Sea of Green Ribbons

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY CADY WAKITSCH

College freshman, Cady, wanted horses in her life and headed to equestrian team tryouts only to realize that collegiate riding was a lot different than the saddleseat lessons of her youth. You can the first installment of her story here.

The first two shows came and went quickly. I had to borrow my entire outfit either from “the team” or specific team members. This sounded fine until I got to see what showing was actually like. It was way more chaotic than my home barn shows, especially when we had to run the show. You could never find anybody, and people would just hand you a horse without saying anything. 

Coach said I could watch more than help since I had never been to a show before. My timely parents asked when to get there to watch me ride, but nobody had a good answer—which bothered them. They brought me lunch and ended up being an hour or two earlier than they needed to be. 

They sat in the bleachers with me, watching the other rounds. 

“Nobody has their hands up. And nobody’s smiling. It doesn’t look like anyone is enjoying this!” my mother critiqued from her years of experience watching me ride saddleseat. I chuckled as I knew exactly where she was coming from, and I tried to explain the new rules to her. 

We were also on the lookout for the horse I was riding – Ariel. That was how IHSA horse shows worked. Instead of bringing your own horse, you used the hosting stables horses, and you literally drew a name out of a hat. You can watch them all warm up, and the coaches get a sheet with tidbits about each horse. But it’s extra nerve wracking to show with a horse you’ve never ridden before. 

Hosted another successful home show. Photo courtesy of Cady W

We found her in some of the other beginner classes. She was a fiery red, Arabian mare. We watched her go around a few times and then I turned to talk to my parents. Next thing I know, the rider was on the ground. None of us saw what happened.

Ariel was kept in rotation though, so whatever happened was deemed to be the rider’s fault… or they didn’t have another horse to sub her out by the time my round came, which was the second to last for the day. 

By now, all of the horses were tired, and the team wanted to go home after a long day. Coach told me to go out there, have fun and not worry about anything. There were only five in my class, one of which was another teammate. 

I quickly found out how the other girl fell off. While every other horse had to be kicked on to continue the trot, Ariel got faster with every step she took. She wasn’t tired, she was pissed. She kept trying to canter at the trot, and by the time I did need to canter, I only needed to stop holding back. She basically took off and started bucking before we changed directions and did it all over again. 

“Slow down!” I could hear Coach gasping from the sidelines, looking more concerned than my parents were. 

I was out of breath by the time we were lined up in the center. To no one’s surprise, I was last. I was just proud I didn’t fall off!

“You gotta learn to puuuuull back missy. Don’t ever scare me like that again,” Coach said playfully as I walked back with my pink ribbon. My teammate had won first place, so at least it wasn’t a total wash for us. 

Day two was slightly better, but would set the usual state for my showing. I got a big thoroughbred named Irish who I had a hard time getting to go anywhere. It took me forever to pick up my canter (again, using the wrong hand signals) though I at least came second-to-last this time. 

Overall, the stress was exactly like I remembered with showing—except even worse because now I had a whole team to let down. Half the time everyone was too busy putting the show together to even watch or record your class. I had no intentions of doing this more often. 

There was only one more regular show in the Spring semester because the rest of the time was dedicated to post-season showing. I didn’t go to any of them, but I did lesson about once a month. 

By the first meeting of my sophomore year I was no longer one of the newbies. I could jump into things right away. After the first meeting, Coach was already lining up her members for the first show. 

“Cady, you’re going to go right?”

“I… guess so?”

The confidence she had was so odd considering I barely showed the last year, and now I was one of the first on the docket?

This time I was even more nervous. We actually had to travel in a large van to the show six hours away. And because we weren’t putting on the show, everyone paid more attention to each other’s rides.

My class had twelve riders in it now, but we split into two groups for space reasons. I lost the canter a few times and knew I did terrible. I cried the entire walk back to the van to change out of my clothes. I confided in one of the girls I was closest with, Sierra. I knew she wouldn’t be mad at me like the coaches or the other girls because “there’s no crying in baseball.” But I was so frustrated, and paying people to literally judge you while depressed isn’t helpful.  

I had missed the placing announcement by the time I got back to the ring. 

“You got sixth! See, you had no reason to go off crying,” Coach said to me. I was genuinely shocked I got anything at all, but I would gladly take being in the middle of the pack in a class that big. 

Bob Cacchione, founder of IHSA, stopped by for a visit. Photo courtesy of Cady W

I would get used to the green ribbons, and the feeling of guilt that I was holding my team back. We could count on other members to get firsts, seconds, and thirds. And we could count on me to get last, or measly sixths. All the girls would ask people to film them on their phones, posting their winning rounds to Facebook. I was too embarrassed to ask for video footage of me losing. I didn’t really want reminders. 

There were three team members I was closer with as they had started at the same time I did, and we were all in the same showing division. Before one meeting, the four of us were sitting around talking to each other while we waited to get started. Coach looked from afar and smiled. 

“Look at you girls. I know you’re going to be the ones leading this team soon enough.”

I laughed. The current president was in the top division, Open. And the many before her were all the same. Like most sports, you didn’t get to be the captain by being the kicker, but rather the QB. The four of us in the beginner divisions didn’t fit that bill. 


Cady Wakitsch graduated with a BA in English from Northern Illinois University in 2016. She currently works as a marketer for a software company.

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