their horses’ mouths at the schooling and smaller shows. Hopefully, this trend will change back so that the horses begin to be flowing mounts again instead of going around the ring with their heads in the air waiting to be hit in the mouth.”
Camp Letts Equestrian Center
“Having grown up in the days when the accepted equitation style over fences was a fluid and following hand (‘straight line from the elbow through the wrist to the bit’), I considered the crest release to be a style for beginners only. Back in 1965, those in my barn who practiced the straight line technique were highly resistant to and critical of the crest release. I don’t recall seeing a crest release used by any of the era’s top equitation riders.
“If today’s crest release includes riding the neck to the ground, crutch or not, it makes life easier for both horse and rider. It keeps the rider’s weight off the back and off the mouth with little room for error.
“Many of today’s riders are weekend warriors and don’t have the daily conditioning, strength and seat to stay balanced with a soft following hand over every fence on every course. The crest release affords a sensible solution for horse and rider.
“What began as a crutch (didn’t George Morris invent it for people who couldn’t ride?), has evolved into a legitimate riding technique that is easy to learn, easy to teach and easy on the horse.”
-Sally L. Harvey
“There is only one correct technique: the automatic release, which, in keeping with excellent riding, preserves the straight line between the elbow and the bit. Unfortunately, only the top few percentage of riders can perform it successfully. The automatic release takes a tremendous amount of upper body balance.
“That being said, the crest release is a legitimate riding technique! To save our horses’ mouths, the crest release allows those riders who are inexperienced or who do not have the balance it takes to do the automatic release to jump and compete and even win. Let’s face it: We are not all ‘The Natural.’ The horse would rather have a rider stabilize on his neck and/or grabbing mane than balancing and banging on his mouth. I see so many floating hands out there competing that I feel sorry for the horses and wonder how long they are going to last. In a perfect world, everyone should learn how to do the automatic release. But we all know the world is not perfect, and there are limitation[s] in some riders’ abilities. I would not call the crest release a crutch, but an alternative.”
“I think the crest release is a valid tool for beginners that hopefully will keep them from catching the poor horse in the mouth. But there should be a transition, so that contact can be maintained when moving to a more advanced riding level. The crest release also tends to encourage getting ahead of the horse as well. A horse jumping a sizable fence doesn’t jump as well, obviously, with the rider laying on his neck ahead of the motion.”
“The crest release is a tool needed by those just starting over fences. Even a rider who has a balanced, strong position in 2-point must get used to the feel of the horse as he is jumping, particularly at the canter, with an increased risk of the horse getting to a bad spot. It also lessens the risk of the novice over fences rider to interfere with the horse’s freedom to use his head and neck. The problem comes if the rider continues using the crest release long after they should be moving on to a more advanced release, maintaining contact with the horse’s mouth. Furthermore, today’s instructors should strive to create riders with strong basics and balanced positions that allow the rider to experience the pure joy of following the horse’s mouth and being one with the horse over the fence as opposed to ‘rushing them through’ to get fast results and a rider who must rely on the crest release to get the job done.”
Still Meadow Farm
“In jumping, all riders need to start with their hands somewhere. It is far better to do a crest release and not ruin a good horse’s mouth, and then progress to other releases.”
“I agree with what George Morris advocates … he says the crest release is a very good technique for beginner and intermediate riders, but advanced riders should strive for the automatic release, keeping the line from elbow to hand to horse’s mouth in a straight line. That said, the crest release, if used, should be done properly. The hands move forward, and press the sides of horse’s crest, NOT way up next to the mane, or worse,
floating in the air above the neck!”
-Lou Bowling Steinfort
“I think a crest release is a mouth saver for most horses, and a very good idea for a lot of riders learning their balance. I see far too many riders using the horse’s mouth as a balancing aid just on the flat. The crest release helps the rider learn balance over fences.”
Fat Chance Farm
“The way to follow a horse’s mouth is to follow the neck; the way to follow the neck is to grab the mane; and while the rider slides the hand up the crest to grab some mane, the rein loosens and loops as the horse jumps. This can develop into a non-grabbing crest release as the rider learns how that particular horse uses his neck while jumping.
“The horse wants more than anything to NOT get hit in the mouth when he jumps. Then he would like to not get hit in the back. Everyone learning to jump should use the mane/crest as a place to put the hands so they do not interfere. Everyone should use the mane/crest on a new or young horse until they learn how that horse jumps. EVERYONE. When the rider cannot interfere, then they can learn to follow the contact.
“My biggest thing as an instructor is to not unintentionally punish the horse’s mouth because the rider ‘didn’t know’ the horse was going to jump like that. MAKE SURE by using the mane/crest. Remember, we are guests up there on that horse. He didn’t ask to be ridden or jumped; that was the human’s idea. So, as the guest, it is the rider’s job to stay out of the horse’s way so he can do his job. Crutches serve a good purpose until the user can stand on their own.”
“I am viewing this solely from the show hunter aspect. Yes, I think the crest release is a legitimate riding technique. I think the rider should do whatever he or she has to do to get the best jump out of their horse. After all, isn’t that what show hunters are judged on? Style!!!! Nothing makes me happier than to see a horse put in a lovely jump with a big ol’ loop in the reins. As long as the [rider] isn’t detracting from the overall picture (i.e. flapping their arms like a chicken), I don’t care what they have to do to get their horse to jump like Rox Dene.”
“If used correctly, a legitimate riding technique … if not, a crutch.”
“I think too many people make a big deal out of this. A properly executed crest release maintains as good a contact with the horse’s mouth as an automatic. I personally like crest releases, since it reduces the possibility of a slight bobble causing a sudden pull on the horse’s mouth, and I think it is safer – i.e., less [likely] for a horse to suddenly lunge left or right or to hesitate if a rider bobbles, plus, frankly, a quick grab on the mane if there’s a problem. I absolutely cringe when I see kids attempting to do automatics in eventing!”
-Wendy M. Hagan
“Your question regarding the crest release is an interesting one. This technique is a training aid for green riders who are not yet capable of doing an automatic release. Trainers who have been working with students for years understand the need for riders not to fall back and or grab the mouth of the horse while jumping. The crest release, used correctly, can teach the rider to feel the motion of the horse’s neck while jumping and stay with the motion of the horse. That rider should work towards learning the long release, short release and then the automatic release with the help of their trainer. If the rider never progresses past the crest release, they are not moving forward in their training, but stuck at one level.”
-Joyce Glover McDonald
“I would say that it is a very good thing to learn correctly. To rely on your hands and pull on the reins is not only bad looking, [it] inhibits your horse’s full potential of stretching and finding balance. A proper crest release should be taught as one of the first important steps to a good jumping technique.”
“The crest release, I believe, is not a legitimate riding technique for upper level riders or riders that jump higher then 2 feet. If you are a beginner jumper or training a horse, however, I think that the crest release is a wonderful ‘crutch.’ I’ve seen many a horse show where I cringe for the poor horses’ mouths when the riders, fence after fence, do not release enough or at all. I have also ridden horses who have trust issues with this and will not jump at all because of it. I believe that the horse needs some kind of release, and an ‘ugly’ or improper release is better and safer then none at all.”
“I think that a crest release can be a useful ‘tool’ for teaching beginner riders how to stay out of their horse’s face when jumping. The problem now is that a) I’ve seen them way too exaggerated, with the rider practically laying on top of the horse’s neck, which is extremely dangerous; or b) riders never learn the automatic release. If one relies on keeping one’s hands pressed into the horse’s crest for balance, they’ll never learn what to do in case they have to ‘adjust’ their position. So it can become a crutch.”
“An invention of instructors to relieve the stress on their school horses [is] admirable — that it became a convention parallels counting strides as opposed to seeing your distances, judging only horses that can make the set strides as opposed to the fundamental concept of judging horses that are adjusting strides in order to jump the fences, the demise of the outside course and the handy hunter, and the birth of the show ring hunter vs. the field hunter.
“Gordon Wright in ‘Learning to Ride, Hunt, and Show,’ my edition published in 1966, introduces the crest release as Elementary Jumping. George Morris was — and still is — a great student of Gordon Wright, but he clearly took the crest release into the show ring with his students seeing that the horse that is properly schooled and not interfered with will get around nicely — particularly over related distances — Ta-Da — today’s Amateur Divisions.
“[There’s a] lot to be said for the business of horse showing that has evolved around
this concept, though. But is it horsemanship and advanced equitation? Doubt
“I do not think the crest release is the most effective jumping method. I feel that it is just used as a crutch to first teach someone who is inexperienced how to jump. However, I have seen the crest release effectively used, but I find other methods deemed to be more successful.”
“Quoting from ‘Hunt Seat Equitation’ by George H. Morris, 1971, with a foreword by A. Eugene Cunningham, Warrenton, Virginia: ‘The most important single factor in jumping an actual fence is the release of the horse’s mouth on approaching the obstacle … Not only does this release allow a horse to increase his pace, but it also allows him to use his head and neck in flight over an obstacle. This basic principle is so much the most important first step in actually negotiating a jump that without its proper use and understanding, no further progress can be made.’
“See 4/28/06 The Chronicle, page 13 — lovely form! Most of the event and timber riders are so in synch with their horses, while so many of the show riders have quite different form, making it hard or impossible for their mount to properly use its head and neck.”
“P.S. — My apologies — when I responded, I had just seen the picture in The Chronicle.
But the cover of The Equiery has a really good and big picture.”