Sure, ribbons are nice, but there are much more important things you can take from your horse show experience.
Everybody likes to win ribbons at horse shows, but the problem with ribbons is that sometimes you get one that you didn't really deserve (when the judge missed your horse's meltdown in the far corner, or it just wasn't the best performance you and your horse could have given) and sometimes you don't get a ribbon when you really deserved one (the judge missed the other horse's meltdown or has something against chestnut horses).
For this reason, when you compete at a horse show, especially in disciplines that are so subjective, it's probably best to focus on something more than just ribbons. The good news is, there are many things that you can take away from a show that are far more valuable.
A sense of achievement.
This may sound like something your Little League coach said to comfort you after your team lost the big game, but it's actually very good advice.
Horse shows are all about setting and achieving goals, and even though you may not have been handed a $2 satin ribbon to celebrate reaching your goal, you should still feel good about your efforts and your accomplishments.
Maybe you got that difficult right canter lead for the first time, or managed to maintain your form throughout your entire ride. Whatever the goal was, if you reached it or was close, you should be celebrating.
Knowledge and experience.
No matter how many times you ride at home, there are certain things you can only learn by going to a horse show. Horses react differently in an unfamiliar setting, and a good rider should be able to manage their horse in any location, not just in the arena they ride in day in and day out.
Because of this, horse shows are great places for learning and gaining experience, and learning something new about yourself or your horse is far more valuable than a ribbon.
A deeper partnership with your horse.
Many riders get nervous at horse shows, and have to struggle to overcome these fears and ride well. Once they put their trust in their horse, however, everything changes.
You may have considered your horse your best friend from day one, but once you trust him enough to carry you over four-foot fences in front of hundreds of judging eyes, you will have discovered an entirely new level of partnership.
This partnership doesn't end with the show, either; it can sustain you through any challenge you and your horse are facing, and that is far more important than winning a ribbon.
Horse shows are a great place for socializing and making friends. Where else can you find hundreds or even thousands of people that share the same passion? If you make friends on the show circuit, these are the people who will coach you from the rail and let you talk through your class for the hundredth time.
They're the ones who will show up to help when your trailer breaks down, or stay up with you all night as you treat a colicking horse. They will support you through your triumphs and defeats, and many will do so for a lifetime.
Friends like that are far more important than any awards; ribbons can't help you when you call on them in tears.
If you compete in horse shows, you will be guaranteed to leave with incredible memories. In this digital age you will more than likely be blessed with many pictures and sometimes video of your classes, but you will have memories that stretch beyond the ring as well -- the time spent setting up and tearing down, grooming and bathing your horse, the warm up, the nerves, the pep talks, the lessons, and the friends and family that were there to see it all.
These memories are far more important than ribbons, because unlike ribbons, they will never fade away.
There's nothing wrong with winning ribbons as long as you remember that you can win without them, too.