Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Show ribbons

When I was ten and a half years old, I started taking riding lessons at Eaton Canyon Riding Club. Despite it's rather exclusive sounding name, this was a large, slightly run down, public riding stable with an active lesson program. Every six months or so, the stable would host a schooling show for boarders and students. Naturally, I wanted to participate.
My instructor, Ann, helped me sign up for a Novice Walk/Trot Equitation class. I was allowed to ride one of my favorite school horses, Holly. 
It didn't go well. There were seven entries in the class, and I tied for sixth. My older sister pointed out that I probably should have placed seventh but the judge felt sorry for me. Yeah, thanks.  

Fortunately, I did improve over time.  
Green pity ribbons gave way to pink, white and yellow ribbons. I wasn't exactly wowing the judges, but at least I was no longer the worst rider in the ring.
And although I desperately wanted to win a blue ribbon just one time, I was a practical child. I knew that a once a week lesson kid riding school horses and borrowed ponies had little chance of beating girls who rode six times a week, owned their own horses and had actual show clothes.
I tried and tried, but I never did manage to win a blue ribbon at Eaton Canyon Riding Club. However, I did earn top honors elsewhere.
Time has not been kind to this formerly blue ribbon, but there's no mistaking the inscription on the middle streamer. Once--just once--I did win First Place in an actual riding competition.
It happened the summer I was twelve. That was the year, I persuaded my parents to allow me to attend the Sierra Madre Girl Scout Council's "Cowgirl Corral" day camp.
The camp was held at Arroyo Seco Stables in South Pasadena.  
photo by Claudette 12 on Flickr, used with permission
In addition to lessons and boarding this barn also rented horses by the hour. It was decidedly less upscale than ECRC, but I didn't care. For one glorious week, I got to ride horses every single day in the big arena under the bridge.
On the last day of camp, there was a competition to determine the week's All Around Champion rider. This included a written test on general horse knowledge and a two class gymkhana. At the end of the day, all three scores were combined to determine the winner.

Predictably, I aced the written test. After that I climbed aboard a horse named Indian and earned a good but not great placing in the Egg and Spoon class.  

The last event of the day was a class called Ride and Tie. Like the long distance sport of the same name, the Ride and Tie race was a competition which paired two riders with one horse. 

My heart started pounding as they explained the rules to us. All three team members would line up together by the in-gate. Upon the starter's signal, both the rider and the runner would take off at top speed and make one big lap around the ring. When the horse/rider team reached the starting point, the rider was required to dismount, tie the horse with an approved quick release safety knot and make a second lap around the ring, this time on foot. Meanwhile, upon completion of her first lap around the ring, the second member of the ream was required to untie the horse, mount without assistance and then ride around the ring. The team with the fastest time would be named the winner.

For the first time in my equestrian career, I knew this was a class I could win. I may not have been the best rider or the fastest runner, but there was one thing I knew how to do like no one else. I could tie a quick release knot. 
And that's what it came down to in the end. I rode first and when it was time to dismount and tie, I was able accomplish in seconds that which took other teams several long minutes. My teammate and I won the class, and I was awarded the All Around Champion ribbon.
All my other riding ribbons have long since been discarded, but this one remains. It may not represent much in the grand scheme of things, but it seemed like a big deal at the time--my very first blue ribbon.


  1. What a great story! I love hearing things like this!

    Reminds me of my days as a horse mom when Marianne did the riding lesson thing three times a week and I hung around learning as much as I could. I'm sure I tried tha patience of barn owners and teachers but they were usually very nice.

  2. At least your school horses didn't try to eat the 6th place ribbons...

    I had at least two that fell victim to Flick.

  3. LOVE your story!!! :-) You have inspired me. I have been a wretched, horrible, very bad blogger for the past two months and I need to, er, get back on the horse. I have long meant to tell the stories of my favorite blue ribbons and I swear I will! (One photo needed from home)

  4. Jennifer, I think I was at this very same show... in fact, in the picture of you riding on the rail, the second horse and rider after you looks like a photo of myself in that showring that I have in my office this very day!! I had a green huntcoat, and was about twelve at the time. This is truly amazing!!