Monday, May. 27, 2024

Lead Changes And Potty Training

I am not a Lead Change Guru. But I know one, and that fact alone gave me the confidence to import a horse that considered cross-cantering his fifth gait.

As it turns out, teaching a young horse to change leads and potty training Holston were not all that different, so it didn’t take a guru to get Paintball on the right track…it took a mom. Here are some similarities I discovered along the way…

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I am not a Lead Change Guru. But I know one, and that fact alone gave me the confidence to import a horse that considered cross-cantering his fifth gait.

As it turns out, teaching a young horse to change leads and potty training Holston were not all that different, so it didn’t take a guru to get Paintball on the right track…it took a mom. Here are some similarities I discovered along the way…

  1. Everyone has a method

    Every parent will tell you “THE” way to potty train just like every horse trainer will tell you “THE” way to get a lead change. Truth is, they are probably all right—their way worked for their child, or their horse. But it may or may not work for your child or your horse.
  2.  Bribery does not work long-term

    Holston is not into toys, instead she loves lip gloss. So I promised her that I would take her to Ulta for a new lip gloss if she would start using the potty. I should have been more clear, because I ended up taking her to Ulta once a day for a week.  Then, as soon as she had her lip gloss she went back to flooding her Pull Ups.

    Paintball is not into lip gloss, and I couldn’t figure out how to bribe him with toys. So, when he started to get the occasional lead change, I rewarded him by letting him quit for the day… until he started to try to take me back to the barn after changing leads. At least he didn’t try to take me to Ulta. They’re starting to recognize me there.

  3. Know when to back off

    When I heard Holston chiding her stuffed animals for not using the potty, I felt terrible. I could have only felt worse if she had followed up by chastising her rocking horse for cross-cantering. I immediately vowed to put the potty training aside for a while.

    A few days later, when Paintball began to nervously anticipate the ends of the ring, I threw in the towel on the lead changes as well. Neither horse nor kid were quite ready and no amount of training was going to change that.

  4. Keep it simple

    Holston fell in love with Disney princesses this spring to the point that she wanted to wear nothing but dresses. Since I have happily retired almost all of my own dresses, I was not exactly on board.

    But, I figured if she wanted to play in the dirt while looking like a princess, at least she wouldn’t get her riding clothes messed up. Once I gave in to a wardrobe without buttons, zippers, or belts, Holston gave up the diapers literally overnight.

    OK, here’s the part where I have to confess, I did actually need a little help to get Paintball over the hump. I took Paintball to my friends, trainers Daniel and Cathy Geitner, for them to evaluate, and lo and behold Daniel cantered across the middle of the ring, stepped into his outside stirrup, and Paintball did a beautiful lead change. And then he did it again, and again and again.

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    Rest assured, the same simple method had been tried weeks (OK, maybe months) earlier, but was unsuccessful without the benefit of added muscle, lots of flat work, even a diet change and the much needed break from working on lead changes. They didn’t become automatic overnight—but it didn’t take long for Paintball to have a great lead change!

I’d love to be able to say that I am now a potty training guru AND a lead change guru. But the fact is, I really couldn’t effectively tell you how I did either. In both cases, it was most likely a combination of factors that finally led to results.

But, when faced with my next challenge as a horse trainer or as a parent, I’ll rely on two important things I’ve learned from Paintball and Holston; trust your gut and be patient. 

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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