Ribbons in the Trash: Is There a Greener Award for Shows?



I might be a thirty-three year old woman, but I love ribbons as much as any pony kid out there. I’ve kept every ribbon I’ve ever won, a feat possible because for me, horse shows are a special luxury that haven’t always been present throughout my life. Performing well enough at a horse show to win a ribbon? Even more special.

So, my ribbons are stashed in glass jars on the top of my bookshelves. They’re framed in shadow boxes. Sewn into decorative pillows or quilts. Saved and memorialized in some way, because no matter how old I get, I still find them special.

Others would absolutely be drowning in ribbons if they choose to keep them all. Whether it’s a twelve week circuit or a one day schooling show, walk around any horse show facility at the end of the day and you’ll see ribbons tossed aside. They’re dumped in the trash, blowing across the parking lot or left by the in-gate for show management to pick up. Not everyone cares for ribbons like I do, but is that a problem?

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Despite their namesake, ribbons are closer to plastic soda bottles than they are to clothing. Typically made of intricate folds of 2” satin ribbon, the material that makes up our beloved awards is almost always 100% polyester. Polyester, or more formally known as Polyethylene terephthalate, is commonly abbreviated as PET and has many uses including fiber for clothing and containers for liquids and foods. When it comes to chemical makeup, a ribbon tossed in the dirt by the ring is the same thing as leaving water bottles strewn around the show grounds – they’re both plastic.

However, unlike plastic soda bottles most recycling centers won’t take our satin horse show ribbons. Harmful dyes, glues and plastic/paper composites prohibit these from being turned into cardboard. The materials can also damage processing machines. So, we have to look into making ribbons earth friendly in different ways.

When it comes to being greener, many claim the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is avoiding plastic products entirely. For example, refilling a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing disposable, plastic ones. But how do we avoid ribbons?

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

There’s always the option to decline to pick up ribbons or return them to show management, with the hope that the show can reuse. However, that often creates incomplete sets and increased logistics for the show to handle, which can be a burden for smaller shows that rely on volunteers.

Some shows could consider simply awarding fewer or no ribbons. Many divisions at larger hunter/jumper shows are created solely to allow horses a warm-up opportunity, and show management could forgo ribbons in favor of a slightly lower entry fee. That makes sense if the majority of the entrants for a division are seasoned professionals who probably won’t get too excited about that pink fifth place in the hack.

A show could choose to restrict ribbons across some or all of their divisions. Maybe open classes only award 1st through 3rd and champion/reserve, meaning they only hand out the most desirable ribbons to competitors. Maybe a show gets rid of individual class ribbons entirely and exchanges them for consumable objects like horse treats, vendor coupons and clothing. It isn’t hard to picture horse show prizes running like an arcade, awarding “tickets” that can be exchanged at the show office for merchandise, food or the greatest prize of all – money off your bill.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

The reality is every competitor thinks about ribbons in a different way, and the award is deeply enriched within our equestrian tradition. If ribbons are here to stay, and it seems like they are, the best option is to repurpose. If you love your ribbons, display them in a way that makes you happy

If you have a giant bin of ribbons taking up space in your garage and you have no idea what to do with them, you could give them away. Sites like Craigslist or Letgo are perfect for rehoming unwanted items – ribbons included. Local school fairs might be interested in the prizes, as well as craft hobbyists or interior decorators looking for some equestrian flair

At the end of the day, what you do with your ribbons is an individual choice, but do my-ribbon-loving-self a favor and don’t dump them in the trash at the end of the horse show.

About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

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