Ribbonless

Sep 26, 2017 - 3:17 PM

As the leaves start to change colors, I am reminded of my favorite horse shows. I think of my first time at the Pennsylvania National—I was so excited to finally be at such an incredible venue.

As I passed through the rows of stalls, somebody told me that there was going to be a prize given for the best barn set-up. I could see the pride people took in hanging up their curtains, arranging pumpkins and flowers, and making the perfect display. As the week went on, ribbons and coolers were hung up perfectly as a measure of each barn’s success.

In addition to riding horses, I am a volleyball player for my school. I completely understand the pride in representing something (whether my barn or my school) and having a competitive edge. Of course, I love to win, but why do I love it?

Why do I want to win? When I walk into the ring on my horse, why do I want to walk out on top? Who am I riding for? These are very important questions that I think every athlete should try and answer.

As I’ve gotten older and moved up the ranks, I’ve really started to understand my role in the sport. When I was a little kid, all I dreamed about was being able to win a classic and do a victory gallop with a cooler and ribbon. I wanted the material aspect of winning. Then that goal was accomplished, so what was next? I wanted to go faster, jump bigger, and win more. I did just that with my amazing horses and trainer.

My next goal was to win a grand prix. My old pro of a horse trucked my 14-year-old butt around to accomplish that goal. So what’s next? What makes winning fun when I’ve accomplished a huge goal of mine?

Well, there’s always a next step, and now I have even loftier goals. I’m going through a rather transitional phase in my riding, but I am ready to go on to better things.

I recently removed all the old trophies from my room. Although those memories are fun, I need to be mentally focused on the future—on to the next great adventure, the next goal, the next accomplishment.

I finally realized what makes riding so much fun for me. It’s not about winning the cooler or getting a big ribbon. I want to win because I have a desire to reach that next step. I ride to win because I love to experience my horse’s true power. I’m not sure if it hits others as hard as it hits me sometimes, but it is so amazing that these powerful animals let us experience this sport with them. I show for myself, for my own enjoyment and happiness.

This summer, my trainer, Steve Schaefer, and I decided to stop hanging up ribbons on our barn set-up for this very reason. I know we are all familiar with the phrase “it’s not about the color of the ribbon, but the quality of the ride.” Then why do we still hang up all the ribbons from the show? I understand having pride in your barn’s success, however, in my opinion, if your barn is having success, people are going to know about it without ribbons hanging.

I think that instead of focusing on the barn’s winnings, we should be focused on representing our barn because it’s something we’re proud of, regardless of whether or not you get first or last in a certain class. There is a great quote by Rudyard Kipling, “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, treat those two imposters just the same.” This is the attitude that I have with my riding.

We’ve all been there. Last jump in the jump-off and you tapped it just right so it fell, and you’re struck with grief. Let’s say you had a hard rub but leave it up, you become overwhelmed with happiness. Both winning and losing are “imposters,” therefore we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on them. That is why I believe that we should keep a steady mind and focus on doing the best we can. We should represent what we believe in: our barn.

Winning or losing is temporary, but the thrill we get from engaging in this sport will last a lifetime. That’s why, whether I’m in the hunt field or the show ring, I ride to win. I ride to reach that next level and see what my horse and I are capable of. That’s the crazy “horse bug” everyone talks about. We get sucked into the thrill.


Caelinn Leahy is a teenager who both fox hunts and show jumps. She earned her first grand prix win at age 15 on July 22 aboard Splendor, who also hunted all winter. You can read more about Caelinn in “Winner Of The Week: Caelinn Leahy Won The $50,000 HITS Balmoral Grand Prix On Her Foxhunter.”  Read all of Caelinn’s COTH blogs.

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