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Award Ribbons Have a Second Life

What to do with those boxes of ribbons that are all over your house. By Deborah Davidson Harpur

The thrill of earning an award ribbon, especially your first few isn't something you forget easily and for some that small thrill never goes away. However, after years of competing and earning ribbons, some competitors find piles of ribbons in their homes and are not quite sure what to do with them.
Why not consider donating them to a good cause? Someone else can feel the same excitement you did when getting that hard-earned ribbon. Recently my dog Gigi sent off another box of our team's ribbons (with 15 dogs of all different levels who run in multiple venues and show almost every weekend, we get lots of ribbons) after our USDAA pal Emily Hurt challenged us to match her donation to Ribbon Recycling. We sent in a 22 pound box of ribbons and took a photo of Gigi to prove it.
Sue Copeland is the brains and brawn behind She accepts used and new award ribbons and gives them free of charge to therapeutic horseback riding facilities and other therapeutic programs. She took time to answer a few questions about her charity.
Deborah Davidson Harpur: How did you get the idea to recycle dog show/horse show/award ribbons?
Sue Copeland: I've shown at national-level horse shows, such as the American Paint Horse Association World Show in Fort Worth, Texas, and the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, and would see ribbons (generally those below third place) strewn in the dirt. To me, competing at those shows was a privilege; I knew there were lots of people who'd love to get any color ribbon at such prestigious events. It seemed a waste to toss them away.
That got me to thinking about a way to use unwanted ribbons. For years, Ive donated used horse equipment, books, and magazines to Houston-area therapeutic riding centers. So I called some of them to see if they'd want used show ribbons to hand out as awards. I discovered facilities that were thrilled to accept them.
And that got me to thinking that perhaps my local facilities weren't the only ones that might want ribbons. So I used my personal column, This Horse Life, in the national equine magazine HORSE & RIDER (I'm a long-time contributing editor) to float the idea to readers. The response was big and positive. I encouraged readers to do what I was doing on a local level (collect and donate). But over time, and via word of mouth, the concept went viral, and I've become a national collection and donation center for ribbons and other types of awards.
Then the dog show people kicked in. There is a huge intersection between the horse and dog show worlds. I'd mentioned Ribbon Recycling to a friend who has horses, Joni Huff. She also owns a kennel ( She and her staff show in agility. They loved the idea and asked if I'd take their dog show ribbons. Then Liz Neuman, who works for Joni, asked if she could post the info on her agility group's Facebook page. The word spread like wildfire to both agility and conformation people. It's been great; dog show folks are so generous with their ribbons!
How do you re-use the ribbons?
Generally I sort them into "horse," "dog," and "other" ribbons. When a request comes, I'll check to see if the facility wants only horse styles or if they'll accept dog ones, too. I'll then pack a box or boxes full of ribbons (depending on the specific request), and mail them out to the facility. Anymore, since facilities tend to customize the ribbons as shown on my website (, many don't care what type they get. They're happy to have ribbons to hand out to their very special participants.
Do you accept other types of awards too?
Yes. I have several facilities that welcome trophies and medals, any type of award.
Are there any types of ribbons or awards you don't really need to get?
Stained, ripped, or damaged ribbons or awards will most likely not be used by a therapeutic facility. My rule of thumb is this: Would you be proud to hand out this ribbon or trophy as an award? If the answer is "No," then chances are a therapeutic program wouldn't want to hand it out, either. (And I wouldn't send it to them!)
I also don't send ones that have a pin or sharp hook fastener or hanger. Such awards wouldn't be safe for developmentally challenged individuals.
Ribbons that are packed such that they aren't horribly wrinkled are a plus - I can often put a shipping label on the box and send the ribbons out as is, rather than re-packing them. As a one-person, "spare time" charity, that is a good thing!
Who will receive the ribbons sent in?
Initially all ribbons went to therapeutic riding programs, first locally, then nationally. I've worked with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (, based in Denver, Colordo, to spread the word about Ribbon Recycling; their members were some of the first to receive ribbons and continue to be recipients.
Recently, I've branched out and have been sending ribbons to some therapeutic programs that don't use horses. One is Surfers Healing (, which provides therapeutic help to autistic children via surfing and the ocean. Ironically, I met one of its founders, Danielle Paskowitz (whose husband is a former pro surfer, and whose son is autistic), while on a photo shoot in California for HORSE & RIDER.
At the upcoming Pin Oak Charity Horse Show (, the show and competitors will not only be donating ribbons to Ribbon Recycling, but I'll also be handing out customized ribbons to the many school children from around the Houston area who visit the show each year via organized field trips. I foresee a valuable second life for horse and dog ribbons as tools in education. The ribbons provide a great intro to animals, and especially to dog breeds. Plus, you get a fantastic geography lesson! I've gotten ribbons from locations such as Fairbanks, Alaska, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and most states in between.
How many ribbons do you get requests for each year?
Thousands and thousands. I have some facilities that will take all the ribbons I can send, so there is a constant need. For instance, I have one group that works with autistic children using therapeutic riding. They have 32 centers around the country; one of them has 400 riders. They will take any and all ribbons and awards I can send them - horse, dog, flats, rosettes, trophies, whatever. I'll send them thousands at a time.
I've also sent ribbons to groups that use them for fundraisers, such as awards for chili cook offs. Or to make crafts they can sell, such as wreaths. Some use them for adults with disabilities in art and dance programs (they dance with the long, flat dog-show ribbons; how cool is that?). As word has spread, the use has diversified, as has the need for ribbon donations.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
Yes: thanks to all of you in agility who have already donated ribbons. And thanks in advance to those of you who will donate in the future. I know from showing horses and conformation dogs how much it takes to earn each ribbon. I also know that it takes time and money to box them up and mail them to Ribbon Recycling. That makes each ribbon very special. I love going through the boxes, sorting the ribbons, and imagining the joy each one has brought (and will bring), as well as appreciating the hard work behind it. That people will part with their hard-earned ribbons for my charity is humbling. I wish each donor could see the smiles their ribbons will bring when they reach their new recipients.
Where can we send ribbons to donate?
Please send clean, undamaged ribbons to:
Ribbon Recycling
Sue M. Copeland
4802 Hunterwood Circle
Richmond, TX  77406


Subscribers should log in tomorrow and read about USDAA competitors contributions to Ribbon Recycling.

Deborah Davidson Harpur has been active in dog agility since 1998. Before that she raced karts, was a nationally ranked driver, and was a writer/editor of Karter News Magazine, a national publication.  Since her move from racing on the track to running different breeds of dogs on the agility course, she and her dogs have really embraced all that agility offers. More about her team at


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