I took Excel to Pony Club camp this week and we had a blast. We got to school cross country with a great trainer and went foxhunting at six this morning. Excel was awesome and jumped everything on the hunt (we went second flight but moved up to first after ten minutes or so). I was really happy with the effort he put in for me on cross country, as he's still very green and this was really only his third time schooling XC.
My leg seems to be slipping back in a lot of the pictures, which makes me wonder if I'm pinching with my knee. About my release, I honestly don't know what I was doing. I tried to follow his mouth, which meant my hands went down his neck, and it looks pretty odd.
Your base of support isn't quite there yet, and although I like that you're being sure to give him his face/head/neck with your release, I don't personally feel that you're entirely ready for an automatic release and open reins over fences. Your horse has a nice expression and is quite brave over those scary questions! However i'd like to see him use himself more. He hangs his legs which, in my opinion, is always a little scary over solid/unforgiving fences.
I'm going to mostly comment on your working your way towards an automatic release, which I think is an appropriate goal for your level of riding.
I feel from looking at these photos that you're skipping an important step in progressing to an auto release. Normal progression is from a short crest release (hands 1/3 to 1/2 up the neck, slack in the rein) to a longer crest release *while maintaining some contact* then dropping your hand and arm down from the exaggerated broken line of a crest release towards the straight line between bit and elbow, with contact of an auto release. A true auto release has the contact being exactly the same throughout the take off flight and landing. There are also degrees of auto release.
In Allison Finch's wonderful avatar photo, she's using a modified auto release, taking some support from the horse's neck, but pretty close to a straight line and an appropriate soft contact.
The most difficult auto release to execute successfully is one with NO support form the neck, and hand and arm following the head and neck in flight with the no change in the contact.
In these photos, it looks like you've tried to go directly from short crest release w/o contact to auto release, and you've missed the whole feel of maintaining the contact and having the horse pull your hand and arm forward as they take off.
So I'd recommend backing up one step, and work on a long crest release and *maintaining contact* while taking some support from the neck, and then gradually dropping your hand and arm down towards an auto release.
Now, some photo by photo critique -
1.) Slight pivot on knee, good mechanics of the release, but no contact.
2.) Arm hanging straight from shoulder, no bend in elbow, therefore, no contact. Same lower leg.
3.) Better lower leg, this is the kind of long release I'm talking about, that may be more appropriate right now.
4.) Like your body position in this one. If your reins were shorter, and you were maintaining a little contact, this would be ideal.
5.) Good body mechanics here as he overjumps dramatically, hand and arm too low, no contact, reins to long to effectively steer.
6.) Lovely. Take the slack out of the reins and maintain contact here, and you'd have a very polished, effective picture.
9. And 10. Are more where I think you should be. This is halfway between the long crest release and the true auto release. I think your horse actually prefers some contact in the air - he seems a little better put together in these photos.
In general, if you want to give him total freedom of his head and neck in the air, meaning, loose reins, use an elementary release - short crest release. If you want more control and influence over him, and a little support for you, use a long crest release and maintain contact in the air. If you want maximum influence and control, use a full auto release, but that means don't throw the contact away at the same time.
Finally, your lower leg is inconsistent and needs a little strengthening. But when it's good, it's quite good, and good gosh, are you ever leggy! Terrific riders conformation, but learn to use that lovely long leg to your advantage.
Excel looks like he's just loafing over this little fences, barely paying attention, overjumping without a care in the world. I'd like to see him do more grids, gymanastics and technical distances to sharpen him up. While I'm glad you're not jacking up the fences because he's talented, I also wouldn't want him to become bored.
Good luck, and keep posting photos! I love to see your progress!
I never critique, and I never said I was good at it either :P but this is just what I see. First off, Looking good!
It seems in most of these photos that you are attempting to do a automatic release, but arent quite sure of yourself, resulting in you kind of dropping your reins; As such
Also, another thing you mentioned; Your leg looks to be slipping back in these photos, and before I would encourage anyone to attempt a automatic release, I would tell them they need to have a secure leg over the obstacle.
I would say, do some grid work reinless. It should help with your leg, and your horses overjumping. And, as for now, work on a longer crest release.
Their is my two cents, and it probably means nothing
Thank you both, that was really helpful! I try to work on lots of trot work in two-point when I'm out hacking to strengthen my leg, as I know it's really inconsistent.
I'll definitely go back to working with long and short crest releases. I normally use the crest release, but for some reason switched to some makeshift auto release when we went out on XC. I have a tendancy to give him his head when he gets into a trouble spot, when I really should be supporting him better with the reins.
Another thing I forgot to mention is that this trainer said I should get a running martingale attachment for my breastplate. I have NO experience with martingales and don't know if this would beneficial or a gadget that would be used as an easy fix. He doesn't throw his head, but at times can get a little high-headed. Usually a soft half-halt will bring him back down, and I've never felt like it's a problem. Any advice?
As Maura covered the critique to the T... I'll comment on the martingale. Now others may disagree with this opinion, but I was always taught, when working a young or green horse. No gadgets. Work/train your horse so you don't need them. A good flat/dressage foundation will take you further. Jumping, even XC, is 90% flat work. You just have to remember to do your flat work. So no.... I think at this level, you should fix the high headness, and learn how to deal with it rather than use a martingale.
I've seen too many horses be martingaled up when they are still green and because the foundation was skipped, can't be jumped safely without one.
^^^ I agree.
After a little over a year, my horse goes on the bit and moves off my leg appropriately. But it took a lot of time, riding 6 days a week, and trainer schooling every thursday as well. My trainers still pushed me to use german training forks and draw reins. But I chose not to use such things... and the time I put in has since paid off. But boy, is it a lot of work!