Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Painting is like training horses--you only really learn from doing it yourself, and you have to be willing to make mistakes, but keep trying. It also takes courage. This is my second painting of the same photo--the one on the right. I'm not sure it's done. I think I want to work a little more around the eyes before I call it quits...maybe soften the shadows as well.

I want to break down the Van Hargis demonstration, or ideas from it, into separate, short posts. This one is on what he said about "whoa".

First, he said many of us use the word "whoa" to mean slow down, relax, stop, and whatever else. He decided to use the word to mean something very specific--take two steps back. He says the word whoa and then asks them to back up two steps, says it again, backs them up again, and on and on. He says that this way when he says "whoa" and he's in forward movement the horse begins to think, Uh oh, I'm behind, I have to hurry and stop and take two steps back.

I'm guilty of using the word, whoa to mean a variety of things and, in all honesty, I don't think my horse knows what to think of it or if he does at all.

Yesterday I went on a trail ride with Cowboy and I tested a couple of the theories behind the Van Hargis demo and failed on both. 1.) He didn't seem to understand the word whoa, and 2.) He thought of me more as a passenger than an active rider.

I started to ride with much more energy and movement, which really got Cowboy to pick up the pace, even break into a trot until he understood I only wanted a faster walk, but when I'd stop, he'd keep going. It was clear the agreement Cowboy and I have is that he is in charge of our trail rides. I have to admit, he's a good horse, so it was kind of the good life for me. Being an active rider took more concentration and physical effort on my part.

There were two things I noticed that changed when I rode actively. 1.) Cowboy was very grumpy at the new arrangement. 2.) He did what I said to do when it came to doing something he didn't want to do.

I'm heading to see Hary Potter with my son, so more on this later....


  1. Getting in the habit of active riding is very tiring - at least I found it so. Your boy did sound like he accepted it once he got the idea.

    Hope you enjoyed HP - I thought it was pretty good.

    Painting looks hard - I've only ever done drawing and should do some more.

  2. I learned when I was training my horse about the whole whoa and backup thing and how backing up is an extension of whoa. I usually do it when I’m working in the arena with my horse especially when he’s being heavy on the bit and not listening. We’ll just put on the brakes and back up sometimes depending on how he’s listening, we back all the way across the arena then we’ll move off a few steps and do it again. He become very light and responsive when we do this and we’ve done it so long that it’s really automatic for him now, stop and back. It also sets him up for what ever I ask them to do next. Out on the trail, I usually don’t have to work the whoa and back, because he’s so happy not to be loping circles in the arena chasing imaginary cows! I’ve always been an active rider on the trail maybe because of some of the places we go you just can’t sit back and let the horse take the lead. When my horse decides to test me out on the trail then we turn it into a lesson. If I take him out and we’re by ourselves which we do a lot and he starts to call to the other horses down the mountain, then I just collect him up and we trot up the hill and then we go back to riding normal. If he does it again, it’s the same and he picks up very quickly that if he wants an easy ride then he needs to be listening to me. A few weeks ago, he and I were out riding and I took him down an easy embankment to a road and when he jumped down to the road he added a crow hop at the end – he was feeling froggy that day. So, I turned him around and made him go back up where he had just come down and he crow hopped again so, we turned it into a lesson and worked that one place for about 5 minutes until he sorted out that the crow hop at the end was the problem but, the rest of the ride we schooled on the road. Stopping, backing, roll backs, side passes, loping up hills and not because I was mad, my hands remained soft but, because that’s how he learns and HE turned it into a lesson by doing something he shouldn’t have. - Sharla

  3. Eyes are hard, but I can see the improvement in the second one. Keep painting- you'll get better and better. You're starting to inspire me to pick up my own brush again...

    Your ride with Cowboy sounds similar to what I've been going through with Coriander. I've had to step up my game big-time to finally get in a place where I feel we're working well together. You definitely can't be a passenger with a horse who wants to take over!

  4. I like the second painting.
    Horses sure do take charge if you're not paying attention on a ride. It's much more work for them when we are focused. One of my mentors said to always have something to do when you take a horse out; whether it be checking fence, practicing two tracking around obstacles, or whatever; if we have a purpose, our horse will be paying attention to us.
    Interesting that Mr. Hargis uses whoa to mean take two steps back; I usually ask my horses to back after a whoa, but hadn't thought of connecting the word to the action.

  5. Kate--I loved Harry Potter last night. It was wonderful! I spent a week watching all the old movies leading up to it with my kids, so I was excited to see the finale.

    I've found that painting really isn't hard if you look at it like playing an instrument or training a horse--be willing to start again, have faith in the details, keep trying, a little bit every day. I gave up the idea of perfection (in that class I took online) and it freed me up to just enjoy the process of painting.

  6. Sharla--I think that's excellent advice!! I agree with you 100 percent. When I first got Cowboy eight years ago, he had an issue with jigging. It was god awful. So, I'd always ride where there were hills and if he got to jigging I'd turn him up one immediately, then go back down and ask for the walk again. I had to ride alone a lot in those days because I'd be up and down hills the whole time. So, probably the first three years of trail riding with Cowboy I was forced to be very active. Then, something changed and he got to be real easy....92 percent perfect, and I guess I started to relax and live off the benefits. Nowadays we ride with friends and we do it so often he knows all the trails pretty well. So, you know, we all chat and laugh and have a good time. Yesterday I thought, hey, just how much is he paying attention to me up here...and I tested him. He's already a fast-walking horse because I did train him hard on that idea in those first years, so he didn't know if I wanted the trot or what, but he picked it up another notch anyway. What he didn't do was stop when I stopped "riding" him--like Van Hargis demonstrated. I wanted to see if he'd stop when I stopped....without a "whoa" or any rein aid. One of the friends I was on the ride with and I were talking about this concept the whole way and we were wondering, just how active do you have to be when your horse is already a pretty good trail horse? Is it okay to ever be a lump? You said you take your horses into areas they can't just be on autopilot--that's a good example of why we should probably never let ourselves give up active riding. I'm still thinking about this....so more later.

  7. Smazourek--I hope you pick up the brush again. I'd love to see your work and is there anything better than painting our horses??? I don't know if I'd enjoy painting other subjects as much, but I sure love staring at a picture of my horse for hours.

    Keep up the active riding--you can't go wrong with it.

  8. Shirley--same here. I have often associated stopping with backing, but not the word "whoa". He does his work at a stand still--says "whoa"--backs them up two steps. And he never uses the word in any other way so as not to confuse them. I think you're right, too, when you say it's much more work for them when we're focused....that's why Cowboy got a bit grumpy yesterday. He's a horse that comes to be in the pasture, jumps in the trailer, leads out on the trail and I think he got it in his head if he does all those things I should sit back and relax and enjoy the ride. Or maybe I had it in my head I should do that and trained him to think it. Hmmmm...

  9. I think your paintings are very good. I can't draw a straight line with a ruler so I'd never even try it.

    I've always used one word to cue the horses. Whoa, means stop for us. Easy means slow down etc. We don't have a word for back just a cue. I guess it's all in what you teach your horse that makes them understand what you mean or what you want. Cowboy is a good guy.


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