Don't get me wrong, there are many things that horses care about. But to be frank, they don't care about most of the things you and I tend to focus on.
Above all, horses do care about whether or not they are fed and watered and if they are comfortable in the elements. They don't want to be too cold, and not too hot, so they like some shelter and some shade when needed. Horses want to feel as though they can fend for themselves when needed. They don't want to be a liability to the herd, that's instinctual. Horses like friends and their friends don't always need to be horses. They can make friends with other species, although they prefer other horses.
What horses don't give a damn about is how much you paid for them, how much you have “into them”, and how much you think they are worth. They don't care what you have on the line and that they “should be” winning at a certain level. They don't care how much your entry fees are and they don't care who your competition is and they also don't care how much the win would mean to you. Horses don't give a damn about how much you just spent at the vet to help them win. They don't care how they did last year at this same arena or their last run, and horses don't care who is there to watch them. Horses don't give a damn about how much your rig and your tack cost, horses don't care about the brand of their blanket (that's if they even care if they have a blanket). They don't care if you filled your permit, they don't care if you made finals. Horses don't give a damn if their tail touches the ground and how thick their mane is. Horses don't care they had to vet out of a rodeo because they were unsound. They don't care they missed out on a futurity because they cut themselves. Horses don't care what their registration papers say and what their sire and dam did. They don't care what their siblings or great Aunt Dash have done. They don't give a damn if they ran in the 2D today when they usually run in the 1D. They don't care if they were the bottom of the 1D when they usually run in the 3D. I could go on, but you get the picture. Did I mention horses don't care how much you paid for them? It was worth repeating.
One thing horses do care about is how you make them feel. Do you help your horse feel comfortable in his tack? Do you help him feel healthy and athletic from hoof to tail? Is your horse happy? Does he feel like a winner in his heart? Does he feel safe under your care and your leadership? Are you a team player and leader or does your energy say “she's a liability”? These are things horses care about, and it's how they FEEL that will help you win.
I believe if we put more focus on how our horses feel and how they perceive their experiences (hopefully positive) we will make great strides in developing them to their greatest ability. When we start putting expectations on horses based on the things we care about, all they feel is pressure.