In my own life I have always found this to be the case. I have tried it with a few of my friends and their horses also. One friends horse always backed away from her and would not come readily towards her. We played around with different emotions and found it was because she was afraid to let him come too close because she didn't want to burden him, plus she didn't naturally reach out to others for help, she thought she had to do it all alone. When she gave him the choice rather than deciding for him, and asked him if he would help, he was there for her, and has been ever since, as long as she remembers to involve him more. That, he says is what he is there for and why he is such a big, strong horse!
I hope some of it makes sense, it is hard to explain.
I can't speak for others (though I expect some agreement) but it does make sense to me, and you explained it exactly as it should be explained.
How relationships are built, human or equine, or human to equine.
It is, to me, a kind of clumsy but fun sort of activity if one doesn't get too serious and too full of outcome intent. Like a great romance, it starts with having fun, a little testing, some risk taking, some glee and silliness, some moments of "oh God what have I gotten myself into," and then back to more glee and silliness.
Kate and I still have lots of silliness and we've known each other for coming up to 40 years now.
Notice that, as you say, acting like one's self, is exactly what the HORSE does to us. And it's a kind of silent invitation to be ourselves too. I've put up with rain and snow and more rain, and now more snow is coming, and have not have all that much time to just go and be with my horse Altea, and her new baby, Bonnie, but I do make a real pest of myself, and yet still let them express their disgust with me, and turn away, or accept and welcome their curiousity at this weird creature the comes into their world with yummy food, delicious scritches and rubs, and makes foolish sounds then hands out treats.
I have a feeling, since I did such things with adult horses in the past, that what I do with Bonnie the baby, is exactly what I do with any new relationship. I take the risk of being silly, of her being put off by me (due to her wild instincts still being intact -- and I intend they will stay that way) but still both of us coming back for more as we work out "how we will be with each other."
It is the essence of respect in relationship to NOT be stuffy, and to NOT be afraid of being the fool from time to time. Sometimes Bonnie is all over me, and other times she is coy and shy and dodges behind mom, but I just let it pass and often within a few seconds she changes her mind and wants to nibble my jacket elbow to test for taste.
Or to see what I will do.
Those horses that are essentially gentle, as most are even if they are shy, will still play if you present yourself in a way that will start the ball rolling.
And yet each horse is so different, and each relationship so unique.
I read recently that Joycelyn (Horsefever) in Canada sings to her horse while working on his hind foot. SINGS! She's NUTS! But then if it works, I want to be nuts in the same way.
Whatever works with your horse. There is no formula. None, anyway, but building a friendship.
And horse can teach us how if we don't know already. Better than any clinician in the world, even better than
"Keep exploring," I would say to your friend.
The Buddha said, "don't just do something, stand there." Or possibly he didn't really say anything.
But then standing there IS doing something that is most often needed.
I wonder if there is any limit to what we might do with our horse to open the door to the relationship? Including, Natalie, to change our own inner state of being (that horses really do read so well) by "asking your horses, what is up."
I do not believe that horses know human words, other than symbols, but I do believe they know a language of our body even better than we humans know it ourselves. It is exceedingly hard to lie to a horse. So asking makes perfect sense. Along with letting go of our outcome goal oriented intent.