Did Caprilli Bring Us The Crest Release?

Crest-Release-1by Barbara Ellin Fox

Controversy is as common place in the horse world as it is in politics or religion. No where is the controversy stronger than between the advocates of eventing and of hunter seat equitation. The eventing riders have their roots in the military balanced seat riding while the roots of the hunter seat equitation rider lean more directly to the forward seat.

One of the fuels that fans this controversy is the crest release. Simply defined, the crest release is a method of placing the hands on the horse’s neck during jumping, so the rider does not interfere with the horse’s mouth. Riders are encouraged to support their upper body via their hands on the horse’s “crest” . The crest release is a crucial component of Hunter Seat Equitation and makes it the only horse sport that requires upper body support from the hands. In the world of eventing, supporting your upper body on your hands can be a fatal mistake.

During the past 100 years jumping has had a significant evolution. The biggest change is attributed to Capt. Federico Caprilli, an Italian Cavalry officer who started the jumping world toward making the transition from the backward seat to the Forward Seat. Check out my short article What Does Caprilli Have To Do With Jumping In America?

Ideas and innovations rarely belong to one person and that was the case with the change from the backward seat to the forward seat. During the same time that Caprilli was clarifying his forward method, there were equestrian rumblings in other countries, including in the USA’s racing industry, regarding the change in seats. Once Caprilli’s method began to spread, the various world cavalries added their own twists and tweaks.

Caprilli did not advocate leaning on the horse’s neck during jumping. Neither did Lt. Col. Harry D. Chamberlin, of the US Cavalry School. These military men, who were able to devote hours a day to riding and training, firmly believed that the hands should follow the horse’s mouth over the jump. Obviously, hands can’t follow if they are planted on the horse’s neck.

The raw method of crest release was used in the U.S., long before it was ever given a name. In 1938 , Capt. V.S. Littauer, a Russian immigrant who had served in the Russian Imperial Cavalry published his 2nd book in the U.S. titled, “More About Forward Riding”. On page 60 he writes, “Following the movements of the horse’s neck and head through the air requires a very strong seat and a great deal of rhythm, and might be impractical in many cases of amateur riding.” Littauer was a public instructor and believed a riding technique needed to be developed for the occasional, less athletic rider.

Later, on the same page Littauer states, “As long as keeping a firm position, while having the hands in the air, requires a very athletic body and constant daily practice, I would suggest that you help yourself remain in balance by supporting yourself with your hands laid on the horse’s neck.” This make’s Littauer’s the earliest written word that I have found regarding what was to become the crest release.

I hope you will follow the US Horsemanship blog for the next few weeks as I share what I have learned about the development of the crest release, whether it has a good place in riding today and how it currently effects riding worldwide.

4 comments on “Did Caprilli Bring Us The Crest Release?

  1. jme

    interesting references. i knew the crest release existed prior to being named, but my understanding was that it didn’t become common, accepted practice until named and promoted by george morris. i have read in other books on jumping that most people today credit him with, if not ‘inventing’ it, with making it the norm…

  2. Pingback: U.S. Horsemanship » Blog Archive » What Do George Morris and Federico Caprilli Have in Common?

  3. Pingback: What Do George Morris and Federico Caprilli Have in Common? | U.S. Horsemanship

  4. barbaraellinfox

    George Morris is the one who made the crest release the only way to ride in equitation classes but he got the idea from his mentor, Gordon Wright. Littauer and Wright were peers in the same part of the country right after the Cavalry was unmounted and they were both set on making their marks with the civilian public. I have no doubt that they spent a lot of time discussing theory. Margaret Cabell Self, also of that time period, promoted use of a neck strap because she didn’t want to see the straight line to the mouth broken. But George Morris gets the credit for taking the crest release to level we see it today. I believe he regrets where it has gone but is not losing sleep over it.

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