Riding Mia & Bandit has convinced me that with SOME horses, you need to be willing to give up control in order to gain control. I eventually concluded what Mia needed to become a reasonably calm horse was to get out and MOVE, regularly. But I didn't have many places to safely try it. She had proven herself challenged by rough ground and very excitable when allowed to run. Looking back, trading her to someone who lived in a more open area was truly best for her.
If I still owned her, given what I've now learned from Bandit, I would try walking her off-trail and slowly introducing her to rougher ground. She had lived most of her life in a corral. She needed to learn the balance that would allow her to be safe when running on uneven trails or down a wash. She actually liked being led by a human, so I could have started with leading her across rougher and rougher terrain, then gone back and added my weight to increase the challenge.
I was never going to get the spook out of her while she had a lot of pent up energy needing release. My lack of riding experience and lack of good places to let her run made that difficult. It wasn't impossible, but it may have been impossible for ME at THAT time. I simply didn't have the experience. But...I was all she had.
Bandit had the experience, but I think he needs to run sometimes as well. Not nearly as much as Mia did, and his experience makes it safer to give up control. A rider does need some sort of ultimate veto. I think learning to deal with that conflict, learning how to persist in asserting your will without totally freaking out a horse, is an important part of learning to ride.
I used to get so frustrated when people would tell me to just teach Mia to stop well in an arena and then it would all be OK. I was told hundreds of times that if she was trained right, I would always be able to slow her with subtle seat cues. I'd swear some threads were like a ridiculous competition:
I can stop my horse with light rein.
Oh yeah? Well I can stop my horse with my seat.
Oh yeah? Well I can stop my horse by looking at him from across the arena.
Oh yeah? I can be on vacation, get a phone call, and stop MY horse by staring at the phone and thinking slow, from 2000 miles away!
10 years after I got Mia, when I hear someone say they can stop their horse reliably by just stopping their own motion, I think, "What a lazy horse you must own!
" Maybe I'm being unfair, but no more so than those who told me Mia just needed to practice stopping in an arena until I could stop her from racing another horse by just stopping my seat!
A strong-minded horse who is enjoying her strength may take a while to slow down. If I really need to slow down in 200 yards (road coming up, for example), I may need to start the process of working him/her down now. That doesn't make me a bad rider or him a bad horse. It just means your approach to riding is rooted in negotiation rather than instant and total surrender of the horse's will.
SOME horses simply will NOT surrender their will to the human. It isn't a matter of training. It is a matter of who they are. Most, like Bandit, fall somewhere in between. But I feel safer on a horse who talks to me and negotiates than on one trained for unquestioning obedience.
And a horse like Cowboy is pretty special - one who can shake his head, "No, no, NO!
" without scaring a newer rider because you know that Cowboy will keep himself safe and thus keep his rider safe.