A small wall in my bedroom is covered by an array of horse competition ribbons I won “back in the day” with my equine partner, Gentleman Jack. It’s very colorful: blue, and red, and yellow, white, pink, green. There are several wooden plaques, too, and medals. Some of the ribbons are tri-color, signifying championship and reserve championship wins. Jake (his barn name) was always popular for his good looks and sometimes wild antics on the modest competitive circuit in the sport of Eventing (also known as “equine triathlon”) where we cut a swath for about ten years.
That corner of my room is called “Jake’s Wall.” The display came at the suggestion of the feng shui lady when she came through in about 2003, to honor the partnership I shared with this amazing athlete, now 20 and retired. With Jake, I learned the sport, rising through the levels from Beginner Novice to several years at one of the upper levels, Preliminary, and in an FEI One-Star Event at the Kentucky Horse Park.
I know some people place no value in the ribbons they win. They throw them away—an act that always makes me feel sad. I could never view them so indifferently, not when they cost so much in terms of time, and effort, and (yes) money.
But now it’s time to dismantle Jake’s Wall. After all, he retired in 2008, and I’m ready to transition that space for other purposes. However, when I reach to take down even a single ribbon, my arm becomes leaden, and I stop, look, recall. That third place at Richland Park? Those two Area VIII year end awards? His blue (one of only a few outright wins in this challenging sport) from South Farm Horse Trials? I want to clear the wall, but still find myself unable to move the ribbons and put them away, as if doing so will somehow erase or minimize an important era of my life.
A ribbon—well, any award, for any reason, I think—is more than a few square inches of fabric. Jake’s Wall is not about bragging. Hardly anyone but me even sees it. In truth, it is simply a place where I can stand and conjure summer, the smell of grass while spending time with my grazing horse, walking the mile-plus cross-country courses (always three times, minimum). That amazing feeling of strength and capability as we trained, prepared, packed, shipped out. The memory of sweat trickling down my face as we settled into barns at far-away shows, and the irritation of shards of hay under my t-shirt. The satisfying tiredness, coming home from weekends doing battle with our prior personal-best efforts.
Jake’s ribbons signify so much more than a notch in my belt. They signify the desire to test our abilities, the hope of doing myself (and my horse, and my trainer, and those on my team) proud, the result of hours (days, weeks, months, years) of learning the craft and sport of horsemanship.
Any award is a high point in anyone’s life. I want to remember to honor those moments, to counteract a life in which the days are more typically consumed by the drudgeries: housework, laundry, meals, jobs…the little stuff. Ribbons and other awards are treasures, really.
When Jake’s Wall comes down, I will not—cannot—throw the ribbons away. (An admission here. The ribbons from my teen years spent riding my jumper, Shortie—show name Playboy—are still hanging in the basement.) As a practical measure, Jake’s ribbons may end up down there, too, but still, I think, there should be a better way to honor what they represent. Maybe a quilt; some people are sewing quilts…
Whatever I end up doing, I am sure that these ribbons (indeed, every award one earns in life) deserve to be held gently and regarded as something special—if nowhere else, then in our own memories.