Sometimes all it takes to make a difference is an idea and one determined person. That’s the case with Ribbon Recycling, a program that takes in used horse show ribbons and gives them out to riders at therapeutic riding centers. I talked with the woman behind the brilliant program, Sue Copeland, and she explained how it all started and why she does it.
Amy: How did this get started?
Sue: I’d noticed ribbons tossed in the dirt at local and national-level horse shows for years. It seemed such a waste. Having donated horse books, magazines, and equipment to local therapeutic riding programs, I wondered if they’d be interested in “used” ribbons.
So I began calling around, and found some facilities that wanted them. I then talked to local horse show managers about collecting unused and unwanted ribbons at their shows for donation. They loved the idea. So, I used my “This Horse Life” column in Horse&Rider to float the idea to readers, encouraging them to collect and donate on a local level. It went viral from there, and Ribbon Recycling was born. My farm became a national center for receiving and shipping donated horse show ribbons.
Then the dog-show people heard about it, and I now get dog-show ribbons (plus alpaca ribbons, rabbit ribbons, cow ribbons, chicken ribbons, pig ribbons–you name it!). Since the ribbons can be “customized” by cutting lettering off the streamers, and covering any logo on the rosette with a printer label, it doesn’t matter what type of ribbon it is. Therapeutic facilities, non-riding therapeutic programs, and now dog-rescue groups, SPCA’s, low-income art programs…any group can take any type of ribbon and make it work for their own purposes.
Amy: How much of your time does it now consume?
Sue: It could be a full-time job at this point. I’m receiving ribbons from all over North America, and am now shipping internationally to fulfill
demand. Since I have a “day job” as a freelance writer and editor, and also show horses and dogs on a national level, my free nights and weekends are spent trying to keep up with Ribbon Recycling.
At times I feel like a fly on a racehorse: I’m hanging on as it charges ahead, fueled to a miraculous degree by word of mouth, via the Internet.
Amy: Where is it run from? Your den?
Sue: I run it from my farm office, which is separate from the house. That’s a good thing, because it is now a ribbon wonderland! My husband, Rick, has been supportive, and pitches in to help when he can. I’d like to recruit local senior centers and/or girl-scout troops to help sort and organize ribbons, but I’ve lacked the time to do so. That remains a goal.
Amy: If people ship you ribbons, where do you store them? Who pays for you to ship them out?
Sue: They’re stored in boxes and plastic bins in my office. However, the influx of donated ribbons is getting to the point that I may soon need to explore a storage unit. I pay all the postage for programs in need. It’s the least I can do: donated ribbons are the only way such programs can give their riders and students awards. The people running and volunteering at the therapeutic facilities, and the animal-rescue groups, do such wonderful work. I’m happy to be able to contribute in my own small way.
Amy: What do you get out of it?
Sue: I’ve watched severely impaired, non-verbal riders at therapeutic programs light up with a smile when handed a donated ribbon. That’s my reward. It’s also rewarding to read letters from ribbon donors describing the beloved horse or dog with whom they won their ribbons. For people to box up and share those memories, in the hopes the ribbons will bring joy to someone else, is moving. It makes me realize what a privilege it is to do what I’m doing.