JN Exclusive: How Zone 2 Conquered NAYC Young Riders 23 Points Ahead of Their Competition

Earlier this month hundreds of young riders gathered at Old Salem Farm in New York for the Adequan®/FEI North American Youth Championships where Zone 2 emerged victorious in the Young Riders division.

On the roster for Zone 2 were Samantha Cohen, Ailish Cunniffe, Madison Goetzmann, and Katherine Strauss. From the start, this team stood out from the rest. Each rider only contributed a minimum number of faults on opening day. Results for day two were as follows:

Competition Two
Round A:

  • Three clear rounds
  • One four-fault finish

Round B:

  • Two clear rounds
  • One four-fault finish
  • One 16-fault finish

With drop scores in act, the team finished with only 9.80 faults to claim gold, leaving a 23.56-point gap between them and the silver team, Zone 10, who finished with 33.36 faults. Team Mexico claimed bronze with 36.24 faults.

this squad tho #Z2 ❤️🌟💙

A post shared by Ailish Cunniffe (@ailishcunniffe) on

Of the four riders on the team for Zone 2, three of them have contributed to previous podium finishes at Young Riders. Samantha Cohen came into the competition this year as a Young Riders team rookie. Each rider was especially thankful for being together and winning team gold. They dedicated each of their rounds to their Chef d’Equipe Ralph Caristo and used the mantra, “do it for Ralph” throughout the weekend.

Katherine Strauss and All In. Photo by Anwar Esquivel

Strauss summed up how she and her teammates felt about everyone that helped them along the way. “It was thrilling to pull this off not only for ourselves, but also for the many people who work tirelessly to make these moments possible, including owners, trainers, grooms, veterinarians and farriers,” she shared.

“The most challenging part of the championship was trying to remain calm throughout all of the rounds,” explains 18-year-old Goetzmann. She emphasized that maintaining a calm and collected head is key to a strategic week.

Madison Goetzman and Prestigious. Photo by Anwar Esquivel

Riding Prestigious, an 11-year-old Westphalian gelding, Goetzmann contributed two double clear rounds, as well as an entertaining final round. Goetzmann couldn’t help but laugh as she recounted on what had occurred. On the final line, she and Prestigious had a communication error, and the duo jumped from an awkward angle, keeping the spectators on their toes. Luckily the pair cleared the fence and spectators erupted into a mixture of laughter and cheers. Goetzmann claimed fourth place individually in the Young Riders section.

Cunniffe was the first from Zone 2 to enter the ring which she admits left her with a few ringside jitters, but nothing she couldn’t handle. “I would say I was most anxious when I had to go first in the team event. I have experience going early but because NAYC is such a large event it really puts on the pressure.”

Many riders deal with this type of pressure to perform in events of this scale but, being able to put all doubts and worries aside when entering the ring is what separates the best from the rest. Cunniffee contributed a clear effort for her team to help minimize the total faults and ending up placing fifth individually.

lucky is an understatement 🌟 thank you Balou, thank you team ❤️

A post shared by Ailish Cunniffe (@ailishcunniffe) on

“Typically jumping is scored individually, so when I get the chance to compete with others, nonetheless three of my best friends, it is especially exciting,” shared Strauss. She continues to sing the praises of the NAYC and all of the opportunities the competition has to offer. “There are not many Nations Cup at the Young Rider level, so I am very grateful to have had this opportunity. It definitely taught me about the unique and intense pressure of team competition.”

Samantha Cohen and Carmen. Photo by SEL Photography

In preparation for her first time at the NAYC, Cohen worked tirelessly throughout the summer so she would be well-rehearsed for any challenges she might face. “Spending my summer in Europe was great preparation for young riders because I was able to jump several big classes over there.” Not only did this pair contribute to their team gold, but they also went home with overall individual silver.

Each team member rode their heart out for themselves, each other, and Ralph Caristo. Caristo is the Zone 2 coach who has witnessed his fair share of wins for his zone. This highly decorated coach’s list of accomplishments include being inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame and receiving the inaugural Caristo Cup at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championship in 2005.

Caristo’s biggest advice for his team before the week started was to have fun. “It’s a competition with a team format that not a lot of riders have the opportunity to ride in,” Caristo shared with JN. “When you have the chance to be a part of a great team you really need to enjoy every moment.”

Each rider on the Zone 2 team agreed to enter the ring with the goal of completing a round they would be proud of. The teammates echoed the mantra ‘do it for Ralph’ throughout the weekend as motivation. Caristo does not anticipate slowing down as Chef d’Equipe anytime soon. He claims his love for the sport, the horses and his team brings him the greatest happiness and enjoyment.