I like talking about spooks that horses do. There was a conversation going about anxious horses on another thread, and it made me think about horse spooks. I've noted how Amore was special, because she had many more spooks than most horses. Most horses (in my experience), have two or three "favorite" spooks that they prefer.
We've only been around Nickel for a short time, but have ridden a few spooks. Almost every single time he drops down with both front legs. It's an easy one, and both his owner and I were pleased that this is his "go to" response. I always wonder what horses are thinking, and why they choose to spook the way they do. The only other spook we've seen from him was when he went straight up with me. That one was not exactly hard
to ride, but it was quite unusual so threw me for a loop. Going straight up about a foot when I wasn't expecting it meant I was suddenly falling back down into the saddle. I imagine if he had suddenly bolted I might have been left behind. Or if he'd gone backward I might have ended up on his neck. But thankfully he kept on at the same canter pace as before.
It's hard for me to say a spook is "unrideable," because with enough practice or preparation I think most spooks can be ridden.
commented on this in the other thread. I've not ridden through some severe spooks such as 360 degree spins that I have also stayed on for on other occasions. I did see my friend Cassie's horse do one spook that I could definitely say was unrideable though, because I am certain no rider on earth could have stayed on. That's because she literally went in every direction you can think of at a speed no human could follow, and the movements were large enough that even holding onto a saddle could not have kept a person on. She went down almost flat to the ground, then spun left, right, back, up, forward, I can't remember the exact sequence because it was so fast but literally there were limbs flying all over the place, as fast as a cutting horse but taking up a wider space. Everyone was just like WOW. Maybe I could compare it to if you went to sit on a mechanical bull, and the motion was the tasmanian devil.
After a lot of practice I could ride almost every one of Amore's spooks. I think her brain was not organized enough to keep a favorite spook, and she made them up new each time. She would sometimes drop, sometimes run backward, sometimes spin left or right, sometimes shoot sideways, or leap in the air sideways, sometimes gallop in place or forward a few strides, sometimes buck, etc.
Nala either leaps forward, or spins to one side. How far the spin goes depends on how scared she is. Halla would either veer backward (or stop dead), or leap or spin sideways. Hero either spins/leaps to one side, or gallops in place or forward one stride. One of my friend's horses would shoot backwards rapidly.
When it comes to equitation, I personally follow three rules:
Try not to interfere with the horse's natural movement/imbalance them or cause them pain (landing on their back heavily).
Use good body mechanics so I won't tear apart my joints or cause injury. That means I'm going to err on the side of leaning too far forward rather than too far back.
This can hurt a person (speaking from experience). I've been leaning slightly too far back, had a horse lurch forward and the spine was in a position of weakness - I pulled a back muscle.
This position is too far forward for most riding but as an extreme, it is safer for your body.
I think the reason we're taught not to lean forward so much, is because without the stable lower leg pictured above, the rider is very precarious and can topple over if the leg is allowed to swing back.
Your upper body can be back without harm, if you are always bending from the hips while keeping your back aligned, and the same for bending forward. I firmly believe the spine needs to stay aligned and the vertebrae stacked up, whether you're in a saddle or sitting in a chair. This guy is still balanced through his spine, unlike the leaning back english rider. I find that the pictures of western riders doing working events (not pleasure riders) usually show good body mechanics and balance.
My third thing is that I always do what is the most stable and safest. You'll see a lot of dressage riders putting only their toe in the stirrup, or keeping their lower leg tipped back behind their center of gravity. But many very good riders still use their weight in the stirrup, the stirrup at least back to the ball or midfoot, and a better core balance.
I thought it was interesting that when I first started showing, I'd follow to the letter what my instructors said such as keeping my weight in my seat and the equitation positions. Later, after I'd learned to ride more securely I'd just sit low enough to give the appearance of sitting in the saddle, but I'd still do the more secure "hover." That was when I started getting placed well or winning equitation classes, when I was cheating and only giving the appearance of riding in the saddle. That's because it made my lower leg very still, my rising trot much nicer, and my hands completely independent.
In my mind, riding spooks requires the right balance of relaxed looseness and muscle tension in the right places. You'll not stay on if you're simply a floppy rag doll. But tension is also your enemy. But if you know how a certain horse spooks, it can really pay off to adapt your riding just in case. Putting my leg forward on Halla saved me many times when she was green and would stop dead mid-canter. It also can save you if a horse tends to bolt forward or leap.
Those are my musings for the day.