My concern with this line of thinking I'd that owners/riders of a certain temperment will make excuses for a horse all day long...Now I get horses in with a laundry list of "he won't" or "he's afraid of" and generally it's because of a timid rider, or tentative handling.
The problem I have with that, boots, is that it cuts both ways. There are certainly folks who always make excuses for horses. But on the flip side...
Mia was a nervous horse. The pro I eventually hired concluded Mia had never been broken to ride because she interpreted some cues differently than a trained horse would. The pro concluded Mia & I had been riding together on a lot of mutual good will but very little understanding or training.
But when I asked for help on dealing with her spookiness, what I heard over and over and over again was that she was spooky BECAUSE I was nervous. Yet I couldn't help notice many of her worst spooks came when I was totally confident. If she was spooking BECAUSE I was nervous, why were the majority of spooks coming when I was totally confident?
The other thing I heard hundreds of times was "Make her!" If I would just stop trying to figure her out, and make her mind, she'd be fine! It was on the forum that I received the advice to "Get a bigger whip!" if the one I had failed to "make her" obey.
Tried it too. When she refused to go forward, I whipped her HARD with a folded over 8' leather rein. She backed up. So I whipped her more, and the harder I whipped her, the faster she went - backwards. When we were running out of room to go backwards, I stopped whipping and she stopped backing, then turned around and looked at me as if to say, "I don't know WHAT that thing ahead of us was, but I saved you! It hurt, but I saved you!
Not long after that, I read a book (1890?) by James Fillis. He wrote:
"The impressionability of a horse can be greatly diminished and modified by breaking. Custom establishes mutual confidence between horse and rider. If the animal has not been beaten, or violently forced up to the object of his alarm, and if the presence of his rider reassures him, instead of frightening him, he will soon become steady. It is a sound principle never to flog a horse which is frightened by some external object. We should, on the contrary, try to anticipate or remove the impression by "making much" of the animal.
I have already said that a horse has but little intelligence. He cannot reason, and has only memory. If he is beaten when an object suddenly comes before him and startles him, he will connect in his mind the object and the punishment. If he again sees the same object, he will expect the same punishment, his fear will become increased, and he will naturally try to escape all the more violently....
...My only advice about the management of nervous horses is to give them confidence by "making much of them." If we see in front of us an object which we know our horse will be afraid of, we should not force him to go up to it. Better let him at first go away from it, and then gently induce him to approach it, without bullying him too much. Work him in this way for several days, as long as may be necessary. Never bring him so close up to the object in question that he will escape or spin round ; because in this case we will be obliged to punish him ; not for his fear, but on account of his spinning round, which we should not tolerate at any time. In punishing him, we will confuse in his mind the fear of punishment and the fear caused by the object. In a word, with nervous horses we should use much gentleness, great patience, and no violence." (page 186)
That was my first encounter with someone who distinguished between types of horses and said some types need a different approach. Later, I came across the passage in Tom Roberts about the Bollock Carts in India, and giving a horse options.
In the "sticky" on making a good trail horse, for example, I find:
"2) Your job (as the rider) is not to let your horse look at everything new and decide it is OK. That is your job. You should NOT show him that there is nothing to be afraid of. Your job as an 'effective' rider is to teach him that he needs to trust YOU and ONLY YOU -- not his natural instincts....If you let a horse look at things, then you are teaching him to be afraid of everything that is new and telling him that things should be looked at instead of ignored. You are not telling him that it is OK to go right past it. I want a horse to ignore everything but me.
I asked the writer about Mia in a private message years ago, and she replied that Mia was an unusual horse who would need a different approach. I'm grateful for her response. But the approach she wrote about is the one many around me teach, and it made Mia go backwards - physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
Bandit had been ridden using that approach. He was a PITA to ride when I got him! You never knew when he'd snap and suddenly race off across peoples' yards or across the desert. He'd spin and buck and I was told to just ride it out. And riding it out WAS part of the solution! I couldn't solve it in an arena! But I also needed to convince Bandit that we could work as a team, that I wouldn't try to just whip him past something!
There is a balance somewhere between, as you obviously recognize. There are people who make endless excuses and never give the horse a reason to get better. But there are also plenty of folks, both online and around where I live, who ought to give up horses and take up riding machines!
You can't give a horse courage by being afraid. But you don't give a horse confidence by ignoring its fears, either. Somewhere in between is where I want to be. I'm not Omnipotent but neither am I someone the horse can ignore. Man is God to Horse doesn't work for me. Neither does Horse is God to Man. I need to be tough enough to be worth listening to, but gentle enough to listen to my horse as well. And I still struggle to find the balance.