As I prepare for my big move to California next week, my house is a labyrinth of boxes and bubble tape. Moving from a moderate sized house to a studio apartment has been an exercise in downsizing. Recently, I’ve found myself staring at my horse show ribbons and wondering what to do with them.
Showing for me has never been a weekly, or even monthly, event and I have not grown out of admiring glossy satin with wide, hungry eyes. I have a shadowbox of special ribbons from my career ranging from IHSA to dinky little schooling shows. My current and heart horse, Simon, has first blue ribbon framed on the wall. Even the random 5th’s and 8th’s I tend to get when I have a typical “amateur moment” are lovingly wrapped and tucked into a glass jar.
Some riders I know only keep 1st – 3rd ribbons. Some return them all to show management. Some toss them in their trailer dressing room to roll around on the floor as they drive home.
I can’t get there. I love my ribbons, and here’s why:
It’s not about winning, although winning is great. Even a lonely last place ribbon is a physical manifestation of the dream I’ve had since I was a little girl. That one day, I’d have a shiny show horse of my own and hear the announcer call out our names before we cruised around a course of jumps. Getting here hasn’t been easy. I am not naturally talented at this sport in any way. Those ribbons in my jar have been hard fought.
Ribbons are about celebrating the victories, even the small ones. I’ve had to retire horses early due to physical ailments. I’ve soaked, wrapped, injected, vetted, iced, poulticed, slept in the barn with a sick horse and driven home in tears more times than I could ever count. When I add a ribbon to my collection, I’m saying, We’re still here. We made it. My big fragile animal and I are still out competing. That’s a victory in itself.
Last weekend, I decided to take my camera out to the barn and do a little mini photo shoot with the tri-colors and special ribbons Simon has won during our career in Texas. They aren’t plentiful, but they’re meaningful.
The neck ribbons were won at our local OTTB’s rescue benefit show, and are special to me since Simon is track bred himself. One reserve champion in equitation on a day my late husband came to watch, and got teary eyed seeing us do well in the ring because he knew how hard we worked to get there. A champion from a whackadoodle jumper division where everyone was so across the board there was a three-way tie for top honors. A reserve champion from our last jumper show when we showed up knowing we could be competitive, and executed to the best of our abilities without any silly mistakes — a rare and beautiful thing.
Other riders who show have ribbons and prizes far more glamorous and numerous than mine, but I took these pictures because the ribbons are part of the start of our partnership here in Texas. They hopefully won’t be his last, but you never know. With horses, and life, there are no guarantees.
When I look at these pictures of my horse’s sweet face, I don’t just see our accomplishments. I see him happily taking my friend around for her first jumper show in many, many years. I see the day Simon and his lease rider stepped up to our local circuit’s open jumpers, and came home undefeated. I see my mom riding Simon around the ring at home, her very first time on a horse without someone leading her around.
Mostly, I see this incredible partner and realize how lucky I am to have him. Life is hard. Horses, sometimes even harder, and it’s important to celebrate the victories when we can.