The equestrian community consists of generous individuals who are happy to lend a helping hand to those in need, and the United Professional Horsemen’s Association Ribbons of Service is an excellent example. Through the program, UPHA youth members raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., or an approved non-profit charity and perform community service hours. Dozens of children have learned the importance of helping others through the program’s efforts. Since Ribbons of Service began in 2009, participants have raised over $556,000 for St. Jude and almost $154,000 for other charities. Last year, 41 participants raised more than $65,500 for St. Jude and more than $4,400 for other charities and completed 1,988.50 community service hours.
The Focus of Ribbons of Service
When Ribbons of Service began under the guidance of Helen Robertson, it was originally only for saddle seat equitation riders as a way to get more participants in the saddle seat equitation division. The program eventually opened up to youth members who competed in all disciplines. Participants are responsible for raising donations and performing community service as part of their contribution to the program.
Fay Lowry of Ashland, Mo., who currently chairs the Ribbons of Service committee, has high praise for the program. “It has been a great experience. I just love being involved in it. This is my third year, and every year we come up with better ideas,” said Lowry.
Participation levels reward participants for reaching a certain amount of community service hours and donations for charity, as well as encourage them to continue to the next level, from bronze to silver, gold, and then platinum. Once participants have reached the platinum level, they are eligible for college scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000.
“For each age group and for each division, they have scholarships,” explained 11-year-old Jacqueline Schatzberg of Cave Creek, Ariz., a program participant in her fourth year. “So there will be one for Arabians, one for Saddlebreds, equitation, Morgan, performance, even academy, and driving, too. It really depends on what you do. In 2020, I raised the most money in saddle seat equitation overall and Morgan saddle seat equitation, so I got those scholarships. Then, other people, they got most community service hours and much more.”
“It is incredible the amount of donations that we have received for gifts and scholarships, and the people throughout the horse industry who have donated to this program,” explained Lowry. “There are 27 scholarships for a total of $44,000. When participants sign up, they have to say what division they are doing or what breed they are showing, so that puts them where you need to be for working toward a scholarship.”
Lowry noted that once youth members sign up for Ribbons of Service, they receive a packet with all the necessary information, including fundraising and community service ideas and how to log their hours. “We start the program on November 1, then it ends on October 31, so the kids go all year,” said Lowry.
At the UPHA Conference each year, Ribbons of Service participants are recognized for their contributions, and platinum-level participants enjoy a meet-and-greet event with a top name in the industry; past guests have included Elisabeth Goth and saddle seat equitation riders Alayna Applegate and Victoria Walz. “We have an afternoon devoted to Ribbons of Service,” said Lowry. “On the last night of the conference, we present the check to a representative of St. Jude.”
Ribbons of Service participants are dedicated to their charitable efforts. While bake sales, coffee stands, lemonade stands, raffles, and donation letter writing are common ways to fundraise, the participants often get creative, and that has been true for Schatzberg. Her most successful fundraiser was the cookbook she put together last year. “It was a trainers’ cookbook. I sold each cookbook for $40,” she explained. Schatzberg contacted horse trainers starting in April of 2020 and asked them to submit a recipe. She used social media to get the word out about her cookbook fundraiser and sold the books at horse shows, raising $7,000. Schatzberg raised just over $15,000 in 2020 and has raised about $30,000 for St. Jude in her three completed years with the program.
Jacqueline’s mother Megan Schatzberg saw the value in the fundraising efforts beyond supporting a great cause. “I think from the kid’s perspective, it is a fun little project that they can do. From a parent’s perspective, I obviously pushed her to get involved in the program after she had some interest in it. I think it helps represent what we love and do well in a broader community perspective,” explained Megan. “It helps teach them the ultimate project-based learning, especially when we were out of school [due to the pandemic]. You can take a small idea that the kids come up with and they really bring it to life. This cookbook was a really incredible process for her to write letters to adults, then put it together, format it, see the product, and sell the product, then do something awesome with the money rather than it being another quarter in her piggy bank.”
Jacqueline has also reached some impressive numbers in community service hours, totaling about 50 hours in the past three years. “For community service hours, I have helped at the gate [at horse shows], given out ribbons during academy [classes], and I have also volunteered for Feed My Starving Children,” said Jacqueline.
While Ribbons of Service requires time and hard work, Jacqueline has enjoyed the process. “I wanted to get involved because it sounded like a good thing for the community, and I knew that my friend, Maya Tasch, would be in it, too, and I would be able to do some stuff with her,” said Jacqueline. “And I really just did it for the fun of it.”
Lessons Learned from Ribbons of Service
In addition to having fun, Ribbons of Service participants are able to learn important skills and values. “I think she has learned that there’s a bigger world out there,” Megan said of Jacqueline’s experience. “As a kid, you can contribute to that. I know she sees stuff that comes in the mail from St. Jude or a commercial or somebody wearing a T-shirt, and she feels very proud of the fact that she helps with that. I think it gives her some perspective about what life is about and helping other people.”
The fundraising projects require skills that will serve the youth participants well beyond their years in the program. “Working hard and going through the process of editing and come up with ideas, a lot of brainstorming, I think that will serve her well in school or a job someday,” continued Megan. “Add the community service part of it, it is just an incredible opportunity to actually get out there, work, give back to the community, and know you are doing something good. Even at the horse shows where she does a lot of her community service hours, she has learned to go up to managers to ask them what she can do to help. It is a really good skill because someday she will be needing to ask somebody for a job. And she is a more active participant in horse shows and knows how much work goes into them.”
Lowry agrees that participants learn lessons that can positively affect their lives. “I feel that they learn about giving back and realizing that they are lucky to ride and show horses,” said Lowry. “The kids at St. Jude are there because of their cancer or some other illness. It amazes me how passionate kids are about Ribbons of Service, especially when watching the kids at the horse shows. They will be walking around saying, ‘I am doing this for Ribbons of Service,’ and someone will ask what Ribbons of Service is, and they can just go on and on and on about it. They are so enthusiastic about it, even at a young age.”
Twenty-one-year-old Jordyn Isgrigg of Mount Washington, Ky., spent 10 years with Ribbons of Service from 2009 to 2019 and learned a great deal from her time in the program. Isgrigg was excited to combine charity work with an equestrian program, and she especially enjoyed helping St. Jude. “I got to go on several tours down there once I started raising money for St. Jude, and I got to meet some of the patients and their families and hear their stories,” said Isgrigg. “It made it that much more important to me to want to give back.” During her time with Ribbons of Service, Isgrigg worked hard raising money by writing donation letters, making jewelry and stick horses, and hosting a fundraiser at her school. She also did community service work by going on mission trips with her church and helping out at soup kitchens and with food and clothing drives.
Isgrigg was positively affected her Ribbons of Service involvement, and it shows in her college activities and plans for the future. As a rising senior at Georgetown College, Isgrigg is in charge of community service and fundraising for her sorority. Isgrigg has always wanted to go to veterinary school, and now she wants to see how she can be involved with the non-profit side of veterinary medicine.
Isgrigg has grown over the years with Ribbons of Service, and she thinks it is a great program for children to get involved in. “I have learned not only that I have such a love for community service and giving back, but also how important it is to not get sidetracked from the fact that there are other things going on in our world,” said Isgrigg. “This program helps you realize you can make a difference, no matter how big or small and no matter how young you are. You can have an impact in your community around you and on a broader scale by raising money, doing a little community service project, anything like that. No matter what you are doing, you are helping someone. It teaches you a lot about yourself and a lot about the importance of giving back to your community.”