There are three basic types of releases, with some sub types; so here you go:
An elementary release usually means you put your hands forward three strides ahead of the fence and grab a hunk of mane to help stabilize you in the air. If you're still having trouble staying out of the tack for the entire arc, this is the release for you.
An intermediate release is the crest release. The rider maintains contact to the base of the fence, makes a modified following gesture as the horse jumps, and digs their knuckles into the crest muscle to provide a little support and stability in the air, and smoothly restablishs contact with the horse's mouth as the horse moves away from the fence.
An advanced release is an automatic release, where the rider maintains a straight line from elbow to bit and a light passive contact of the horse's mouth through the take off, arc of the jump, landing and departure.
Now, here's where it gets confusing - there's a short crest release and a long crest release. A short crest release is a 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up the neck, and an insecure rider can sneak a little mane grab into one; a long crest release is a third of the way up the neck or less, with hands closer to the straight line, but not quite there yet.
American riders in general and American hunter riders in particular are criticized for two things - one, an exaggerated, fake crest release, with an overly broken line between bit and elbow and hands floating above the mane, not actually resting on the muscle of the neck and two, not progressing past the crest release. It was originally intended as a teaching aid, a way to help intermediate riders jump safely without abusing their horses, but has now become the standard in the American show ring.
However, there's no such thing as a "better" release; there's just the right release for the right situation. In your situation, or if I were schooling a greenie with a tendency to jump big and airy, the elementary release with a handful of mane is completely appropriate. Crest release is appropriate in a lot of situations as well. However, truly accomplished horsemen not only can use all three, but knows which situations are appropriate for each and when to use them.
Last edited by maura; 11-05-2011 at 02:05 AM.