...I don't get people who have to be drill-sergeant Nazis with their horses, and control their every move and if possible, their every thought. It leaves the horse completely out of the equation, and treats it as a mere vassal. They come from a position of "I know better than the horse" - presumably as part of the common view amongst humans of humans as the very crown of creation - and actually, no, they don't know better. Horses are wonderfully at home in nature, and fabulous guides of humans in their world, if we'll let them show us...
Here is some perspective on it from VS Littauer, writing in "Schooling Your Horse":
The Mental Part of Schooling - Cooperation
Any schooling is a course in physical and mental education. The latter has to be brought to the point where the horse understand signals and responds correctly to them. Any great rider, whether a High School rider or jumper, naturally seeks to influence the cooperation of his horse which enables him to turn the forceful aids of early schooling into merely light signals. On the higher planes of riding this is so, no matter what the game is, and the difference will lie only in the degree practical for a specific type of riding. But it does not obtain on the lower levels. For instance, my teachers of 40 years ago never used the word "cooperation", their favorite terms were "discipline" and "obedience". Instead of my own stock phrase "and now leave your horse alone", I always heard, "don't be a passenger, ride your horse".
Probably due in part to the continued importance of cavalry throughout the 19th centaury, and the constant constraint which cavalry formations imposed upon the horse and rider [Note: Littauer served in the Russian Cavalry, including the front lines in World War One], the belief that good riding consisted in general of the mastery of the horse by force, applied through the technical dexterity of the rider's legs and hands, remained unshaken for many generations. Today (1956) [Note: Before I was born!] the ideal of many of us is the cheerful cooperation, in hacking, in the hunting field or over obstacles, of our partner, the horse. Depending on the individual ability of the trainer, on the mental and emotional make-up of his horse, etc, this ideal can be attained in varying degrees.
Consider the "Charge of the Light Brigade" - 7 minutes exposed to fire BEFORE engaging, and equally long in retreat:
Picture from Wiki, along with this quote from a survivor:
The first shell burst in the air about 100 yards in front of us. The next one dropped in front of Nolan's horse and exploded on touching the ground. He uttered a wild yell as his horse turned round, and, with his arms extended, the reins dropped on the animal's neck, he trotted towards us, but in a few yards dropped dead off his horse. I do not imagine that anybody except those in the front line of the 17th Lancers (13th Light Dragoons) saw what had happened.
We went on. When we got about two or three hundred yards the battery of the Russian Horse Artillery opened fire. I do not recollect hearing a word from anybody as we gradually broke from a trot to a canter, though the noise of the striking of men and horses by grape and round shot was deafening, while the dust and gravel struck up by the round shot that fell short was almost blinding, and irritated my horse so that I could scarcely hold him at all. But as we came nearer I could see plainly enough, especially when I was about a hundred yards from the guns. I appeared to be riding straight on to the muzzle of one of the guns, and I distinctly saw the gunner apply his fuse. I shut my eyes then, for I thought that settled the question as far as I was concerned. But the shot just missed me and struck the man on my right full in the chest.
In another minute I was on the gun and the leading Russian's grey horse, shot, I suppose, with a pistol by somebody on my right, fell across my horse, dragging it over with him and pinning me in between the gun and himself. A Russian gunner on foot at once covered me with his carbine. He was just within reach of my sword, and I struck him across his neck. The blow did not do much harm, but it disconcerted his aim. At the same time a mounted gunner struck my horse on the forehead with his sabre. Spurring "Sir Briggs," he half jumped, half blundered, over the fallen horses, and then for a short time bolted with me. I only remember finding myself alone among the Russians trying to get out as best I could. This, by some chance, I did, in spite of the attempts of the Russians to cut me down.
Riding like that, in formation! while being fired at with cannon all around...is there any doubt why the cavalry of the day emphasized total control on one's horse?
But isn't it equally obvious that no one in my lifetime has ever needed to do so? If Littauer, who had seen combat while mounted, could adjust over 60 years ago, what excuse is there for someone who has NEVER needed anything like that to mindlessly continue that approach to training?