This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
. Not every rider gets a blue, and some of the best may only get a few in a season. The exiting reward of winning and pride of that blue is a feeling every rider desires. But what happens when a rider is not awarded the first place blue ribbon? Practice and more ridding, a willingness to work hard, and above all, a good attitude in what and how well you do will bring you to the top. I learned the value of these things when I entered school and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA). I had ridden horses all my life and worked with many of them as a wrangler at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford Neb. It’s safe to say I knew horses fairly well, however, my riding appearance suggested otherwise. I could not afford to take my own horse to college with me but I couldn’t stand to be out of the saddle. That was my first reason for joining the horse show team. Looking at it from a professional side, people pay good money for great show horses; I needed to learn how to show properly. And so I joined the team with bad riding habits and a sloppy appearance. Many of my habits included leaning way to far forward, legs stretched clear out in front of me, and only using my hands to control the horse. A good rider will have a straight line from their shoulder, hip, to their heel. Eyes will be looking forward, never down, and heels are pushed down. A good rider also uses legs, seat, and eyes (looking where you want to go really helps) to control the horse, hands are just a failsafe. During practice we used an array of different horses and the coaches taught us how to better ourselves. We began riding both hunt seat (English) and stock seat (western) disciplines. Coming from a ranching community, I had always had the good ol’ saddle horn on my saddle. But out coach, Katy Jones, introduced us to riding in an English saddle, and I quickly learned to love it. I was even introduced to cross-rails, the first step of jumping. I had found a new appreciation for the English discipline. It was not long before shows began. As a team we went to different schools and competed against student from the University of Nebraska, University of Wyoming, University of Colorado, Colby Community College (KS), Oklahoma Panhandle State University and several others. All the horses and tack used in the shows were provided by the host college. Riders drew their horse’s name out of a hat and by Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) rules, were given just enough time to adjust the stirrups on the saddle and get on. Even while on the horse a handler kept complete control of the animal. We could not warm it up; we could not ride it, control it, or handle it in any way. The handler led us into the ring and so the first time we ever had control of that animal was in front of a judge.
Riders are judged completely on horsemanship. My poor posture and bad ridding habits prevented me from placing well throughout the first year. Ribbons and points are awarded to the first six places in a class. I came away with many fifth and six place ribbons. But even low placings are placings, and having a good attitude about that is what many riders lack, but they all need. I never let myself get down and by the end of my first year I had a third place ribbon! I came into my second and last year at NCTA with a smile on my face and my hopes high. Many of my ridding problems were better, but still, I didn’t think I was all that good. That is until I placed second in Colby Ks. I was so excited. I had never placed that well before. It was not a blue ribbon, it was red, but that was the most beautiful color. That is until the next day when I did receive the all coveted, all celebrated blue ribbon. I had won! That was the only blue ribbon I received in the two years on the equestrian team. But that didn’t matter. I had some more sixth places, several third places, and some shows where I didn’t place at all. As long as I had fun and learned from my mistakes, it was a good show. Of course there were some days when being positive was harder than others. When I joined the team I made a commitment to do what needed to be done to make it a successful team. This entailed having a willingness to work. Several times within the years our team hosted both open shows and IHSA shows as well as clinics open for people to come and learn from experts. Setting up and preparing for these events took time and energy and often we would ride in these events as well. During practices we had to care for the horses, and clean up after ourselves. This may not seem like much work, but it’s the little things that add up. Much of our time was dedicated to helping things run smoothly. Most of our time and energy was spent in the best part of being on the equestrian team: riding. Horse show practice was held twice a week, one day was hunt seat, and the other was stock seat. Riding different horses in different tack and also different disciplines prepared us for unknown horses and unknown tack at the shows. We spent as much time as we could in the saddle doing an assortment of things and I loved it. Every ribbon at a show is awarded points according to the placing. Sixth is awarded only one point and first place receives seven points. These points add up over the course of two consecutive show years. The goal of nearly every IHSA rider is gain enough points to go to regionals. All the practices, extra work and attitude paid off. I got to go to regionals. All of the riders who had done well from all the schools we had competed against were at regionals in Cheyenne Wyo. for stock seat. This was show was important. Those who placed first or second in their class advanced to semi-nationals and then to nationals in Lexington Kentucky. First I rode in a preliminary class. I knew I could have done better. I know I could have had a better ride, but I had fun. It was regionals after all and I was excited to just be there. But then I heard my number, I was called back to ride in the finals. Wow! I had to draw for a different horse and, again, was
given only a few moments to adjust my stirrups and get on. Again, I knew I could have had a better ride, but I really liked this horse. He had a smooth trot and easy personality. As they listed the placings, starting from the bottom, anticipation grew as number after number was called. Mine wasn’t mentioned. Not until second place. I was going to semi nationals! In the week that followed, every spare time was filled with riding more horses in preparation. In Springfield Missouri I was joined by riders from school from as far away as North Carolina and West Virginia and everywhere in-between. I had never been so nervous about riding, or this excited. The first day was like regionals: I rode in a preliminary class and was sure I did not ride well enough to advance. Yet somehow I was called back! It was an amazing feeling to realize I would be showing against some of the best riders in the country! I was thrilled and amazed and eager to ride again. The next day was finals. Only the best were there. There are three semi-nationals in the country held before advancing to Nationals. I had made it to the finals of semi-nationals. However, I made some undoubted mistakes in my ride, namely a wrong lead during the lope. That, I knew, would bring me down. Yet still, I couldn’t believe I was here and my smile refused to fade. I was ecstatic when I was presented with an absolutely huge, chocolate brown, eighth place ribbon. I had placed! It was not high enough to advance to Nationals, but I had the ride of my life, I had fun, learned so much along the way, and all the hard work was paid off. Every rider craves the blue ribbon, but it is not just the placings that define a rider. It is what they put into their goals to make them work. I only won my class once, yet I made it all the way to seminationals, and placed. To me, the time, energy and determination to do well and make it that far is better than a hundred blue ribbons, and will treasure the time I had on the NCTA Equestrian team.