I think people who believe their horses blindly obey them because they "respect" them as their leader or their "parent" have not tested that theory. Give your horse an electric shock to the underbelly or have a hornet sting them in the private parts and you can test your theory. You could also suddenly drop something that scrambles onto their head or set off a firework a foot ahead of them on the trail. Just don't allow them to spook or bolt, because otherwise that would mean they don't trust your leadership. Or perhaps they need more training.
Control is an illusion with horses, something I learned many years ago. Some people want to believe they have complete control over a well trained horse because it makes them feel safer. No one actually does, and I'm not talking about a horse slipping or tripping. A horse always retains a thinking brain, opinions and the ability to agree or disagree with a handler or rider. Some people only ride very agreeable horses so never fully understand that no matter how much training or experience a horse has, he remains his own person with the ability to make decisions.
I think people should know that every horse has a nemesis. You may have never met it, and maybe you never will. But I've been on horses that can be ridden with a halter, are so bomb proof you can fire a gun off their back, and you could eat a picnic sitting on them without spilling. Yet I've seen a couple of these horses meet the one thing they haven't run into before, the one thing that looks to them like the end of the world or a Zombie apocalypse. At that point, the most well trained horse and rider will do whatever the horse decides, because horses are not machines. I always say if people feel it is absolutely unacceptable for them to ever fall off a horse they should not ride. If you want absolute obedience, you need to use machines for transportation and not living animals.
You are playing Devil's advocate, from first asking how a horse would know when you allow him to decide a route, trail, work a cow ect, from when you are not giving him that decision making power, to extrapolating those of us that cue our horses between the two, then expect that horse to totally ignore any stimulus and blindly walk off a cliff or into a burning pit of fire!
It is not that we don't expect that horse to ever spook, but we do expect him not to spook and bolt, buck, ect
I can give you an example of that hornet scenario, where I don't expect my horse not to react, but I do hope to have the ingrained response to diffuse his natural flight reaction, or at least dampen it
I can give you several examples, and two occurred when Smilie was between 2 and 5, thus a jr horse.
One was a first short trail ride, at a friend's, who had an
arena, and property that backed onto forestry. The couple that owned the place, were in the lead, I was in the middle and my best friend was behind me.
Suddenly Smilie became tense, on the verge of bucking or bolting. My friend, riding behind yelled 'hornets"
The couple in front had stirred up a hornet's nest, hitting a log while crossing it
Smilie has enough body control and ingrained response to 'whoa', that it gave me enough time to check her head around and step off. Now, I don't know if any of those hornets managed to sting her privates, but she sure had a dozen or so stings!
Another time, I was riding her in a winter hay field,passing a stack of tarped square bales. As we passed, several bales came tumbling out from under that tarp, with a coyote leaping in their wake. Sure must have appeared as if a predator was attacking!
Smilie leaped forward in two or three big bounds, but again, stopped when I yelled, `whoa
I already gave the example where i played a bluff on a bull moose, and asked my gelding Einstein to charge him
Sure, there is always the chance that even with the best trained horse, you might meet his nemesis, where you can`t get him back to you , and he just blows, but that is entirely different then handing over leadership on demand, with the mindset that the horses instincts and limited reasoning powers always trumps our human thinking and knowledge.
I darn well know that the braying strange animal running towards us, up to a fenceline, is not some horse eating monster, and my horse has to trust my judgement on that,, and not try to `leave the country`!