Sounds obvious doesn't it? But, in reality, I constantly see people who don't seem to have the least bit of awareness of who and what horses are. If you acknowledge the uniqueness of the species it makes everything else so much easier to understand. But trying to put human thoughts and values to a horse just doesn't make any good sense.
For horses to excel in our world, we must accept them for who they are. Among what they are is an athlete who runs or shys whenever they feel at risk. This is basic survival for a horse! They are not being stupid they're just being survivors as a species.
Horses also have another survival trait: a very good long term memory. They also have good powers of association which makes them trainable, but they are not logical thinkers by nature. They have all of the basic emotions but in a thousand pound body.
Horses do not however "love" - it's just not part of their make-up. They are not capable of it, it's only we humans that can give our love. Horses are though, very capable of definite likes and dislikes, and sometimes very intensely so. I've had horses that formed very strong friendships with other horses and showed signs of depression when their equine friends departed. I'm not talking about "herd bound" syndrome but friendship does make sense if you put it in context of getting along in a herd.
Being herd animals really helps us as trainers and owners etc. because all herds have a hierarchical system. Herds that I've watched not only have a lead horse but also a second-in-command. And, make no mistake that there are definitely horses at the bottom of the chain, use this to your advantage. If a horse respects you and you respond in kind, you have a better basis for a great relationship.
Never forget that every horse is born wild and we tame each and every foal that is born, it doesn't matter that it's born in a stable or not. Horses are so capable of learning and adjusting to domesticity that they can become willing partners.
Horses that understand what is expected of them are potentially content or "happy" (not a good term). It sets them up for success but to achieve this, we must train and treat them as horses, not as human buddies.
So yes, groom your horse to you heart's content, it's part of the herd's behavior, but for example: don't over do the treat thing because that's human behavior and just causes horses to get pushy and rude. Instead, reward your horse with a pat (I do) but remember that the best reward of all for him is for you to just get off and loosen the cinch. Treat and understand your horse as a horse and he'll give you back so much.
I could go on but that's enough for now. I hope these thoughts help you build a great relationship with your horse! Talk to you next week, JD.