Jessica Springsteen of USA riding Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve 

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Olympics20 – quick stats – article

As the daughter of one of the biggest-selling music artists in history, you might expect Jessica Springsteen to have chosen the life of a socialite. Instead, the 29-year-old showjumper has trained and ridden almost every day of the year to achieve her dream of competing at an Olympic Games and on Friday she will represent the USA in the team showjumping competition.

It was Bruce’s wife, Patti Scialfa – a backing singer on the “Born in the USA” tour – who first introduced Jessica to horses as a toddler. Springsteen senior had bought a farm in New Jersey, at the time, allegedly to keep his family out of the limelight. Jessica became enamoured with riding, and her ambition to make a name of her own in this sphere has placed her firmly back in the spotlight. This time in her own right.

One of a number of heiresses involved in the sport – from Jennifer Gates to Eve Jobs – Jessica is the first to make it to this level, and in Tokyo she is representing the US at a major championships for the first time. Currently the highest placed female in the FEI World rankings in 14th, she competes in the showjumping team qualifying on Friday.

Her success, she says, is not a result of overbearing parents. “Dad has never been competitive with me. They obviously love to see me do well but are just as happy when I don’t. They try to come as much as they can and mum always watches online, no matter where she is in the world and what time it is. She is always the first one to send me a text when I have jumped a clear round. They have been so supportive and encouraging without adding pressure.”

Equestrian sport is often considered elitist, but no matter your financial background or social status most riders will tell you that it comes with more lows than highs. “When you are dealing with animals, you have to appreciate that it often doesn’t go to plan,” she says. “You can be at the top of the sport and then your horses might get injured and your back down at the bottom, until you build yourself up again.”

Having the Olympics postponed has proved a huge advantage to Jessica, and her horse Don Juan. “It has given me time to build my partnership over the last year. I am now really confident,” she says of the imposing bay stallion whose Belgian breeders say has always preferred female riders. “I’ve had him for about two years. He’s super brave. He’s so talented, does everything so easy and he really gives me a lot of confidence when I am going into the ring. Because he’s so reliable, that gives me a really good feeling for my first experience at a championship.” 

As much as she is happy to talk about her father’s success, Jessica is keen to make it clear that this is a career of her own making – an outlet for her competitive spirit, in an arena beyond the shadow of her famous father. “I picked up riding really young and that was all I wanted to focus on growing up. To have something I could work towards and succeed in as a child was really important.”   

When it comes to a performance mindset, though, Springsteen Jr is a chip off the old block. Jessica believes that her Psychology degree, earned at the Ivy League university, Duke, proved useful to her sporting career. “Having the right mindset is everything, especially in this sport. Confidence is half the battle – if you are unafraid and you feel that you are capable of winning the class, then it is more likely that you are going to have a great result. It plays a huge role because the horse senses fear.” Although unable to qualify for the individual final in Tokyo, that approach proved itself as she finished as the best American rider in a showjumping team which includes two of the world’s top ten – Kent Farrington and McLain Ward.

Still, Jessica wouldn’t describe herself as an extrovert. “What my dad does is very different. I hate public speaking or anything like that and my parents said, “but you’re riding in front of thousands of people” but you don’t feel like that when you are going in the ring. Dad gets more excited I would say rather than nervous.”

Bruce Springsteen, left, daughter Jessica Springsteen, center, and wife Patti Scialfa, pictured in 2019

Credit: AP

Spending her winters in Wellington, Florida and her summers in Europe, a packed schedule could total as many as 15 back-to-back shows. “[My parents] understand the lifestyle because it is similar to their own – lots of travelling, living out of suitcases and keeping a cool head under pressure,” she says. “Even if you have a day off riding, you are thinking about your horses. You never mentally check-out, but that is because I love horses and the relationship you have with your horse is so important and makes this sport so unique.” 

Jessica, whose brothers’ career paths have been as diverse as a New Jersey firefighter and another in the music industry, says their father instilled in them all the importance of passion. “Dad always reminds me that when you find a passion like this in your life, it’s really rare. Both my parents encouraged me to push through the hard times because there are always going to be so many ups and downs.” 

Fans of Bruce Springsteen and Jessica show their support

Credit: Bruce Springsteen Japan Facebook group

Due to the restrictions, her family will not be in Tokyo but they will be watching from back home. “This has become such a big passion for my parents, they love to come to the shows. They find it really relaxing.” Her boyfriend, Italian showjumper Lorenzo de Luca – who didn’t qualify for Tokyo – will also be on speed dial. “We spend a lot of time together – it’s great. We stable together and do the same shows, so it is a lot of fun. I can always ask him for advice and tips, which is great.”

As Jessica enters the ring on Friday, she will no doubt have the respect of other riders in this most difficult of disciplines. As her father once said, “Musicians get to sing it again, riders just get one shot”Jessica will be hoping that shot comes good in Tokyo.