Good vs Bad Behavior
"I'm sorry", the woman says as her horse dives for the grass, "I know I shouldn't let him do that." She tries in vain to pull his head up. "He's not supposed to do that", she reiterates, obviously flustered, as he drags her to a better patch of grass.
"Why is he not supposed to eat the grass?" I ask her. She looks at me with a confused expression on her face. "Well, because", she says a bit hesitantly, not really giving me an answer.
I ask her if she minds him eating the grass, since we're busy talking and he has nothing else to do.
"Well, I don't mind", she replies, "But I know he's not supposed to".
"Really?" I say. "Says who?"
She looks at me for a long moment, probably trying to decide whether or not I'm serious, or if this is a trick question.
"Well, everybody says that", she finally responds.
"Who's everybody?" I ask. "He's your horse, isn't he?", I continue, not waiting for her to answer, "So if it doesn't bother you, then I don't see why you shouldn't let him eat the grass."
She looks relieved and visibly relaxes as she loosens the line and lets her horse eat.
I have conversations like this all the time! It's almost depressing, the amount of things that people think they're not supposed to allow their horses to do.
"I know I'm not supposed to feed him treats".
"I shouldn't let him rub his face on me like this".
"My friend said he's being dominant and I shouldn't let him do that".
"My trainer said he's disrespectful and I have to stop him when he does that".
"I know I shouldn't let him get away with that"
"I know you're not supposed to let horses do this"
How many times have you thought and said these same things, or others, because of what people have told you?
When it comes to behavior, there is no "right" or "wrong". No "good" or "bad". There is only behavior that you want, and behavior that you don't want. So, if you're ok with your horse using you as a scratching post, bumping in to you, pulling you over to a choice patch of grass, nuzzling your clothes, licking your arms, or whatever else it is that your horse does, that doesn't bother you, but seems to make everyone else think the world is ending, go ahead and let him/her do it! I assure you, it's not dominance or disrespect.
Ok, so maybe there are some safety issues with some of those things, and maybe some people might not want your horse licking their arms (ewww!) or using them as a scratching post. In such cases, it might be beneficial to teach your horse not to do some of those things, or at least add some rules.
For example, if you don't mind your horse eating grass while you're standing around talking to someone, but you don't really want your horse diving for grass at the most inconvenient moments, like when you're about to go over a jump, then it might be worthwhile to teach him a cue that means, "You can eat grass now" and another cue that means, "It's time to stop eating". Always the jokester, my horse knows that "graze" means he can graze and "starve" means he should stop grazing.
Having your horse bumping in to you while you're walking along might end with you on your ....bum, with your horse standing on you. Your horse isn't trying to be disrespectful - he just doesn't know that two leggers fall over randomly when thousand pound animals bump in to them. For this reason, you may want to consider teaching your horse to walk a safe distance away from you.
Ultimately, you get to decide the relationship you want with your horse, and the behaviors that you are ok, or not ok with. By all means, teach your horse to stand quietly next to you without using you as a scratching post, or teach your horse to keep his tongue to himself... but teach him for the right reasons. Not just because someone else said it was wrong.