Each week on #HallOfFameThursday, Horse Network recognizes members of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame with an inductee’s plaque, historical photos and, on the first Thursday of every month, an article written by a Show Jumping Hall of Famer. The following article from the program of the 1999 North American Young Riders Championships was written by a young Heather Caristo, currently a member of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame Board of Directors. She discusses how participating in “Young Riders” helped her on her way to what has become a successful career on the national and international show jumping circuit.

Heather Caristo of Hauppague, New York rode in the 1995-1198 Championships. 1998 winner of the USET’s Maxine Beard Show Jumping Developing Rider Award, Heather attended the Show Jumping World Cup Final in Helsinki, Sweden as an observer. She was accompanied by the other Maxine Beard Award winner, Jamie Schmidt of Holland, Pennsylvania, also a NAYRC veteran. Heather is a frequent competitor in the Grand Prix ring, and has competed across North America.

For the past four years, I have been privileged to represent my Zone at the NAYRC.

Each year, there were several qualifying shows prior to my being chosen for the team. The Selection Committee observed those who wished to go to this event and evaluated everyone. Fortunately, I made the Zone 2 Team four years in a row.

Being selected was step one on the long road to the competition. Our team then began training together under the supervision of that year’s chef d’equipe so as to get to know all the other horses, riders and trainers. We also were able to have clinics with top professionals in our zone. While we were all training as a team, the other parts of our “family” (mothers, fathers and friends) organized team trunks, banners, jackets, and horse show bags. Everyone played their part on our team and everything was taken very seriously, but always in the team spirit.

Once we got to where the competitions were held, we were always treated with the utmost respect and greeted by wonderful and helpful people. One of the most fun things each year was setting up our Zone tackroom. We had such a great time with Zone 2 this and Zone 2 that, tents, chairs, tables, plants, balloons – you name it, we had it!

When the actual competition started, we were ready. Every morning we had team flat work sessions; before the class we had team course walks; while showing we had team cheering sections. We all rooted for each other and no matter what happened, we were there for a hug, a smile or a pat on the back.

It was at these times when I started to realize just what it meant to be a part of a team. It used to be that I would show against these people each weekend, now I was riding alongside and supporting them. Even though the last class was for individual medals, I still hoped my teammates did well. After the NAYRC at later horse shows, our team still rooted each other on. Even if I was second in a class to another of our team, I was happy because it felt like I had won, too.

The NAYRC is a fabulous competition that I only wish more people could attend. How to be a team was merely one aspect that I learned. It is such a great opportunity to meet so many other riders from all over the country and all over North America. I have made friends that I normally would have never met and I still keep in touch with.

These shows were the first taste I had of an international competition with FEI rules to follow. It really helped prepare me for other international shows I have gone to in terms of the rules, the jog, the formats of the classes, the scoring system, etc.

Last year I had the amazing chance to go over to Helsinki, Finland and watch the World Cup. I was lucky enough to win the USET’s Maxine Beard Show Jumping Developing Rider Award which allowed me to attend the World Cup. Not only did I know exactly how everything was going to be run at the show, but I never would have even had a shot at winning the award if it wasn’t for my prior experiences and showing at the NAYRC. The medals I won at the NAYRC were taken into account when being selected for the Maxine Beard Award.

The NAYRC has opened countless doors for me. I can’t stress enough how much it has contributed to me as a rider and a person. Each year I have shown at the NAYRC it has been an incredible learning experience. It is one of my favorite horse shows and unlike any I’d been to before. It has been an honor to compete at the NAYRC and so much fun. Each year, win or lose, my hard work in getting there is paid off in full by the knowledge, friendships and fun times I’ve gained.

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