Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Prizes Worth Winning

A fairly regular topic of conversation at shows in our barn surrounds Prizes and which ones feel special or worth winning. 
Merlin likes Satin too
Inevitably some of the ladies who have been in Hunter Land for a while talk about how much classier the prizes used to be, and how they used to be meaningful mementos of past victories.  I understand that there are so many classes and so many divisions that if shows really held themselves to the silver plate standard of years past, we'd all be paying $400 a division and grumbling about entry fees more than we already do. 

However it is an interesting topic.  I'm grateful to be surrounded by women in our barn who love their ribbons and trophies almost as much as I do, so I feel less like a greedy Grinch and more like a normal ammy who somehow enjoys the process of watching cold hard cash turn into cheap, shiny ribbons. 

Before I dive further into this (not researched or educated) post, I want to clarify that if horse shows disappeared off the face of the earth (tear) I would still ride, still enjoy the process of learning and progressing (and not progressing).  The grooming sessions, the rehab work, the tack hoarding, the smell of the barn, the early mornings etc.  I love it all with or without ribbons.

But since there are ribbons - naturally I have developed an un-authorized opinion on them. 

I'm a believer that prizes, (inclusive of ribbons) should serve as a way to remember successful outings, and should reflect the level of accomplishment that they represent. 

To me prizes in Hunter Land fall into three distinct categories. 

First Place Prizes
Championship Prizes.

There is a definite challenge for show managers in picking the right level of lux on all three.  Go too cheap and you piss off your competitors who paid good money and want to feel that their efforts are valued.  Go too over the top and those neck ribbons and 4' long streamers seem cheapened when you only had to beat one errant pony to collect them. (though I've never refused either...)

Ribbons seem like the easiest prize to get right.  If I were Ribbon Queen of the World, I would encourage everyone to stay traditional and add an inch to the streamers or a fancier rosette for every couple hundred of horses at a show. 

Fun show? Single streamer with a small rosette. Small schooling show? Simple 6" ribbons are fine.  Larger rated show? Please bump that up to a 10" streamer and maybe a layered rosette.  Big AA show with more than 1000 ponies playing around?  I want tassels and something that stands out - at least for the tri-colors.


(The exception that proves this rule are the exceptionally simple class ribbons handed out at Devon)
Totally lovely ribbons for a Schooling Show
In contrast, ribbons from an AA Show
Things I don't like include, novelty color ribbons that clash on your ribbon wall, weird rainbow or tie-dye style ribbons, two streamer ribbons (no explanation for this, I just don't like them?), remarkably cheap streamers (think the plasticy fabric that made up the participation ribbons from your youth soccer team..). and anything with a white plastic button.  I strongly prefer the look of same color buttons with embossed logos. 
Novelty ribbons get exiled to the end of the ribbon wall...
Really, I feel like most equestrians cherish their ribbons.  Many of my barn friends (across disciplines) write notes on the back of them so they have a diary of sorts that notes large classes, great rounds, funny stories or whatever.  Part of my satin obsession stems from growing up as an Eventer, where I was lucky to show two or three times a year, and strived to bring home one, singular ribbon at the end of the weekend.  Perhaps if I started as a Hunter I wouldn't hoard my satin so aggressively, but as a ribbon starved kid, I will continue to compensate and enjoy hanging each and every ribbon in the garage. 

First Place Prizes are more controversial. 

At our local shows I always pick up the $10 gift cards to my favorite tack shop.  It's fun at the end of a show (or season) to save up and put them toward a pretty new pad, or show shirt, or bucket of fancy treats for the mare.  It (almost) feels like I'm earning back prize money (lol), and I enjoy stacking up my little gift cards like poker chips.  (though I do feel like an idiot when I'm purchasing something large boots, cough cough and literally swipe 35 $10 cards through the register one at a time... its the equestrian equivalent of the little old lady paying for $100 of groceries with pennies and nickels)

Aside from gift cards, there seem to be two schools of thought with regard to First Place Prizes at our regional shows.  The first is a focus on logoed, usually horsey themed items that you can use around the barn.  Brushes, totes, water battles, etc.  A few shows stock a prize "store" where you can combine blue ribbons to get more substantial prizes like fleece jackets, horse boots, etc. 

The other school of thought is that people are sick of crap that says "Jump Into Spring Pony-palooza 2004" and the prizes tend toward small hostess gift type items.  Lotion sets, candles, cheese knives, etc. generic items, but less distinctive, and in theory maybe easier to use/gift/whatever. 

Random horsehair keychain? made it onto the Truck Keys.

My preference at this point is still for a healthy mix of both.  If the gift cards are available, I snap those up.  If they aren't, I gravitate toward logo items I can reasonably use (coffee mugs, always more coffee mugs).  I hate wine glasses, though I know several people who love their horse show wine glass collection (didn't know that was a thing) so I get why managers keep ordering them.  I just can't imagine setting my table with weird mismatched glasses - but that's probably more of a reflection on my neuroses.

Fact: I have never used this glass.  Ever.
I don't really have any experience with it, but it also seems prudent and appreciated when shows have additional special prizes or trophies for winning a big class, like special Eq challenges, classics, etc.  I think it helps add to the pageantry of those fun classes and give folks a reason to up their entries.  (cough cough, NECK RIBBONS).

Finally - Championship Prizes

IMHO once you hit a A show, these should be coolers, scrims, or something equally lovely. 

Appropriate Ribbon, Appropriate Cooler.
However, this is where the biggest rift in our in-barn-debate shows up.  Half the ladies are tired of coolers (what) and half are cooler-crazy (obvi).  In fact during a brief meeting with a local show manager who was brave enough to ask a gaggle of us what we preferred in prizes, the claws came out and I realized that people feel VERY strongly about the cooler vs. no cooler debate. 

What it seems to come down to is how long you've been showing.  If you've been campaigning a bad ass horse for years and years and years, then it appears you tend to be anti-cooler.  If you're newer to the scene, or don't consistently dominate your division - you're pro-cooler.  And I understand both sides of the fences. 

After this year, Prairie will have collected eight (that's sort of embarrassing) coolers from HITS Thermal.  I'll get into my personal review of how HITS does on the prize front shortly, but in general that's a lot of the same cooler (the fact that its the exact same cooler is part of my criticism), but still. 

I understand that winning a million coolers might (hypothetically) at some point get old, but I'm not sure what the better substitution is.  Replace them with jackets and jackets will get old too.  replace them with nice frames and suddenly you're trying to design a prize that works with people's varying taste... To me there's no easy replacement for the traditional cooler or scrim sheet, and for the folks who win all the time - well, anything will get old by the end of the season anyway.

I appreciate when shows try to offer something unique, but sometimes that backfires.  For instance, a couple of years ago when Prair and I first crossed over into Hunter Land, I saved up and went to one "A" show the whole season.  It was a great show.  Mediocre ribbons, great first place prizes, but CRAP Championship gifts. 

I mean crap.  Here I was at my first big show with Prair, our first time out at 2'6" and we managed to win both our Hunter and our Eq divisions (by the skin of our teeth).  And when I rolled up to the prize tent with out tri colors, I was a tad crestfallen to discover that our prize was a.... beach towel. 

Not even a super nice beach towel.  It said champion and whatnot, but I was a tad cranky. 

Now, for a C show or schooling show? great prize.  But for a two week summer A show? I was disappointed.  I suppose it ended up being really useful since I hacked it up into rags and still use the bits for cleaning tack, boots or wiping Prair's nose. 

Champion tack rag!
However I think Championship prizes at an A show should aim higher than being used to wipe a mare's nose. 

So what about you guys? What are your thoughts and preferences on Prizes? Functional? trophies? coolers? What say you.


  1. I could have written pretty much this entire post I agree with it so much. Novelty ribbons? Blerg. A champion towels? Double blerg. I'll be grateful to get ANY prize, but really it should be a cooler for an A show.

    I feel like I should do a local/open show version of your post, because the prizes I have won are pretty interesting in those rings!

  2. As the proud owner of a box of about 100 old, faded ribbons from childhood that I will "do something with someday," I totally understand the satin obsession. I frequently stroll through the barns of my local show facility at the end of A and AA shows and find piles of ribbons heaped in the dirt or trash cans. This makes me a bit ill... they're not always even pink or lower, either - I've seen Championship ribbons thrown out! Nope, mine are kept and the best ones proudly displayed.

    I agree whole-heartedly, though, that the show and class level should be reflected in the goodies. I think there should definitely be more neck ribbons in Hunterland, for one thing! The Saddlebred people go a bit overboard in this department but H/J people get gypped. As for 1st place awards, I treasure the little silver-plated trophies I got at schooling shows as a kid. My local A-circuit does do silver trophies, little Revere bowls, I think. One of the nicest ones I've gotten as an adult is a classy picture frame. Gone are the days of really lavish hardware, though, even for a big class win. I know they're expensive but this is a shame!

    The oddest ribbon thing I've seen in just about ever is another exception, the National Horse Show. I was particularly shocked when even the winner of the Maclay was handed the standard, very short 3-streamer job with a metal logo button. I guess these are the traditional ribbons but they are pretty chintzy by today's standards!

    I've never won a single cooler so not going to chime in on that except to say I'd be pretty happy. ;-) The beach towel, OTTH, is just ridiculous!

  3. I got a really nice saddle pad for winning a class in Wellington this year. I think saddle pads with the show name/logo are really nice, practical prizes

  4. i've yet to do anything rated or recognized, so my experiences are limited to the fun and schooling type shows... but there's still been a bit of a mix. i have a ton of never-used mugs that i am oddly nostalgic about (one is repurposed to hold makeup brushes lol). i've won crops and socks and polo wraps at shows, which were all nice, and one series wrapped with these interesting embroidered blankets for champions. the blankets are kinda small (maybe meant for the laps of freezing cold spectators?) but i liked them.

    the one thing that really bums me out is when shows use some generic button design so that i end up with a bunch of ribbons from different shows and venues that all look the same...

  5. As an eventer, unless youre like, the shit, you get a ribbon and thats it. So I would KILL for a cooler, or 8.

    As a jumper though I've won some pretty cool stuff. I actually have 4 neck ribbons which apparently are coveted things. And I've won a few halters and saddle pads. Kosher in my book, because like I said, us eventers get squat even at 1st place usually its just a halter or pad.

  6. I love prizes! Embroidered saddle pads might be my favorite. I find myself in the anti cooler side of things from winning them in our races, serioulsy SO.MANY.COOLERS. I feel sad for your unused glass, it is so awesome!

  7. I only remember my first- first place prize. It was in a walk trot canter one at a time class. It was a mini toolset. I was pissed. What the hell was a 12 year old girl supposed to do with a toolset? Other horse show's first prize was a t-shirt. Always a tshirt. Omg. I never won a championship but my mom got a cooler and some neck ribbons!

  8. I love any and all prized. I LOVE neck ribbons. I only have one, from a reserve championship, and I was soooo happy that I wasn't all around champion because they didn't get the neck ribbon, only reserve did. When I did all around shows, I really wanted to win a buckle but alas, that did not happen. But I will take pretty much any prize, even the cheapest of ribbons!

  9. I def think that the caliber of the prise should go up with the rating of the shows... I hate nick back prizes and would rather have a bag of treats then them.

    I love the time old.tradition of coolers and skrims!

  10. I love everything about this post, and for the record, I'm definitely pro-cooler (although I've never won one...). I whole-heartedly agree that the quality of a prize should follow the caliber of the show! Preach on :)

  11. You would hate the endurance world ;) No ribbons anywhere in sight! Typically the completion award is something donated or really, really cheap....I got a bag of candy once, a nearly expired tin of elytes and a hat from a local coffee store. Sometimes they give t shirts which I love. Top 10 finishers generally get something with the logo of the ride on it...a water bucket, reusuable bag etc...The best awards got to the Best Condition and High Vet Score recipients and those are coolers, blankets, jackets. In endurance though the ride managers generally take a personal loss for the ride and do it for the pride and love of the sport, so there isn't a big bank account to pull from for better prizes.

  12. That beach towel is lame even if it was a schooling show. I agree with your ribbon opinion and to me coolers, saddle pads and buckles all make sense because they can be embroidered/engraved and are pretty generic. I haven't done really and. HJ shows at schooling show I won an etched whisky glass. Not bad for price of show.

  13. I feel pretty much the same as you, although for certain circumstances, I don't mind non-traditional ribbons. For example, I grew up competing in 4H and one of the big accomplishments is qualifying for State Fair. Our county gave each person who qualified a big tie-dyed rosette. I loved those and they meant a lot to me since I'd worked so hard to qualify.

  14. I remember getting the silver wares back in the day up at Milner Downs and Thunderbird in BC! The one year I won reserve champion in the Children's Jumpers by the skin of my teeth we got a giant luggage bag. I've always had cooler envy and I hope one day to win one of those coveted coolers!

    Congrats on your success at Thermal!

  15. I too share your love of satin. I was in 4-H and showed livestock in college and I still have every single ribbon I ever won. I remember the super long Championship ribbon I won at my first ever schooling show, I was in LOVE with it, it hung in my room until the day I moved out of my parents' house. As for the alternate colors- my years in 4-H have made me a bit more open (championship ribbons at our fair are purple) to them but I much prefer the traditional colors.

    I guess it would be interesting to point out that horse shows aren't the only place with this ribbon/prize disparity. I noticed it in 4-H as well. My cousin showed dairy cattle and she has a MASSIVE collection of neat items she has won as prizes over the years- stoneware jugs, jackets, clocks, chairs, show halters and leads, silver platters & trophies. By comparison, the year I won Reserve Champion at our county fair I "won" a leather halter with nameplate that said the year and reserve champion. The kicker? They weren't ready in time for the fair and I never received it even though I was promised it was on the way (nah my teenaged self wasn't bitter or anything!)

    I'm in the cooler club as well as the director's chair club. I covet winning a director's chair like no other. I've always thought those were awesome championship prizes.

  16. I have a cooler problem. I don't even care if I won 8 of the same one--I would find uses for them.

    That said, a neck ribbon is a bucket list item and I've never won a cooler, sooooo...

  17. Can you cut your extra coolers into rags? J/K...sorta...
    I love all ribbons and prizes, but can see how people can get tired of winning the same stuff over and over. Maybe instead of coolers they could offer a $50 tack store gift certificate or a logo jacket, so people have an option of 3 things.

  18. I agree on the ribbons- no novelty colors.....unless they're the Gucci ribbons at the Giant Steps Charity Show- red and green with a rosette the size of a dinner plate. Not even kidding.

    I too go for gift cards on the first place table- in fact- I paid for a good chunk of my tack trunk in $20 cards. If not gift cards- then treats for the horse or wine for myself.

    I am pro cooler because I need more coolers!


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