Ribbons. The measly prize we get after all the sweat, blood and tears we invest in our training and our horses. We cherish them. Or at least, we should.
After the competition season is over, it’s easy to accumulate dozens of ribbons. Some of us are more creative than others in how we save or display them. But after a while, the number of ribbons we sock away can become… overwhelming.
Personally, I’m at the point in my showing career where I don’t need to keep every single ribbon I earn. I just don’t pick them up from the ring steward, so it can be used for another rider in a future class. But I’ll hold on the special ones: like a hard-earned pink for my green gelding’s first time in a derby class. Or when we unexpectedly won grand champion one weekend. I still have a wrinkled and faded lucky blue in my tack trunk from high school – the first time I won an equitation medal class – that I keep around for good luck.
But the last thing you should ever do is throw your ribbons away.
Sue M. Copeland founded Ribbon Recycling after she noticed too many ribbons being tossed in the dirt at horse shows.
“And at premier horse shows, like the APHA World Championships and WEF,” Sue said. “I wasn’t born a zillionaire and had to work hard to get to these shows. So I thought this was a situation where one man’s trash became another’s treasure.”
Sue had always been a supporter to local equine therapeutic programs around her home in Texas. She thought those organizations could use donated ribbons from horse shows.
“Anything to keep them from going to waste,” she said.
So Sue began donating them to organizations around town. She then wrote a column in Horse & Rider Magazine about her efforts.
“The response I received was overwhelming,” she said.
Horse people from all over the country wanted to help. Over the years, Ribbon Recycling has grown to not only include prizes from horse shows, but also the dog showing community. Sue receives ribbon donations of all kinds and ships them to facilities in need. All ribbons in good use (minimal wrinkles, no stains or tears) won’t be turned away.
“A lot of times, it doesn’t even matter if there’s a horse or dog emblem on them. These organizations are just grateful for the ribbons.”
When asked to ballpark how many ribbons she’s donated since she started, she guestimated “tens of thousands.”
Riders and horse owners can fill out a form on the Ribbon Recycling website to donate their ribbons to a charitable cause, like therapeutic riding organizations and other programs for renewed use. But Sue also encourages horse owners to reach out to local organizations in their own communities. If not horse therapy programs, local animal adoption agencies, senior centers, groups which support autism programs for children, and even hospitals and elementary schools often find a use for them. She’s even had dance classes reuse the ribbons as streamers.
The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) has been a tremendous resource for putting ribbon donors in touch with programs who need them in their own metro areas.
Sue also seeks volunteers to help repurpose the ribbons through customization. Recycling Ribbons sends a box of show ribbons out to students looking for community service hours, senior living groups and other clubs to customize ribbons for a “second life” at another event. She even includes instructions on how to cut off streamers with show-specific lettering and how to add a new logo.
“A lot of times, it doesn’t even matter if there’s a horse or dog emblem on them. These organizations are just grateful for the ribbons,” she said.