There is a thin line I like to walk with horses between being too cautious and disregarding their feelings.
As in most things for me, I find the middle ground is the best. Some people creep carefully around their horses so as not to scare them, and others bombard them with stimulus til they become tuned out and non reactive.
I think a horse should be handled with respect, and expecting a horse to not react while being bombarded with stimulus is rude and counter to the type of relationship I hope to have with a horse. I don’t expect my horse to have to tolerate everything, and I personally don’t want to tolerate everything. Brash, loud and insensitive people don’t make sensitive partners for their horse- they make tuned out, unhappy horses.
On the other hand, protecting a horse from everything that might scare them isn’t kind either. Learning to tolerate, and better yet, constructively deal with, things that make them fearful helps them become safer, not just to you but to themselves. Horses who are afraid of everything and protected have a low threshold of tolerance and can be explosive, unpredictable and are more likely to hurt themselves or others. They also are required to live in a state of fear and stress – if you are going to keep a horse in domesticity, protecting them instead of giving them coping skills is not ethical.
Walking the line between both these things to me means being considerate of how I move around them, how I lay the saddle on, how I brush and bridle. It also means riding on windy or stormy days and learning to deal with the goblins that creep up in the scary corner of the arena. It means changing my whip over in a way that doesn’t offend or startle, but not having to sneak or hide it.
It means being functional and able to pull a log, move a cow, go for a trail ride. It means teaching the horse that every movement is not for them to run away from, and most importantly, it means never teaching them to run away from me but to draw: that way when fear creeps in, instead of withdrawing or not responding or running away, they look to me for support. And most importantly, when they look to me for support, I have a responsibility to give it.
Here’s my handsome gelding for your viewing pleasure.