Sunday Express - S
Jessica Springsteen talks Ellie Kelly about Olympic dreams, life on the road and being Bruce’s daughter
Making a name for herself in show jumping, Bruce’s daughter has well and truly stepped out of her father’s shadow
Jessica Springsteen is not what you would expect. It might be fair to assume the daughter of one of the world’s biggest rock stars would be decorating the pages of Vanity Fair, holidaying and partying with the jet set.
Far from it. Instead, the 27-year-old champion show jumper is more likely to be found in the stables and on the cover of Horse & Hound than in a lifestyle magazine. She spends most days training, competing and focusing on her Olympic ambitions.
“Representing my country has been a childhood dream,” she reveals. “There is nothing like being part of a team. The
Olympics is the ultimate goal but it is all about timing. You need your horses to be going well for you at the right time – and we have a lot of good riders in the US.”
For a decade, Jessica has been making her mark on the global show-jumping stage. She is ranked 74th in the world and has been making regular appearances with the American team over the past five years. In 2018 she was selected for prestigious team championship Longines FEI Nations Cup Final and has again helped the US team qualify. She is a consistent performer at the top 5* level, winning more than £1 million in prize money.
Jessica arrives for our interview in jodhpurs and her US team coat just hours before she is due to compete in the Nations Cup qualifying competition at Hickstead, Sussex. This is a huge occasion – the selectors will be assessing her performance ahead of next year’s Olympic Games. But if she was nervous, she hid it well, displaying a warm and gentle manner but making clear her determination to succeed.
“You have to be as cool-headed as possible in this sport,” she explains. “Your horse feels your energy, especially at the big competitions when there is the atmosphere from the arena and the crowd to add to it.”
This sounds rather like her father’s sell-out shows, although Jessica disagrees. “What my dad does is very different. He often says, ‘But it’s the same. You are performing in front of thousands of people.’ I don’t feel like that when I am going in. Dad gets excited, whereas I feel nervous before and then completely focused when I am in the arena.”
Her philosophy for managing nerves is simple. “Enjoy it as much as you can because that is when you perform your best,” she says, perhaps harking back to the psychology degree she achieved at North Carolina’s Duke University. “Before I go in I try to remember that this is what I love. When I was little I used to watch some of the riders I am competing against today and never thought I would have this chance. I am so lucky to be able to do what I love every day.”
Jessica’s is a natural, graceful beauty, like her mother Patti Scialfa, the singer-songwriter who features on Bruce’s Born In The USA and who introduced Jessica to horses as a toddler. She has been crazy about them ever since.
Growing up on the family farm in New Jersey, Jessica describes an idyllic rural life. Rumour has it, her parents moved there to keep Jessica and her two brothers away from the paparazzi. There was never any pressure to follow in their footsteps. “I took piano lessons but I only wanted to ride and I definitely have more talent with horses than an instrument,” she laughs. “I don’t even really listen to Dad’s music. Although I have always loved going to his live shows.”
Her parents were supportive and influential but never pushy, she says. “They are not competitive and have quietly motivated me without any pressure. They love to see me do well but are just as happy when I don’t.”
Bruce is 70 this month, still performing and loves supporting his daughter. “This has become such a big passion for my parents and they love to come to shows to watch. For Dad, he finds it really relaxing. If Mum can’t make it, she watches every round on live streaming. She is always the first one to text or call me straight after.”
The global nature of the sport, which is seeing huge growth, means riders are under pressure to compete at shows around the world every week. An increasingly professional sport, the necessity to chase qualifications, gain FEI ranking points and impress selectors is always rising. Then there are colossal expenses to pay for these expensive equine athletes, which means winning enough prize money to keep the wheels turning.
Jessica now spends most of the year in Europe, with her horses. “The beginning of this year was crazy,” she says. “We went to 15 shows in a row, without a break. I was living out of a suitcase.
“This is an all-consuming sport so you never mentally check out. There is never any off time because even when you take a day off riding you are thinking about your horses at home and what you can do to improve your performance. But then that is also what makes this sport so special when it goes well because you put so much thought and time into it. All for this 90 seconds spent in the ring. Just you and your horse, completely focused, and that is my favourite part.
“You definitely have more lows than highs and as riders we just appreciate that is part of it. You can be at the top of the sport and maybe a couple of your horses get injured and it writes off the whole year and all sorts of chances.”
when the going gets tough, though, her mum and dad are the first people she turns to. “They are great. They understand what it’s like to travel so much and how exhausting that can be. They always remind me that when you find a passion like this in your life, it’s really rare. They encourage me to push through the hard times and to recognise that when you are working with animals there are always going to be ups and downs.”
Europe, where many leading riders are based, is the epicentre of show jumping. But it offers more than horse heaven for Jessica.
She smiles as she discusses her boyfriend of 18 months. Lorenzo de Luca is also a show jumper and ranked 18th in the world. while in Europe, she and her horses stay at his Belgium stables.
The dashing Italian is regarded as one of the sport’s nice guys. He makes regular appearances on her Instagram page, which conveys the journey of a perfect match travelling the world to pursue their sporting dreams.
They work, train and compete alongside each other yet still get on famously. Their perfect date involves going for a dame blanche – the Belgian equivalent of an ice-cream sundae. “we spend a lot of time together and it is fun. He helps me and I can always ask him for advice and tips. I miss home and my family and friends but the show circuit is the best in Europe, so it makes sense.”
Above all, though, it is Jessica’s passion for horses that gets her out of bed, often at unsociable hours. She describes her horses with a glowing almost girlish excitement. “what I love most about show jumping is the relationship you build with your horses,” she says. “You have to earn their trust and then they will try their hardest for you.”
To Jessica, show jumping has been about more than sporting prowess and Olympic dreams.
It has been about forming an identity and making her own mark on the world. “Growing up as the daughter of Bruce Springsteen, it was nice for me to have something I could succeed in and focus on.”●s