The photo above shows an example of a good “crest release,” in which the rider places the hands on the crest of the horse’s neck (i.e., on the muscle just below the mane) and presses down. This type of release provides the rider with some upper-body stability and allows the horse to extend its neck as far as possible so that the weight of the neck can successfully be used as a counterbalance to the weight of the horse’s haunches. It is extremely important for the rider not to interfere with this counterbalancing process, known as the “bascule,” which enables the horse to keep its balance in the air. If the horse feels restricted by the rider’s hands in the air, the animal will begin to add an extra step at the base of the fence at take-off, known as “chipping,” or will begin to stop at the fences. Restriction of the neck in the air causes the horse to be anxious and even fearful if the rider holds the horse tight, rather than offering a generous release.
The second photo shows a rider “jumping out of hand,” with a light feel on the reins that enables the rider to maintain contact with the horse’s mouth. This type of release should only be used by advanced riders who are totally secure in their position. The rider should let the horse take all of the rein it needs to fully extend its neck, then keep a very light feel that will enable the rider to be ready for tight turns, tests of precision, or whatever else may be called for in the show ring. If a rider tries to jump out of hand before he is ready, he will do more harm than good in his performances. Heavy rein contact that restricts the stretching of the neck or an unsteady hand in which the rider uses the reins to keep his own balance will result in the horse chipping or stopping.
One of the main mistakes riders make when approaching a fence is to keep heavy contact on the reins, then quickly fling the hands forward at the moment of take-off. As you approach a fence, you need to gradually ease the tension on the reins by following the horse’s neck as it extends a couple of strides in front of the fence. The head and neck will naturally go down and out as the horse crouches to jump, and if the animal feels trapped by the hands the last couple of strides, it will often “lose heart” and chip or stop. When you’re first beginning to jump, you should grab a little mane in one hand and press down on the neck with both hands so that you make sure you won’t “hit the horse in the mouth” and cause it to want to stop or chip.