What My Last Place Ribbon Doesn’t Show


Last year, I received a year end ribbon from our local PHA chapter. While I’ve spent a good amount of time in my adult life at horse shows, it was a first for me. The years that I’d been lucky enough to show, we’d never approached year end status in any way. It was the lowest ribbon given away for a 2’ hunter division. We went to three shows and I didn’t ride the entire division a single time. 

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

But you know what that ribbon doesn’t show? The young lesson kid who spent every waking opportunity picking rocks and cleaning stalls if it meant getting more saddle time. The college music major who spent every Saturday morning cleaning stalls so that I could ride during “club time” that week. The hours spent watching and reading and observing, so that I might understand the language and culture of USHJA shows. The days of grooming and extra tutoring and more stall cleaning just for horse time through a solid bout of unemployment. 

The large viridescent ribbon that I earned this year doesn’t tell anyone about the (human) baby I had last December, and the village of support it takes to have an infant and still get into the ring in a normal year—let alone during a global pandemic. It doesn’t show the crashes over the years. The injuries, crushed confidence, and the paralyzing fear of jumping that has been painstakingly, methodically, slowly worked (and reworked) through with my trainer. 

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

You don’t see the young horse and his patience through my fears. The good egg with more talent than me. His honesty and saintly composure when I want 9 strides in the 6 stride line just to feel “safe.” The barn teammates who cheer us on when jumping the crossrails successfully makes us feel like we just won the Olympics.

That green ribbon is truly just the tip of the iceberg. 

In 2008 I was in my last year of my undergraduate degree, recently engaged, and ready to take on a career in teaching when my mom asked me if I’d be interested in partnering with her to get a horse. She raised me as a single mother. A horse was not in the cards for me, but when I graduated mom knew I’d be able to contribute financially and we could make a horse work together. It’s been a privilege and an epic adventure sharing a horse for the last 13 years. We’ve owned 3, leased 3, and spent countless hours together enjoying equestrian pursuits. 

Each horse has taught us invaluable lessons and the hours we’ve spent in the barn together will always be treasured. Mom likes horse shows but “will never tuck her shirt in,” and therefore will never show. Instead? She drives the RV, babysits, and cooks a mean grilled cheese that she happily delivers to the ring for the whole barn family at lunch time on show days. I know that I’m so privileged to have a supportive spouse and a supportive mom— the ribbons they deserve are far greater than my green one. 

I recently snuck in a Saturday ride on a snowy, 17 degree, western NY morning. A fellow amateur and I were commenting on how nice a quiet morning ride is. Being able to take your time grooming and listening to the horses munch their hay and snort the cold air without stressing about how there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

On a weekday, in order to ride, I leave my house at 6am, drop off at daycare, spend an hour in the car to get to work. After my duties are done at my job, I drive 90 minutes to the barn, groom, tack up, ride, etc., and then drive 30 mins back home, trying my darndest to get home in time for bedtime. I then eat my dinner after the little guy is down for the night. My husband picks up from daycare, makes dinner, feeds dinner, packs the diaper bag for the next day and does the evening activities. 

Those days are long. When it’s been a frustrating ride or one where I’ve let my fears get in the way of the progress I “should” be making, I spend the drive home considering buying a Peloton and giving up horses completely. It’d be so much easier. 

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

That morning, my riding buddy commiserated. She works a full time job in an essential industry where tensions are always high, especially during a pandemic. While her commute time is shorter than mine, her hours are longer. On a weekday, just to be able to ride, she’s gone from her home from 5:45am till 8pm. 

We may be amateurs, but this sport isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of drive and dedication to choose to schedule your entire lifestyle around this passion we call horses. Let’s not let the word “amateur” mean that we’re any sort of slackers. We’re valued professionals in a different world. And we balance those responsibilities with a dedication to this sport. 

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

So that ribbon? The big green ribbon that is truly last place in the smallest height open to an amateur adult in our local PHA “rated” circuit? It now hangs in my office at school. It reminds me that when the days are long, and they often are, that the good outweighs the bad. As a band teacher with a “hybrid” teaching model this year, it’s in the backdrop of my online lessons next to a picture of my horse and I during our first ever flat class. In-between our band lessons, my students love to hear about my noble steed and his affection for donuts. Having passion is what keeps us human. Pelotons don’t give sloppy peppermint kisses or pucker their noses when the currying session gets to just the right spot. Press on, amateurs. The days are long, but every day we get to swing a leg over is a good one. 

Caelin Kordziel is a lifelong barn rat: a lesson kid turned horse owner, enthusiast of all things equine. By trade, Caelin is an Instrumental Music Educator for students in grades 4-12 in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. When not at the barn or making music, she’s the mom to a wild-child doggo and a toddler on the move, wife of an avid outdoorsman, and keeper of the crossrail community @crossrailgrandprix on Instagram.