It is a belief of mine that working with your horse or dog, i.e. ranch work, livestock work, plowing fields/harvesting food, packing/camping etc., sets up for having the ultimate connection with your animal. You are in a position where you HAVE to do your part and they HAVE to do their part to accomplish whatever the task is at hand. Sometimes that task is simple; going to check fence, check cows, walking down a trail etc. But other times it is very complex, high energy and possibly chaotic, where your life, their life, or another's life is on the line, be it human or animal. I've been in these positions innumerable times with my dogs and horses, and there is nothing at all like that feeling of having to rely on what they are, to get the job/task accomplished. I've had plenty of close calls while working, where my horse or dog saved my proverbial neck, and that feeling of unspoken understanding, is irreplaceable and unduplicatable. A problem I see in our modern world, is that there are less and less opportunities for people to have to rely on their animal to perform life needs, duties, tasks or responsibilities...and that is nearly a tragedy. All that said, the only thing I know of that can come close to replicating that special connection of human and animal, is competition. Competition is a surrogate test of closeness between horse and human, a measured quality of effort and obedience under "fire." The "fire" is not real a life situation, but it's a marked place to perform a maneuver, and the measure of the quality of that maneuver, or the clock to measure how efficiently the task gets done. And it can give a very very similar feeling of closeness and connection with you and your animal. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of "bombs" lobbed across what has now become a sad line in the horse world, between the recreational folks and the performance/work folks, on the lacking's or pitfalls of the other side...and I think so much of the positive of each has been lost in the melee. In the spirit of Balanced Horse Training, it's important for the recreational folks to see the value in competing, it tests your closeness, strength of bond, and obedience. So my advice is to find a competition that suits you and your horse, and see if your connection is really there under "fire." Work at it until there's never a breach in that connection, no matter what is going on around you, or what task you have in front of you...I think you'll be pleasantly surprised on this Journey.
This is a pic of a horse I had the pleasure of working with for a few years, she was a very special one. She could be a recreational horse, work horse, and a competition horse....proof you can have your cake and eat it too!