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Jessica Springsteen – “The connection you develop with the horses is something really special”

Thursday, 31 January 2019
Interview

Photo (c) World of Showjumping / Jenny Abrahamsson Jessica loves the intensity of competing: “In the ring, for those 90 seconds or however long, you just zone out, you are only focused on what you are doing,” she says. Photo (c) World of Showjumping / Jenny Abrahamsson.

With nearly a thousand starts at international level during the past eight years, competing with over twenty different horses, USA’s Jessica Springsteen has settled into the hectic life of a professional showjumper. The past year was surely her busiest yet, with over a quarter of her international appearances made in 2018. Jessica is by now a household name at five-star level, competing against her own childhood idols – something the 27-year-old never thought would be possible. “I remember being very little, watching riders like McLain Ward, Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut compete in Florida – thinking ’Oh my, I am never going to be at that level’,” Jessica smiles. 

Jessica was introduced to horses through her mother, and was quickly smitten. “My mum had always wanted to ride when she was younger,” Jessica tells. “When we moved from California to New Jersey – to a farm – my mum started taking lessons and then I started as well. We happened to be right across the street from Beacon Hill Showjumping Stables, which is a huge equitation stable,” she continues. ”I started taking lessons there and then it kind of escalated.”

“Growing up in New Jersey, it was a very normal upbringing. I think it was clever of my parents to have us raised there. As a child, it was nice for me to have something that I was so focused on and worked really hard with. I was able to take a lot of confidence from the sport, too,” Jessica tells looking back at the early beginnings with the horses and how it benefitted her as a young girl.

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson “For me, what I love most about this sport is the relationship you have with the animals,” Jessica says – here with Fleur de l'Aube in Geneva last year. Photo (c) World of Showjumping / Jenny Abrahamsson.

“My parents love the sport as well. They have been so supportive and are passionate about it too, which is a nice thing to share with them,” Jessica tells – quickly adding that her father and mother are the most influential people in her life. “There have been so many ups and downs, and they have always pushed me whenever I have been feeling down. They always helped me get through it. I would not be where I am today, if it wasn’t for them,” she continues. “When I was younger, they would come to many of the shows with me which was nice back then when I didn’t know so many people. Now, I am kind of settled in to where I am, and they have been working a little bit more,” Jessica tells about her close-knit family. “But, whenever they can, they come over to watch. And I can always go home when I need to.” 

That pursuing a professional career in showjumping was what she really wanted to do, became clear to Jessica during her first year in college. “That is kind of the time – in the States at least – to make a decision on whether you’re going to try and do both, or stop riding and just focus on school,” Jessica explains. “It was never a question for me to stop riding, I definitely wanted to keep doing it. But I really wanted to go to school to see if there was anything else that I was as passionate about.” 

It was a trip to Europe that would have Jessica make up her mind.  “The summer after my freshman year our federation sent a group of young riders to compete in Nations Cups in Europe,” Jessica recalls. “At the time, I was training with Laura Kraut and that was my first summer competing in Europe. It just opened my eyes to a whole different world,” she says. “That was for me, when I realized that this was what I really wanted to do.” 

What drew Jessica to the sport, and what – to this day – is her biggest motivation, is the connection with the horses. “For me, what I love most about this sport is the relationship you have with the animals,” she tells. “There is really no other sport like it, and I think the connection you develop with the horses is something really special. That is what has drawn me to it since I was little, and that is what I still love the most about it: How in sync you can be with your horse. Once you’ve created that partnership, the horses can read what you are thinking before you even ask them to do it,” she says. “And I think it is really cool that men and women can compete against each other in our sport,” she adds with a smile. 

Photo (c) Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans Jessica Springsteen is by now a household name at five-star level. Photo (c) Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans.

In addition to the connection with her horses, Jessica loves the intensity of competing. “In the ring, for those 90 seconds or however long, you just zone out, you are only focused on what you are doing,” she explains. “I think especially these days when there is so much going on in the world, it is nice to have an escape like that. You are really not thinking about anything else in that moment. I love competing.” 

Now 27-years-old, Jessica has trained with some of the biggest names in the sport: Laura Kraut, Edwina Tops-Alexander and currently with Helena Stormanns. All successful, strong riders - and all women. 

“No, it was not conscious,” Jessica smiles when we ask if the gender had anything to do with her choice of coach. “However, having a trainer with a bit of a similar style to yours – I think is beneficial. They can relate to the type of a ride you like to have on a horse. At this level, it is so important to have the right amount of control, to feel confident,” Jessica explains. “And I think confidence is everything in this sport. Believing that you can do it, it really goes so far and shows in your results. All three of them really gave me confidence.” 

“Helena works for Monica and Frank McCourt, so she manages the Rushy Marsh Farm-horses,” Jessica says about her current coach. “Helena has been great. Working with her has come alongside my first time riding for owners, which is a whole new experience and a totally different kind of pressure. She does a great job managing the horses and getting them to perform their best. I think it really took my riding to a new level.” 

Photo (c) Hippo Foto / Ken Braddick. “Laura has been a very influential person in my riding career, and still is,” Jessica says. Photo (c) Hippo Foto / Ken Braddick.

Laura, Edwina and Helena have all played a huge part in Jessica’s career. “I think I have learned so many different things from each of them, which I’ve been able to take with me and incorporate into my riding now,” she says. “When I first started training with Laura, I had just gotten out of the equitation where you are kind of drilled to have it in your mind to keep it all looking smooth and effortless – as pretty as possible,” Jessica continues. “For a while, I was trying to jump Grand Prix classes while doing everything as beautiful as possible and Laura was like ’no, you have to be strong! You have to be tough, you have to really fight for it!’” Jessica laughs as she looks back at the beginning of her career. “Laura really taught me how to fight for those clear rounds and to be competitive at top level. She gave me a lot of confidence. She was always one of my idols growing up, so being able to train with her was really exciting for me.” 

“Laura has been a very influential person in my riding career, and still is,” Jessica continues. “I think that she is an amazing role model and I learned so much from her. She is such a team player, and she really opened my eyes to the showjumping world here in Europe. She can ride any type of horse, and she really loves her horses. And I think that is really nice to see: She always sees the best in her horses.” 

In 2015, Jessica moved her horses to Netherlands, basing herself in Valkenswaard – where she was training with Edwina Tops-Alexander. By then Jessica had finished her studies and had more time to focus on her horses. “Edwina really has such an amazing attention to detail,” Jessica says about her Aussie mentor. “She is also such a fighter and such a hard worker. Her eye for the right type of horses is incredible; I got some really amazing horses through her and Jan,” Jessica tells. “With Edwina, I learned a lot about management. Edwina really helped me form a team for myself, a team that I still have with me now, which is amazing,” she says. “That is something I really learned from her; how important it is to have the right people around you.” 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "Believing that you can do it, it really goes so far and shows in your results," Jessica says.

Jessica’s closest team members are her two grooms; Esther Bukkems and Josie Eliasson. “Esther has worked for me for about four years now and we have developed such a good relationship,” Jessica starts to tell about the two girls that look after her horses. “In the beginning, Esther came to all the shows with me. Now she has actually wanted to stay more at home and ride the horses while I am gone. She does such an amazing job with the horses. She’s gone above and beyond, and I can really trust her while I am away. She takes care of everything – I don’t even have to ask her to do things, she just knows,” Jessica tells. “She puts so much time into it, and she really loves it, and the horses can definitely feel that!” 

“Josie started working for me a few months later and this year she’s been coming to all the shows with me,” Jessica says. “She really enjoys coming to the shows and loves what she does so it’s always great energy to be around! She has worked a lot with the Rushy Marsh Farm-horses and has formed a great relationship with them as well. Josie and Esther are both so reliable, so nice to work with and fun to be around,” Jessica keeps complimenting her team. “I am lucky. Especially this year, I was at a show every week. Then you have to have people you trust.” 

Jessica has five horses of her own, but also competes a selection of the horses owned by the Wellington-based Rushy Marsh Farm. ”I met Rushy Marsh Farm’s Monica and Frank McCourt through Jan and Edwina,” Jessica explains about the connection. “I had wanted to go to Florida while I was training with Edwina, so she and Jan organized a place for me to stay. While I was stabled at Rushy Marsh Farm, Monica and I grew really close,” she continues. “In the fall of 2017, she asked me to ride one of her mares – RMF Swinny du Parc. Swinny and me just clicked right away, it was a quick partnership. Then I started riding RMF Zecile – that click took a little bit longer, but now she is one of my favorite horses to ride. They're both very talented and competitive horses” Jessica tells. “At the time I didn’t have many horses going for myself and Monica was really generous and gave me the opportunity. The partnership just worked, and it evolved from there.”

Photo (c) Dirk Caremans Jessica in the the red US team jacket, which she hopes to be wearing more often in the future. Photo (c) Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans.

Looking towards the new year, Jessica is going to keep on sharing her time between US and Europe. “With Monica and Frank’s RMF horses we really focus on the Global Champions League, and that starts really early this year,” she tells about her plans for 2019. “So, I think I will probably come back to Europe right away after Wellington.”

“We had a really good season this year,” she says about her GCL team Miami Celtics. “We really came together as a team and everyone is so much fun to be around. I think next year will be a good one for us.”

As a long-term goal, Jessica has her eyes set on the red US team jacket. “I definitely want to make some championship teams, at some point in the future,” she says. “This year I would like to ride on more Nations Cup teams, if possible.”

With her years in the sport, Jessica is no stranger to plans not working out however. “I think I get through the bad days just because I love the horses so much,” she says when asked how she tackles the everyday obstacles a life with horses throws at you. “I think in this sport, you lose more than you win. You have to learn from failure and take things away from that, and have it help you for the next round. You can have three competitions in one day; if the first one is bad, you cannot dwell on it.”

“It is easy to get defeated, but you have to brush it off and move on.”

 

 


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen 

Photos © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson as well as Hippo Foto by Dirk Caremans and Ken Braddick

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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