Do you think there is any relationship between stiffness and spooking or using spooking as an evasion?
I think I have noticed this, twice in horses of my own and now in a girlfriends horse.
The horse is not 'spooky', she tends to only spook going to the right and rarely ever when ridden on the buckle just mosey-ing around.
The spooks happen once she gets to work. then after some work with a coach the spooks decrease. It isn't as apparent without the coach but then again she(rider) doesn't get the same job done.
Many horses preferentially spook at things on one side, but I'm not sure that is related to stiffness. I read once somewhere that most horses have a dominant eye, that is they pay more attention to stuff they see out of that eye over the other.
Horses aren't stupid, they know what's up when the coach is there...time to work, no foolin' around
(edit) then after some work with a coach the spooks decrease. It isn't as apparent without the coach but then again she(rider) doesn't get the same job done.
Perhaps when asking the mare for more intense work, under the eye of a coach, your friend is more confident? This will certainly transmit to the horse resulting in less spooking. When a rider asks the horse for a response to an aid, but in a hesitant manner, any horse, especially a mare is going to go 'she's not sure, so I'm not sure, now I think there are pink elephants in the corner! Oh my!'
“You'll always miss 100% of the shots you don't take.” - Wayne Gretsky
Mares are smarter. Take your average dumb gelding-they'll buck or argue and end up working harder then they would have doing what they were supposed to in the first place. Usually earns them a smack or two as well.
Now, your mare will either plant and refuse to move or go "OMG pink elephants over there". The rider gets rattled, has no clue what to do and the mare has to exert not one little hair on her body. Plus she gets out of doing what you were asking. It's really brilliant-they must chat over it.
They absolutely use this tactic to change the subject when something they do not particularly want to do comes up. Don't believe it? Try leading them up to the elephant corner-nothing, they may even drop and roll. Get on them and they won't go within 20 yards...oh, on the buckle they might but you ask for contact and some lateral work and forget it. But that Pro gets on and they go right by it-because they know the Pro knows exactly what's up and is not going to accept it.
Far as stiffness being related to spooking? If one is uncomfortable or in pain, they can get evasive. Even if it's sub clinical, you need to make sure they don't hurt before you assume it is just evading work.
When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.
Omg...sounds like my mare. It's definitely a testing thing for me, because shes only done it to my trainer once, as opposed to the multiple times she's done it with me. Always at the beginning of rides, when I start asking for more focused work. Disappears when we start jumping, which she loves.
I have a big TB jumper who LOVES to spook. His favorite trick is to spook horribly everytime you go near a fence you're not intending to jump, like when I'm just flatting around the ring. If you are actually jumping the fence he's incredibly bold and isnt scared of it at all. The only way to flat him and not have him leaping in every which direction is to keep him constantly busy. Lots of leg yeilding, haunches-in, shoulder-in, counter bending, over bending, stretching, collecting, changing direction, lengthening stride, transitions. I'm not going to lie, riding him can be exhausting but he is REALLY well schooled on the flat now!
Spooking is very evasive, and needs to be nipped in the bud. I don't tolerate it unless it's a legit spook: kid jumps out of the bushes, car backfires, etc. If they are spooking at "nothing", it's usually a fake, and designed to get them out of working. I don't acknowledge those spooks, and when I ride past the spooky area the next time, I refocus the horse's attention to prevent another spook. Also, with horses that I know well, and when I am positive it is a fake spook, I go straight to the crop. They damn well better be more scared of me than the invisible monster in the corner!