No, this Ribbon is Not for Decoration!
You may have seen it at a show, a lovely horse trotting around the ring sporting a fancy red ribbon in his tail. Sure it is pretty, but did you know that it also has a meaning? Surprisingly, many riders do not.
The tradition started many years ago. Riders would place a ribbon in their horse’s tail when riding in the hunt to warn other riders of things they might not have the time to tell them before the ride. When there are a lot of horses working in a group, it can be hard to know which horse is which, and a ribbon makes it clear when there is a something that needs to be considered before approaching.
Understanding the Color of a Ribbon
There are four colors of ribbon that you might see on a horse’s tail: red, green, blue and white. Each color has its own meaning.
Red ribbons signify that a horse is a kicker. This means that any other riders should be careful not to crowd the horse, especially from behind. This is the most common color of tail ribbon and thus is the best understood. Often people choose to use a red ribbon if a horse is green or inexperienced because other riders are more likely to understand the meaning.
A green ribbon means that a horse is inexperienced and likely to misbehave. This is suitable for young horses or for horses who are particularly spooky in nature. If you see a horse with a green ribbon in his tail, approach him with caution. Give him space when riding near him, and be sure to keep an eye on him when in the ring. A green horse may spook or otherwise misbehave in unexpected ways.
A blue ribbon says that this horse is a stallion. Because stallions should only be handled by adults, and can be unpredictable at times, stallion owners will sometimes use a blue ribbon in his tail to warn off other riders. This is particularly important if you have a mare. It is unfair to a stallion’s rider to ride your mare too close to a stallion in the ring, especially if she is in season. The stallion can be the best behaved boy out there, but having an in season mare close by will distract him. In the worst case scenario, you could cause a serious accident by bringing your mare too close to a stallion. Caution is always sensible when seeing a horse with a blue ribbon in his tail.
White ribbons signify that a horse is for sale. Because it can be difficult to successfully advertise at a show, using a white ribbon is an excellent way to show that your horse is for sale. That way prospective buyers can see him perform in the ring, and know that they can approach you after the class if they are interested.
Not many people use ribbons in their horses’ tails anymore. This is a pity as many accidents could be prevented through their use. Often there is a fear that a judge might mark a horse more severely for having a kicking ribbon or a green ribbon in their tail.
If more coaches and riders began using colored ribbons, it could become common practice again. The results would be beneficial to everyone involved. At the very least, riders at the schooling level should be taught what red and green ribbons mean, and horse shows should encourage their use, even supplying appropriate colors of yarn at their registration tables.
An ounce of warning can make all the difference between a safe ride and a dangerous accident. If all kickers wore red ribbons, all green horses wore green ribbons and all stallions wore blue ribbons, everyone would know which horses to be careful of at the show.