Now comes the hard part: How much TOUCH or CONTACT do you want a horse to be CONDITIONED to? For me, this is a very conscious decision. I decide early on how SENSITIVE I want a horse to be. When I was training reining, reined cowhorse and cutting horses, I got them gentle and easy to handle, CONDITIONED them to accept everything they NEEDED to accept, but did little scratching and petting. The more SENSITIVE they were, the less pressure was needed to be applied to get them to move away from it. So, it was a lot easier and more pleasant for both horse and rider if they were not 'leaning into petting' and were left more NATURAL and more SENSITIVE TO TOUCH. There is a fine balance between having a horse that has learned to love being petted on and a horse that is very light and responsive, listens and has good manners. If this was not so, we would not see all of the posts on tis forum asking about horses that knock people down, rub on people, step on feet and refuse to move over or back up when asked. These are NOT pleasant horses to train and seldom become top show horses or really impressive cowhorses or reiners.
Is this making any sense. How many of you have heard experienced horsemen and trainers say "I would rather train an untouched horse than a 'pocket pony' or pet?" This is because a PET has been so conditioned to be petted (made worse by hand feeding and letting them rub on you) that you or a trainer have to apply SO MUCH pressure to make them move that you frequently have to be very rough with them or they just stay DULL and INSENSITIVE. A good trainer can be much kinder and NATURALLY LIGHTER with an untouched horse than a PET. A happy medium for me is a horse that accepts touch but has not been conditioned to like it so much that they have become insensitive.
Interesting perspective, I do think I understand where you are coming from. In my own herd though things are just the opposite.
My retired pony came from a very abusive past, he is not a pet, he hates
touching of any kind. He has learned that human interaction is usually negative and shuns petting, but at the same time the purposeless rough handling made him extremely insensitive to cues.
Whereas Fargo, I have conditioned to be a pet, he was mostly wild when I adopted him. I took the time to teach him to love contact, and yet he is a million times more sensitive than my old pony ever was. Partly, Fargo is innately a very sensitive horse, but he also hasn't had the sensitivity knocked out of him. I understand your formula of training first, and I would say that is somewhat how I treat my horses; obedience and safety ALWAYS supersedes affection.
I worked for a trainer, who would not allow her students to pet or scratch their own horses, except as a reward during lessons. While those horses performed wonderfully in shows, they did not like people at all, and had what I consider, bad ground manners. The key really is balance, between affection and discipline.
Horses are masters of sensing energy. Would you agree that a horse can determine the intention of your touch?
I find my horses have no trouble differentiating between friendly rubs, and a cue asking for action. I think of it like when I was a kid, my mom would often rest her hand on my shoulder or hold my hand when we were in public, if I said or did anything out of line that friendly approving touch would change instantly. The touch wouldn't be harsher, or have more pressure, but somehow it was cold and stiff, only the energy changed, and I knew I was in trouble.
Obviously there is more to the subject of touch than just contact.