Q: What do you do with your hands over a fence?
Katie Monahan Prudent:
I basically use two different releases as I jump, depending on the type of horse I’m riding—a hunter or jumper—how that particular horse jumps and whether I’m schooling or competing in the show ring.
When I’m schooling a horse, the release I like the best is an ample or crest release. Just before takeoff, I place my hands 8 to 10 inches up on the horse’s neck, which allows him to use his head and neck to the fullest extent and encourages him to think for himself as he leaves the ground and jumps the fence. This, I feel, is the ideal release.
However, this crest release is effective in helping the horse only if he is in the proper balance before he leaves the ground. When riding a very wandering green horse or a horse who is particularly heavy on his front end or especially when showing in the hunter ring where adjustments should be smooth and invisible, it is difficult to get to every fence in perfect balance.
Therefore, at certain times, instead of a crest release, I use a follow-through release. This is done by keeping a light, even contact with the horse’s mouth as he leaves the ground, jumps the fence and lands. In most cases, this release is not as effective as the crest in getting a horse to jump round and really use his head and neck, but it is more effective in controlling a difficult horse. There are many variations of the follow-through release. An opening rein will correct a wandery jumper, help you turn in the air to straighten a horse who pulls badly to one side as he jumps and control a horse who gets strong. I also use this release on a stopper or hesitater because the contact on the mouth seems to give a timid horse more confidence.
When I school and show jumpers, I go back to using mostly the crest release. On a jumper, it is easier to make last-minute corrections, set up the horse and get to the fences in perfect balance. Over big oxers, especially, an exaggeration of this release allows a good jumping horse to use every part of his body with no interference from the rider. It really teaches a horse to figure out jumping for himself, and when he does figure it out, you have a better horse.
Oh! I almost forgot my third release: When all else fails, I grab mane!
This Q&A was taken from Practical Horseman’s archives. It first appeared in the February 1976 issue.
Katie Monahan Prudent [21 years old when this article was written] won both the Medal and Maclay Finals as a Junior. A member of the 1986 gold-medal World Championship show-jumping team, she was named the American Grandprix Association’s Rider of the Year three times. Currently she runs an international training program with her husband, French equestrian Henri Prudent. They divide their time between Middleburg, Virginia, and France.