In the Dec. 25 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, Bernie Traurig and George H. Morris both penned columns discussing the state of the equitation division and their observations of current equitation trends.
One of two observations from the Maclay this year was that with too large a percentage of the riders, there was a lack of enough elasticity in their release (following arm) with contact, whether in a straight line or in a broken line. Today this following arm is referred to as the automatic release. In a nutshell, it is an arm that is independent of the neck and elastic enough to keep a light contact over the jump without stiffing the horse in the mouth and negatively affecting the horse’s jumping effort. It absolutely requires a solid independent seat. It is the most advanced, artistic release a rider can master and so valuable in the equitation and jumper divisions.
Most of the historic photos in this article depict the straight line from elbow to mouth that was so prevalent during the last century, roughly until the late 1970s. In today’s era, I think it’s more about the soft connection with the mouth and independence from the neck, regardless if the line is slightly broken or is absolutely straight. Some will say a straight line is the best connection with the mouth, and I don’t disagree with that. However, there are so many factors that play into that line. For instance, what moment of the jump did the camera capture?
I personally am more interested in a supple connection and independence from the neck for balance, rather than focusing on the straightness of the line. The exception here would be while schooling, when I do encourage riders to try to achieve a straight line because it is more difficult and develops the rider’s muscle memory. Gordon Wright, one of George Morris’ most influential teachers, has a diagram in his book depicting a broken line as acceptable, but a release below the straight line as unacceptable. Simply said, are we balanced on the neck for support (crest release) of our upper body or not?
When we, as trainers, start curtailing, eliminating or underestimating the benefits of standard, classical basics that the masters before us routinely instilled, then we have to ask ourselves why. Are we making life easier for the student? Is the student disciplined enough to do the exercise drills to perfect their base? Or have we forgotten or perhaps never been aware of these classical basics that lead to great riding? More than three decades ago George Morris told me, “Bernie, they never read my last chapter, the most advanced release, ‘The Automatic Release.’ ” To a great degree he may be right.
And Traurig wanted readers to watch this classic video of the U.S. Equestrian Team competing in Europe with Bertalan de Némethy, coach of the USET for 25 years. “It exemplifies a beautiful, quiet forward seat as well as elastic, following arms. Bert’s passion for correct riding basics was unparalleled,” Traurig said.
And don’t miss Traurig and Morris’ columns in the Dec. 25 issue of the Chronicle, which is the annual Holiday Issue and also features holiday pets and heartwarming holiday stories, coverage of the U.S. Eventing Association annual meeting (including an insightful Q&A with new coach Eric Duvander), a photo spread of opening meets from fox hunts around the country, and more.