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Off to the Races

By Charlotte Otremba

Photographed by Kelly Klein

12.25.18

Don’t let her age fool you: Jessica Springsteen has all the trappings of a seasoned Equestrian rider. The record shows it. Warming up to ponies on her farm at the age of 5 alongside her mother, she went from nervous pony rides (“I would fall off all the time!”) to winning world championships—and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Elite equestrian Jessica Springsteen’s voice lightens at the mere mention of her beloved riding partners. It was the animals she fell for before the sport itself, she explains. “I remember being little … I just would love to go to the barn and take care of the horses—more than ride, I just liked to brush them, give them baths, go on walks, just be around them. That was kind of what I fell in love with at first.” It soon became a family affair: her mom, her mom’s horses, her dad (yes, that Springsteen), and Jessica and her pony packed up to begin competing at local shows. “I have amazing memories of being at the local shows with my family.”

Springsteen initially rode in equitation classes, sacrificing a typical high-school experience to compete. “I would leave for three months and not go to school, so I really did not have a normal high school experience.,” she says. It paid off. In 2007, she won the Christy Conard Perpetual Trophy for Equestrian Excellence, the 2008 national championship and the 2009 Excellence in Equitation Championship. She then made the switch to pure show jumping, a natural next step for competitive riders for the more clear-cut judging approach: The goal is the fastest, cleanest round, and points are knocked for faults, like hitting a rail down, rather than style. “You either win or you don’t,” adds Springsteen. It was the right move; she won the 2010 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, was selected for Senior Nations Cup teams and competed in the 2012 London Olympic trials. Springsteen trained under Olympic champion Laura Kraut, who showed her the importance of taking that extra push. “She’s such a fighter,” says Kraut of Springsteen. “You can see when she’s riding, she really goes the extra mile. She’s just always so consistent in everything she rides. It’s amazing to have the kind of versatility and to be able to be calm under pressure.”

In 2014, Springsteen won the American Gold Cup; in 2016, her first five-star Grand Prix at the HITS Championship; and in 2017, won the Falcon Stakes CSI5* at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. At the time of this interview, she placed second with her team, the Miami Celtics, at the Global Champions League in Doha, Qatar, bumping her ranking up to No. 6 in the U.S. and No. 68 in the world, based on the United States Equestrian Federation and the Longines world ranking list.

“You go through so many phases in your career because obviously a big part of it is the horse, the partnership you have. It’s not always predictable. ”

While there was buzz around her name at the time of rider considerations for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Springsteen wasn’t selected. But if she’s phased by the possible snub, she doesn’t show it. She’s focused instead on the upcoming 2020 Tokyo games, preparing for the lineup of team competitions that serve as a preliminary trial. She adds, “You go through so many phases in your career because, obviously, a big part of it is the horse, the partnership you have. It’s not always predictable. Your mindset plays a really big role in this sport. Confidence really goes a long way when you’re in the ring; you can’t be nervous or scared because the horse can really pick up the emotions. It’s a huge part of it.”

Choosing the right horse for the right competition is a crucial piece of the competition puzzle. With nine currently in rotation, each horse has different personalities, strengths and comfort levels (dependent on anything from venue type, height and type of competition). Springsteen must meticulously plan for competitions far ahead of time for her horses to excel. It’s no small feat: the Longines Global Champions Tour alone has 17 stops across the world, from Mexico City to Monaco to Doha. “It’s hard. It really just depends on the horse. You really make them a priority and take them to the places where they’re going to do their best,” she explains.

While that pressure may weigh heavy on any rider, the calm determination in Springsteen’s voice paints a different picture. She recognizes it’s a winding journey, and the careful mix of skill, preparation, partnership and confidence ultimately lead to wins. “You have to be very patient and very determined, and keep working at it,” says Springsteen. The long-game mentality led her to choose a true college experience—social life and all—at Duke University, where she studied developmental psychology, even briefly toying with the idea of a new path altogether. But she couldn’t shake her love for riding. “It’s sort of always been what I wanted to do,” she says. “Growing up with horses taught me so many good values. I’m able to travel all around the world with my horse, doing what I love. It’s really a dream job for me, you know? I can’t really think of anything better. I’m really lucky that I get to do it.”

As Springsteen gets ready to return to Wellington for training, she's most excited about having a regular schedule—and hard-earned downtime. “Wellington has become home for me,” she says. “I can have a real life.” She regularly stops in Palm Beach too. Her favorite go-tos? “I love Imoto!” she exclaims. “And we always go to Echo.”
And with that, she’s off.

“You have to be very patient and very determined, and keep working at it.”