All horses have ways of evading work they aren’t feeling up to / aren’t comfortable with / don’t want to do / don’t think they can do. Murray’s evasions can be pretty dramatic, but when he’s not being a dingbat he’s firmly in the camp of “I can’t do this, let me slow down, this is hard, can’t trot, no not possible, not forward, too hard, slower.” And this type of evasion I know how to deal with. The other really common evasion is SPEED.
I hate when horses use speed as an evasion. It makes me absolutely crazy. It fills me with irrational rage. I’m sure there are other people who like it a lot less when horses use slow-ness as an evasion, but in my opinion speed as an evasion is way worse.
First of all, rushing means not using your body. You can see this from and ground, and you can feel it in the saddle. It’s like when you’re carrying a really heavy bucket or piece of furniture, and you know you’re struggling, so you shuffle your feet really fast and juuuuuuuuust make it to your destination in time. But you’re not really working your muscles, you’re just relying on your joints and tendons, or something like that. It’s the same when a horse just BULLS through on the lunge line or when you ask them to do a leg yield. Oh, you want me to stretch down and trot? No, that’s impossible, I’m just going to trot really fast to convince you I shouldn’t have to do this. Then you have to expend effort slowing your horse down before you can then teach them to do the thing you were trying to teach them in the first place.
(Look at this unrelated gif of a cute gray horse being adorable. You may have heard of him. More on him later.)
Which brings me to my next point. You don’t learn things better by doing them really fast. You just don’t. Let’s say you’re trying to teach your horse to stretch down. Instead, Mr. Horse says “no thanks, I’d rather JUST RUN AROUND REALLY FAST”. That’s great, except that the point of the exercise is to access your back and supple those muscles. Slow repetition relaxes muscles. Rushing and tension do not supple muscles. In fact, rushing and tension are the opposite of the tenets of dressage so that is another reason rushing annoys me (but since horses can’t read, I give them a tiny pass on this one).
I’ve never heard a riding trainer suggest that I rush my horse through an exercise they aren’t getting it. In fact, they usually say something along the lines of “why don’t you take it back to the walk, and then try it at the trot.” So when Mr. Speed Demon horse is like “no thanks, instead of trying to move my shoulders over a little and engaging my inside hind, I WILL INSTEAD RUN THROUGH AND DO A WEIRD UNBALANCED CIRCLE INSTEAD” it irritates me so much because they are so busy telling you what they can’t do that they aren’t listening to you trying to teach them an easier way.
Which is another point in and of itself — it’s a really loud way of not listening. When Murray isn’t listening or is convinced that he can’t do something, I can slow him down to an easier gait (hell, he’s usually slowed himself down already), show him he can do that thing, and then we can work on it at a more productive pace. When my horse is loudly blasting through my aids and busily telling me that they can’t do any such thing, you have double the work on your hands to get them back to a) a productive gait and b) doing that thing.
Then the evasion builds on itself. I don’t have to do this hard thing if I just bull through the aids? Great, I’ll never have to do this hard thing ever again. Obviously more talented riders can deal with this, but as we see rushing to fences, plowing through the hands, and general pushiness as one of the major problems in amateur horses, I think it’s safe to say that lots of horses use this tactic. Oh, if I just rush through your half halts, I never have to half halt, great! If I rush through the shoulder in, I never have to do a proper shoulder in! If I rush through my entire dressage test, it gets over and done with sooner! (Okay, that is a human one.)
(This picture seems maybe appropriate here — if I rush all the XC fences, they can’t hurt me, right?)
From a totally rider-centric standpoint, I find speed as an evasion literally painful to deal with and manage. I don’t know about you, but having my arms ripped off on the lunge line is somehow not my favourite way to lunge a horse. Same when I’m riding — yeah, yeah, slow them with your seat and all that, but even that is challenging when you’re an adult ammy working a perpetual speed demon.
It feels like it’s aggressive. This is totally anthropomorphic, but speed as an evasion feels wildly aggressive compared to slowing down or stopping as an evasion. To me, horses that bully with speed always seem to be the one who are happy to throw their body into mine, invade personal space, yank my arms off, ignore polite requests… I realise it’s all (generally) coming from a place of confusion, and it’s not necessarily trying to be aggressive, but it feels aggressive. And that makes me feel angry and aggressive. Which is not such a great way to ride, in general.
All of this to say, I don’t really enjoy a horse who uses speed as an evasion. And also, I really, really, really, like my horse, who is trained just right for me, and is totally attuned to me, and I know how to ride him*.
* Insofar as I actually know how to ride.