Ah, you've been pondering over it as well!
First, it's the horses who make me go out with them, and I am the one who is doing them a favour. Thus, the way I see it is that by the mere fact of initiating a walk, they implicitly agree with the (one) rule that we have for that, namely that eating is only possible when I allow it. So I do not feel that I am making them do something they do not want, I just put a restriction on a horse-initiated joint activity.
(...made a cut over here...)
we need to find an activity that is fun for both of us. So taken together, they make me go out and then I have no chance but to stay with them, and therefore I need to have a say in what we do.
It's actually similar to how I see our training/playing in the paddock/pasture. I'm asked to play with the pony's (the fact that Blacky and Sjors run to me and volunteer exercises/Speedy comes trotting from the pasture to the paddock is interpreted by me as enthusiasm for trainnig
). And we enter the ring in a mutual agreement that they will not hurt me just as I won't hurt them, I can ask things of them and they can ask things of me.
I might add one more explanation why it's easier to deal with a horse leaving you during a walk than during a paddock training.
Today I decided to experiment with those two types of interaction, first playing with Sjors in the paddock and then exploring the orchard with Blacky. As the gates were open, I was a bit cautious with Blacky. First I asked him to follow me and he did (I pointed him to the best apple trees along the road as well
), and then at a certain point he walked away. My first reaction was to call him back, but then I decided to follow him instead. Blacky went to the far corner of the orchard into the fruit patch, then to the pear tree that grows in the middle of it and ate some pears, and then went to the pile of garden waste next to it. He started digging into it and then dug up some pear and started eating those. I let him stay there for a while, then turned him back to the orchard and then followed him again as we slowly weaved our way to the paddock again.
The thing that Blacky's walking away made me realise, was that the horse's behavior out of the paddock is much more interesting to watch. It's so much fun to see him explore, to wonder where he's going, to try and see what he sees and how he handles his environment, simply because there is so much environment!
When you look at a paddock on the other hand, it's almost barren. When a horse walks away, the human sees on of two things: the horse starts eating grass from under the fence or he will go and stand in another spot. How interesting is that?!
In the walk-mode it's easy to follow the horse and not to feel a stalker because you're simply interested in what he's doing - I couldn't get enough of seeing the world through his eyes. In a paddock/pasture the thing the horse is doing after walking away often isn't that interesting to watch, which makes it even more easy to start feeling disconnected and think too much/leave the horse alltogether/becoming pushy.
And also, I want them to know that he can opt out anytime he wants to, and that there also won't be any negative consequences or risks involved for not attending to me, because otherwise their cooperation and attention would lose its value for me, both subjectively and as a feedback about my actions.
Very true. When I train in the paddock and Speedy leaves (funny thing is that most of the time it isn't even after an exercise, but after getting rewards, cuddles etc; maybe he wants more action?), I let him do his thing for some time so he knows he was right to go away and he can get the space he wants/needs.
Then if he doesn't come back but keeps on grazing, after a while (something like 5 minutes) I go to him and find an activity to do that we both enjoy together and pick up the training from there again (and try not to become boring/nagging again). So in practise, come to think of it, most of the time Speedy returns to me on his own, I guess that the other 20% of the cases I ask him to come back to me again. Blacky and Sjors in the paddock always return on their own, it's just the waiting that would kill me.
I personaly don't like to end a session when a horse leaves, because leaving as a trainer can be percieved as a correction (negative punishment). That's also why I will come and collect the pony after a while, because I want to end the session together, on a good note, doing something we both enjoy, closing off with the favorite exercise of the pony (Speedy and Blacky are big back crunch fans and Sjors likes the cross-legged bow), feed them all the food that I've left and then we all go to bed.