By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
Growing up, Zayna Rizvi put fashion ahead of function when it came to her riding attire. “I would only ride my first pony, Buttons, in a princess outfit. I refused to wear regular riding clothes and only wanted to ride in my tutu,” she said.
The 2021 Maclay Finals winner has since shed her tutu and these days can be found sporting breeches and boots as she tackles the jumper ring in the High Juniors, U25 series, the FEI classes in the two-star and three-star divisions and occasionally makes her way back into some equitation classes.
Immersed in the equestrian life from the start, Zayna can be found, if she isn’t doing schoolwork, in the barn trying to refine her riding as she aims to move up the ranks in international competitions.
With a mother who’s been trotting down centerline since before Zayna was born, it was only a matter of time before Zayna found herself in the saddle. “I sat on a pony for the first time when I was only 3 years old, started competing at the age of 5 and have been doing it ever since,” Zayna said.
Growing up on the family farm in Connecticut, Zayna and her older sisters, Yasmin and Farah, had the opportunity to ride every day. Zayna believes that easy access to ponies and horses had a huge impact on her falling in love with horses and the sport. “I always looked forward to coming home after school and being able to walk over to the barn with my sisters to get our ponies ready,” she said. “My parents would walk down to the ring to watch us ride every day.”
Although neither her father nor her brother ride, they both support the Rizvi ladies when it comes to their equestrian endeavors, attending as many competitions with them as possible. “Having such a supportive family who understands all the highs and lows associated with being an equestrian has been incredibly helpful and encouraging in my riding career so far,” Zayna said. “It’s amazing that we have horses as something we can all enjoy together.”
One of Zayna’s favorite memories, growing up with ponies at home, involves the girls with their own live version of ‘My Little Pony.’ “We had mini ponies and would jump them around giving each other ‘lessons’ on them. Afterwards we would treat them to a spa day complete with bath, braiding their manes and tails and applying hoof polish,” Zayna said.
The sisterly bonding extended to the show circuit where the trio competed alongside each other. “When I did my first-ever jumper class, on a large pony, Farah trained me. As we walked the course, which was set on the horse stride, she told me to just add in every line. Once I was on course, she was yelling at me to go faster because she really wanted me to win,” Zayna said. “That for sure was a day I will never forget! We had so much fun traveling together to the shows.”
While a supportive family gave Zayna a leg up to success in the sport, she credits one of her first trainers, Christine Trigger, with equipping her with the strong riding foundation she still relies on today. “Christine brought me all the way from the walk-trot classes to doing my first jumper classes on a horse. I wouldn’t be where I am without her,” Zayna said.
A specialist in developing young riders, Christine suggested Zayna join Yasmin and Farah at North Run when she was 10 years old. “Once I reached a certain level and was ready to start competing in more jumper classes, Christine brought me to North Run and the rest is history,” she said.
Even though her sisters were already at the barn, making the transition to North Run was a big step for Zayna. “It was very overwhelming at first to be surrounded by so many kids, as I was always pretty shy and quiet. I was also the youngest rider there by a significant amount, so I had to learn how to socialize with kids much older than me, but I eventually came out of my shell,” Zayna said.
Now that Zayna has cracked through her shell, she considers everyone at North Run to be her second family. “I have made some of my closest friends through the barn. It’s so nice to spend my days in such a warm, friendly environment where we are all so close,” she said.
Having that second family at North Run has been key to Zayna’s success. “John Brennan, Missy Clark, Maggie Gampfer and everyone at North Run took the love, respect and passion for the sport that Christine instilled in me and helped me take it to the next level,” she said. “They have taught me to be a better athlete and shown me true horsemanship, both inside and outside of the show ring.
One Perfect Day
In 2018, Zayna was paired up with her mount, Finnick, to compete at the Maclay Regionals. From that first trip around the ring, Zayna and Finnick just clicked. “He’s such a great teacher and always took care of me,” Zayna said. Together, the duo garnered top placings in the 2019 USEF Medal Finals and WIHS Equitation Finals; 2020 USEF Medal Finals, USET Talent Search East and WIHS Equitation Finals; and were the 2021 USEF Medal Final Reserve Champions.
November 7, 2021, is a day Zayna will never forget as she and Finnick rose to the occasion and won the 2021 Maclay Finals. Going 32nd out of 175 entries, Zayna laid down an impeccable trip, which put her on top prior to being tested on the flat.
“I was pretty nervous throughout the day because I was sitting on top after the first round and wanted to try and maintain that position. After the flat, I was still on top but I ended up moving to second after the second round,” Zayna said. “When I walked back in for the final test, I thought to myself, Take no prisoners! which is one of Missy’s favorite quotes and one that came to me in the moment. I knew I had nothing to lose, so I just went out there and tried my best.”
Then the waiting came. As the riders lined up, the announcer called results in reverse order to keep the suspense up until the very end. Eventually just two riders remained in the center of the ring without ribbons, Zayna and Catalina Peralta.
“It was at that moment the indoor went silent and I could hear my heart beating; I was extremely nervous. When they announced Catalina in second, I knew I had won. It was such a joyous moment, and I was just so proud of myself and Finnick,” she said. “After working so hard all year to get to the National Horse Show, it was so rewarding to know all the long days and work my team and I had put in was worth it.”
Set Up for the Future
The equitation ring gave more than accolades and memories to Zayna; the technical courses she jumped around with Finnick and others prepared Zayna for her future in the jumper ring. “Doing equitation was so important, as it taught me invaluable lessons that have helped me become a better jumper rider,” she said.
Zayna got her first taste of competing on a team in 2019 at the Palm Beach FEI Nations Cup at Deeridge. “Calvaton Z helped me win my first team and individual gold medals on the Children’s Team at the Nations Cup,” Zayna said.
As she’s moved up the ranks, she’s savored each experience. “One of my favorite wins was at the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC). When I came out of the ring after going clear on Excellent, it was such an amazing feeling to know that I had secured the gold medal for the second year in a row on the same horse,” Zayna said. “Excellent has given me immense confidence in the jumper ring and is just the sweetest horse in the barn.”
Not only did Excellent and Zayna have success individually at NAYC, but they were also part of the 2021 gold medal team and 2022 silver medal team. With an eye towards the future, Zayna is absorbing all the knowledge she can about what it takes to be on a team. “Being able to develop a sense of teamwork is a great stepping stone for us young riders to hopefully one day represent the USA at the top level of the sport. I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to represent the USA on both Junior and Young Rider teams,” she said.
In a sport that is typically an individual pursuit, being part of a team adds a new aspect to competing for riders. “To have a whole team of people relying on you to perform your best can be very nerve-wracking, but it’s also an amazing learning experience. It’s really important to learn how to work with other riders and support each other regardless of the results,” Zayna said.
As Zayna ends her Junior career, she hopes to continue to do well consistently in the FEI classes and jump a three-star Grand Prix. “Exquise Du Pachis has taken me around my biggest courses so far and has been showing me the ropes at the next level that I’m moving up to,” she said.
Like many others nearing the end of their Junior years, Zayna is figuring out the next steps for college. “I’m in the middle of that process right now and considering all of my options,” Zayna said. Regardless of what she decides, Zayna intends to keep horsing around. “My long-term goal is to compete at the most prestigious venues in the world, including the Olympics and World Equestrian Games.”
When thinking about the future, Zayna reflects on the strong foundation of love she’s received from her parents. “None of this would be possible without them. I’m so grateful to have their continued support,” she said. “My parents have always kept me motivated and taught me so many important lessons I carry with me every day.”
Photos by Melissa Fuller, melissafullerphotography33.mypixieset.com