One of the earliest lessons I learned is that riding and showing is not about ribbons and trophies. I recall my childhood trainer coming into my room during a dinner party at my parents' house: I was so excited to show her my accumulation of cheap silver-plated dishes, candle snuffers and other useless tarnished metal pieces. I'd imagined how impressed she would be when she saw my wall of ribbons. Boy, was I deflated when she told me she didn't care. Perhaps that sounds harsh, particularly to a preteen, but it was an important life lesson. My trainer explained that ribbons and trophies aren't necessarily an indication of the quality of riding?that a blue ribbon means less than the fabric it is made from if you didn't do your best or you won by default. On the other hand, a reserve might be akin to a world championship honor if you put down the best ride you possibly could in tough company. I was reminded of that during the two horse shows I attended this month with Wowie, my off-the-track Thoroughbred resale project. Now that we're more mobile, I've been able to put lesson and show mileage on my boy and we've moved up to the local 2-foot-9 divisions. Our debut at the level was two weeks ago. I was quite nervous and "rode backward" to most of my fences. Because Wow was behind my leg, the distances weren't coming up. He did his best despite bad piloting and we got the job done, but it certainly didn't feel (or look) great. We improved in the second jumping class enough that, at the end of the day, we managed two blues and the championship. But our performance didn't sit right with me. Don't get me wrong: I was over the moon with the results, but in my heart, I knew that it had not been a championship-worthy day. This past weekend I attended another show at the same facility, with a different judge. After some great schooling sessions at home and a chiropractic adjustment for Wow, I was feeling confident. We laid down the ride of a lifetime in the first over-fences class. It was one of those rare experiences when time slowed down and I remember riding every stride. I was breathing rhythmically, I was able to make minute adjustments and Wowie was in total sync with me every step. Frankly, I don't recall EVER having a ride like that in the 30-plus years I've been showing. So I was more than a little shocked and disappointed when I placed fourth out of five riders. (To add to my confusion, I got a second in my other jumping class, despite not noticing that there was a trot fence and dropping the front rail of an oxer.) Later, as I was leaving the photographer's trailer after looking at my proofs, a woman I didn't know stopped me. She told me she'd watched my first jumping round and that she thought I'd ridden the [poop] out of that course. She wanted to assure me that I'd done MUCH better than the judge had given me credit for. Her comments echoed in my mind during the ride home, mingling with my trainer's long-ago lesson on the value of winning. Eventually I found peace in knowing that the ride to judge all future rides by was a better reward than any 25-cent piece of fabric I could have hung on the tack room door. ? And I am finally satisfied that we EARNED that championship ribbon?it just came home two weeks early.