I think there is a very interesting line between a dictatorship with the horse, and avoiding anything that makes them uncomfortable. Because humans are humans, we tend to go to extremes. There are some people who treat their horse like a tool. They’re likely to say “he has to do x,y,z” and “I expect my horse to do x,y,z”. Then there are people who say “my horse doesn’t like that so we don’t do it.” “He is scared to be tied so I don’t do it.” “When I went out to catch him he said no thanks so I didn’t bother him.”
As with anything, the healthy approach is the middle road. If we force our horses to do our bidding without regard for their feelings, there obviously is no room for a real relationship of any kind. To some people, the horse is a toy they purchased to do what they want. What a sad existence for a horse.
For the folks who never ask their horse to do anything uncomfortable, the horse never learns any structure, and isn’t able to gain confidence. They might say no initially because they worry, don’t understand, or don’t have the tools to complete the task. It’s our responsibility to give those tools to build a horse who has confidence in themselves, in us, and the world at large. A horse who doesn’t expand their comfort zone is at high risk – how will they get shots, trims, tie if needed, be handled by a vet if they need care, caught in an emergency, hauled to safety? Building a horse who is habituated to say no is not ethical, just as creating a soldier for a horse is not ethical. It leaves them vulnerable without tools to deal with their world, and unless you plan to set them free into the wild, they still have to deal with the elements of domesticity that aren’t natural for them.
I try to give all my horses the tools they need to be confident, to be safe, to handle the unexpected, and I respect when they say no, I don’t want to do that. But hearing no means I need to evaluate: do they have the tools they need? Do I need to approach this differently or at a different time? And yes, sometimes what I’m asking isn’t appropriate. If it doesn’t improve the horses life, I think they have a right to say no. But if I know it will add value to their life, I need to find a way to help them get confidence enough to do it.
As with all elements of a partnership, I listen to their concerns, and introduce things in a way that suits them.