Better balance for sitting a spook?

Are there any exercises I can do to improve my balance for those sudden moments when my horse bolts in another direction? When I was young I used to be able to sit anything, but now I feel like I fall off ALL. THE. TIME. I’ve been told I have a good seat but when a horse suddenly spooks and runs in the opposite direction I come crashing to the ground before I even realize what happened.

I’ve fallen off 3 times in a less than a year from spooks and I feel like I never learn to do better next time. Any advice for me?


I’m a yoga teacher with an interest in rider/horse biomechanics. One thing I observe frequently in hunter riders especially is uneven sitz bones and a tendency to collapse into one hip (usually the left). I’ve even watched pros doing it. And they seem not to realize they’re doing it. My theory is that it is more common in hunters because the light hunter seat with heels down tends to put a lot of pressure on the hip flexors & quads over time.

I like to do exercises that build both strength & mobility & teach the rider to become aware of sending energy in all different directions. It’s a lot easier to sit a spook when you’re so used to balancing up/down & left/right that it is part of your unconscious muscle memory.


All. Of. This.

Strength training in asymmetrical ways is incredible for building balance and body awareness, as well as evening out inherent asymmetries, as well as the obvious strength gains.


Totally true for me, because I think I’ve literally only ever fallen off the left side of the horse (including before ever riding English, and I’m not much of a hunter even now). I’ve been working on this to some degree for about a decade, but more than ever in the last year - off the horse. When I got back into the saddle after (another) year long hiatus, I didn’t feel perfectly level, but I did notice I was hardly sore. Thankfully, I haven’t had to test the stickability yet #bestbabyever

Now, I’m not physical therapist or personal trainer, but I think hip stability and also mobility exercises are going to be your friend.


I was coming here to say yoga, pilates, core stability, balance exercises that assist in developing body awareness, and you said this SO much better. Interesting theory about the hunter seat contributing to hip flexor stiffness- I’m currently rehabbing a hip flexor injury and have been thinking a lot about the biomechanics of all of my activities, but this is a new thought for me!


I feel personally attacked :joy:


Ride horses that don’t spook.


I know every horse will spook from time to time, but pivoting in another direction is a difficult thing to deal with. My first horse would disappear from underneath me and take off, leaving me in the air like Wile E. Coyote. It damaged my confidence when I should have been working on my seat and balance. I still have a defensive hunch when I’m riding a hot horse.

But they all spook differently. One horse I was cantering around on when a dog darted out of the bushes on my right and all I felt was a faint momentary tremble. Another time I was cantering and one of the grooms overfilled the tire on his wheelbarrow and it blew up like a gunshot. My horse took off for two strides before realizing it was too much trouble. He had other reactions to scary things periodically but nothing he did unseated me.

There’s always risk in this sport, but you can manage it somewhat by riding horses with better minds.


Sit up. Ride the hind end. Good core strength helps, too.

But, really, a horse who spooks and goes any direction but forwards will need its hind end to pivot, so if you’re sitting over that, you’ll be taken along. When you’re in a real two-point, you’re pretty much toast if the horse spooks and you don’t have the “sit up!” reflex.


Yeah, I don’t consider myself a good rider, TBH, but I do yoga and have good body awareness from years of acting lessons and working out. And tuning into what the horse is thinking and feeling, as well as knowing the horse and how they move, that all helps.

But a little, narrow pony with no shoulders can still toss me off like a fucking scarf, no matter how well-prepared I am.

What I find most difficult with spooking are the horses that go from zero to leaving you hanging in the air–Wile E. Coyote is a great image–about ridiculous things, like a shiny patch of sunlight, and then are a mess for the rest of the ride, creating a cycle of the rider wondering “is she going to spook at that,” and the horse feeding off of the tension of the rider.

Off to write a letter to the ACME company about this!


Ha - I feel exactly like Wile E. Coyote in these moments! All of a sudden there is no horse under me and I’m suspended in midair until I come crashing down.

I do always fall off on the left side, now that I think about it. I probably am collapsing into one hip so hopefully I can work on that and not be falling off so often.

My mare is generally well-behaved and not spooky - if she does spook, it’s usually just a flinch. Sometimes she gets much more flighty and spooky when she’s in season, but I don’t ride her with the mindset she’s likely to spook so it catches me off guard. We’ve been riding around the fields and trails of our new barn for a month with barely a reaction from her when a herd a deer have popped out of the woods, etc. Yesterday though we were trotting past a bush and then suddenly she left me in the dust.


Trainers always told me to “sit up” during a spook which I used to really struggle with. The thing that really helped was I had a trainer that really emphasized lifting my hands. I find if I think about lifting my hands instead of focusing on trying to “sit up” - my body will naturally come back to a more upright position and I become more stable. Both ways get me to the same end result, but thinking about my hands for some reason clicks better in my brain.


Make sure you’re riding in a saddle that actually works for you.
My gelding has a good buck and spook. He used to get me off all the time, until he outgrew our Antares and I invested in a new Bruno Delgrange that actually fit both of us. Now I’m stuck to him like glue.
Now, some of it was also strength and balance. He always went left and I would go right, but it’s much easier to stay on when you aren’t fighting your saddle to sit up.

One exercise that I love and still do is this. Stand on one foot and pretend you’re standing on a clock. With one arm, reach down to 9 o’clock, then 2 o’clock, mix it up. Then do it with your other arm. Then stand on the other foot and repeat. If that’s too easy stand on a pillow.


This! I will ride a somewhat spooky horse and don’t need bomb proof… but there are types I just don’t care for anymore. One of my favorite horses would flare his nostrils and jiggle his head when nervous and at worst maybe a couple large steps sideways and then carry on with the task at hand. He was easy to bring back into focus after a couple strides. I trusted that horse with everything and even though he acted like he was gearing up for a big spook he never did and I could “read” what he was going to look at and get a little perked up about. That helped me prepare for the snorty sideways move.

The spook n bolt or spook n bronc? Nope nope and nope. My old horse used to do the whole shebang, he’d spook then take off for a few laps, maybe throw in a grapevine or a reverse move, or sometimes just launch my ass over his head. Unfortunately, none of the spooks made sense so preparing for them wasn’t a guarantee and thank goodness I found an awesome trainer to help me work out some of the issues leading to the spookiness.

For a “run of the mill” spook just having good balance is helpful. For the ones that spin or throw in some other acrobatics it is harder to figure out. Sit up, grab mane, and pray? If you go into defensive mode (aka fetal position), which is very natural for us humans to do, you aren’t going to have the balance you need to stay with the horses movement if they throw in a surprise.


If your weight is LOW, into your heel, you will tend to follow the motion of the horse (no matter where it goes) rather than tilt away from the horse (preliminary to a fall off the side). So… keep your heels down LOW, with your weight in your heel, not in your knee, or in your butt. LOW.


If you are falling off to the left, then your horse is logically always spooking or spinning to the right. Your horse is likely looking left and falling right.

You could try keeping a bit of flexion or shoulder fore to the right which will weight her to the left and make it harder to bulge right.

I agree there is a big difference between horses that take you with them when they spook, and horses that get you off.

My horse as a kid had quite a big spook but I never came off. I did hop off and hold her if I could see she was about to lose her mind because of a city bus pulling up with hissing breaks or similar.

My current horse is very brave, and the few big spooks she’s had, she had clearly no intent to get me off.

A few years ago I rode an older mare that was fantastic in the arena but would do a kind of slow motion spook and spin on trails. I made sure to ride her with a bit of connection between leg and hand. She always spun left.

I do find that my teen reflexes still kick in, which is drop your leg, sit back and in, raise your hands.


Honestly, the best thing I did in order to stay on better was invest in a stickier saddle and stickier breeches. The stick seems to buy me that fraction of a second for my body to catch up to the spook/buck.



Rearing too.

I swear I move the fastest baling off a horse that even thinks about feeling like it might rear. I’m gone. Done. Out. No cares given. I’m not riding that.


Just reread this and you mentioned being at a new barn. A change in diet can affect behavior. Maybe your horse is eating a richer diet?


Hip and glute strength. You can have a core of steel but if it’s sitting on weak hips, it won’t help. The stronger the muscle in your hips and glutes is, the looser the soft tissue can be. This allows you to be flexible but strong. I struggle with tight hip flexors and the more work I do to strengthen that area, the looser my hip flexors can be.

Working on strengthening that area will also help with asymmetry. Almost every rider leans into one hip more than the other. It’s just how human bodies are.

If you have Facebook or Instagram check out the Activate Your Seat page. She’s a physio who focuses on helping people improve their riding. I’ve learned a lot.


I have a horse that is pretty spooky. Some days he spooks at EVERYTHING. Some days I can ride him on the buckle. Honestly, I’m just always ready for it. Sometimes he goes sideways, either way, forward, whatever. To his credit, whenever I tighten up my reins he instantly responds. He doesn’t spook and bronc, buck or rear and frankly that would be a no-go. When I first got him he could get a little light in front and would run a bit if I let him. He was told that was unacceptable. I’ve done a bunch of desensitizing with him, getting him used to seeing a lot of different stuff. But he seems to react more to things that are different than specific items. He’s just not a horse that is ever going to be bombproof. What I have taught him is that even though he might be afraid of something, he still needs to listen to me, and that a hard spook is unacceptable. This took a long time, just tapping him on the shoulder with my crop when he looks at something to remind him that I exist, and then keeping my leg on and making sure I have contact. He’s gotten A LOT better, but he is older as well.

If you are riding in a super slick saddle it is going to be harder to sit a spook, particularly if you are wearing slick breeches as well. Get some full seat breeches, and consider a new saddle. You could also try doing some dressage lessons to improve your balance and seat, or riding in a western saddle so you can get the feel of staying with her when she spooks.