Friday, May. 24, 2024

Just Call Her McLain Boo Boo

When your almost-4-year old says that she wants to trade her blue leadline ribbon in for a pink one, because pink is her favorite color, this is probably the correct response:

“Sure! I’ll exchange your blue ribbon for a pink ribbon right now! Pink will look better with the colors in your room anyway—good thinking!”

The wrong response, also known as MY response is:

“No you don’t. Blue is for winners. Pink is for fifth place. You want blue.”

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When your almost-4-year old says that she wants to trade her blue leadline ribbon in for a pink one, because pink is her favorite color, this is probably the correct response:

“Sure! I’ll exchange your blue ribbon for a pink ribbon right now! Pink will look better with the colors in your room anyway—good thinking!”

The wrong response, also known as MY response is:

“No you don’t. Blue is for winners. Pink is for fifth place. You want blue.”

At this point, it’s worth noting that the biography that accompanies my blogs makes no mention of my accolades as a parent. That was not an oversight. I have never even been nominated for parent of the year, for obvious reasons. In other words, if you’re reading my blog for parenting advice: don’t, I’m pretty much winging it.

The first few times Holston showed in lead line, I took a super casual approach—She wore jodhpurs and a polo shirt and for the most part, never even held the reins. A few times, despite being dressed and entered, I left her skip showing altogether in favor of playing with her newfound horse show friends.

Don’t get me wrong; being low-pressure mom did not come easily for me.  Given the opportunity I would have gone straight up “Toddlers and Tiaras” with Holston’s riding career. But she was initially only mildly interested in riding, and I was afraid that pushing her would backfire, so I shelved my “Leadline at Devon” dreams and adopted a laissez faire façade.

However, when Holston whined that she wanted a pink ribbon instead of a blue one, I relapsed. And now I’m paying the price.

Holston has transformed into a disturbing combination of McLain Ward and Honey Boo Boo. She is a perfectionist regarding her position—constantly asking how her hands look, and if her heels are down far enough. And she covets blue ribbons.

Once she has her paws on the treasured rosette, she wears it for the rest of the day and regales any audience she can with the details of her big win. (This is where the Honey Boo Boo comparison comes in. I have actually never seen McLain wear a gold medal at a horse show. Weird.)

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I find myself saying things like “Don’t get frustrated, we’re doing this for fun,” and  “I think you’ve practiced enough today.”

While this is the first time I’ve had to rein in my own tiny leadliner, thanks to the Minions I’m no stranger to the swinging pendulum of emotions young riders experience. Elizabeth and I hope to instill the same sense of balance in our students as we do our own children. But the reality is, that balance requires a level of maturity that even many adults don’t possess.  

We expect our kids to be competitive but kind hearted, focused but not obsessed, confident but not cocky and oh yeah, they need to be all of these things while keeping smiles on their faces. Even when its raining. Or snowing. Or 100 degrees outside.

It’s a lot to expect, and even I sometimes fall short of setting a good example for the Minions. For instance, in Wellington this winter, as my horse show bill piled up and the ribbons did not, I found myself losing sight of how fortunate I was just to be there. I detest whiners, so when my inner monologue adopted that dreaded, high pitched, self-pitying tone, I knew I needed an attitude adjustment.

I suspect that WEF Week 5 is the point at which the inner monologues of many attendees turn whiney, so there is a dose of reality built right into the schedule; The Great Charity Challenge. Few things will pull you out of a horse show funk as effectively as mingling with people who are doing vastly more important things with their lives than jumping horses over sticks. 


Holston (right), in Rapunzel costume (Why? Don’t ask why.) with Victoria Karam of the winning team at the WEF Great Charity Challenge.

Although you might think seeing words like “cancer,” “wheelchair” and “Alzheimer’s” on a jump order would be a bit of a downer, the event strikes the perfect balance between gravity and levity. The class was arguably the most important of the season, but also the most fun.

In an effort to recreate a bit of that atmosphere for the Minions, we’ve made a plan to incorporate some charity work into our own horse showing. No, we won’t be donating $1.5 million, but maybe our contributions will make a difference for someone. Or maybe we will all just be better equipped to keep things in the proper perspective. Either way, it’s a win.

The Minions’ Miniature Charity Challenge (inspired by The Great Charity Challenge) 

What:

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Recognizing and raising money for a charity as a way to help remind the Minions that riding is important, but not all-important and the lessons we learn at the barn can be carried over to the world outside of horse showing. 

How:

Starting in June, we’re asking each Minion to bring $5 of THEIR OWN money to each horse show they attend to enter “The Minions Miniature Charity Challenge.” If your Minion does not have his or her own money, or a way of earning money, we are happy to assign them a chore for which they can earn $5—just let us know in advance.

Before each horse show, we will choose a charity for which we will ride.  At the end of the horse show, we will count all of the ribbons on our banner and for each one; Elizabeth and I will donate 25 cents to the chosen charity, in addition to the $5 entry fees put up by the Minions.

Who: 

Our first charity will be Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding. For each horse show, we’ll pick a different charity. We hope that the Minions will take an interest in the charities we’ll be riding for, and eventually be the ones to choose the charities. Perhaps we can work together on creating a whiteboard or chalkboard sign to hang on our tack room at horse shows and raise awareness for that weekend’s charity! There are lots of possibilities.

But Wait:

At this point, you may be doing some mental math and thinking our total donations are going to be quite small—so what’s the point? Hopefully we’ll raise some awareness as well as some money, and who knows the idea could catch on and spread to other barns creating a more substantial impact. For now though, we want to stick to a manageable dollar figure—we know horse showing gets expensive and while we hope to do as much good as we can, we don’t want to force a burdensome expense on our barn parents. $5 seems like an amount the Minions should be able to come up with without asking mom and dad for a handout!

Jennifer Barker St. John grew up as the daughter of two hunter/jumper trainers and rode as a junior and on the Clemson University (S.C.) NCAA team, winning the individual championship in 1998. During her career outside the horse world, she showed her Rhinestone Cowboy to multiple amateur-owner hunter championships. You can read her hilarious introductory blog, “Living The Glamorous Life” to get to know her. 

Now, St. John runs Congaree Show Stables in Eastover, S.C., alongside her friend Elizabeth Grove. They concentrate on students (or as, they call them, “minions”) from 7 to 17 years old who do well on the South Carolina Hunter Jumper Association circuit. “Among our greatest accomplishments: teaching them to wrap correctly and properly muck a stall,” St. John, who serves as the president of the SCHJA, said. She balances training and riding with raising her “sweet, polite, usually well dressed but always sort of dirty” toddler daughter Holston. Read all of Jennifer’s blogs

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