Jessica Springsteen USA Showjumpings Rising Star

NEW YORK — Bruce Springsteen sings, Jessica Springsteen rides. Father onstage, daughter on horseback. Bridging the gap betwixt show business and show jumping.

"Last summer I competed at the Dublin Horse Showand my dad had played concerts in the same exact venue," Jessica tells USA TODAY Sports. "It was, like, this cool kind of role reversal."

Boss meets hoss.

That was last August, when Springsteen won the Anglesea Stakes aboard Davendy S against a field of 52 international competitors in Ballsbridge, Ireland. Her father and mother — Patti Scialfa, also known as First Lady of the E Street Band — were among the madding crowd at RDS Arena, where they've often performed.

"They come to a ton of my shows," Jessica says. "When they come to watch, they're just supportive parents."

It's unclear just yet if dad and mom will be in Chantilly, France when their 23-year-old daughter rides at a Longines Global Champions Tour event July 16-19. (She pulled out of an event in Paris this weekend to rest her horses). But this much is clear: Questions about parentage are inevitable when your surname is Springsteen.

Even so, there's an unspoken benefit to her chosen sport: In the equestrian world, her name is increasingly her own. Perhaps that's a reason she rides.

"It was never really about that," Springsteen demurs. "I loved horses, and I loved this sport."

It's a sport built on vaulting difficult obstacles. Paging Dr. Freud: What could be a tougher leap than making her own name when her father's fame stretches from Jersey to Jakarta? Surely, given her psychology degree from Duke, there's some psychic level on which clearing this particular hurdle is deliciously liberating.

"When you see her in the ring, you don't think of her father," says Susie Schoellkopf, owner of SBS Farms, a top show stable in Buffalo. "You think of her as a rider."

Advised of this opinion, Springsteen flashes a glistening smile, like the Gucci model she is.

"That's nice to hear," she says. "It's definitely very separate, something I'm doing on my own, which is nice. I think working hard at anything when you're young and getting positive results, it's always an incredible feeling to see that."

Of late, results have not been as positive as she's used to. Springsteen is 18th in the Rolex/U.S. Equestrian Federation show jumping rankings list. Then again, last month SportsPro named her one of the top 50 most marketable athletes in the world. Cue the music: Glory Days.

Springsteen is polite enough not to groan at this, though she's heard them all. "Oh yeah," she says with a musical laugh. "Born to ride — I get that a lot."

Beezie Madden, No. 2 on the rankings list, has known Springsteen since she was a kid and someday hopes to know her as a teammate on the international stage.

"I think she's always had a special talent for riding and communicating with horses," Madden says. "The best thing about her is her levelheadedness and her ability to compete under pressure."

Show jumping pivots between sport and glamour. Gucci anointed Springsteen as one of its equestrian ambassadors; another is Charlotte Casiraghi, granddaughter of the late Princess Grace of Monaco.

"I met Charlotte the first time I went over to Europe to compete maybe four or five years ago," Springsteen says. "She's so sweet. It's kind of a small world. We're all competing at the same shows and you get to know everyone and we're all really close."

Casiraghi comes from royal blood while Springsteen is heir to her father's grittier sort of American royalty, even as she competes in riding wardrobes emblazoned with the Gucci crest and its echoes of heraldic royalty.

"I think the riding uniform has always been so classic, with the britches and the blazers," Springsteen says. "And they've held on to that throughout the years, which I think is cool. My friends will sometimes say, 'Why don't you wear these clothes out?' "

Show jumping is dotted with offspring of the rich and famous, including Destry Spielberg, Jennifer Gates and Georgina Bloomberg, who is on the U.S. team for next month's Pan American Games. Family money helps when top horses can cost millions.

Springsteen bought Vindicat W a month after the 2012 London Olympic Games, where Britain's Peter Charles had ridden him in a jump-off to clinch an historic team gold. The fee was not disclosed but the Daily Mail noted at the time that "recently top class show jumpers have changed hands for as much as $8 million."

There's ample reason for well-heeled parents to want proven horses for their progeny, given the nature of 1200-pound animals on obstacle courses.

"Yeah, I mean every sport has its dangers," Springsteen says. "I've been pretty lucky, knock on wood. But I've had really confident, brave and smart horses growing up, which I think is important when you're young. You are working with massive animals over big fences and especially at this top level there is really no room for error."

Schoellkopf downplays the danger. "Look, anytime you're dealing with an animal, it's not a tennis racket," she says. "Can things happen? Yes. But with the right basics and the right training, it's really safer than you think."

Springsteen has had the right training. She says she climbed aboard her first pony at 3 and began riding lessons at 4 at a junior training farm near her family's 300-acre Stone Hill Farm in Colts Neck, N.J., where they keep horses. She moved up steadily through the ranks and through the years, earning her stripes.

"She followed all the right paths and didn't skip any steps," Schoellkopf says. "Jessica has worked very hard to get to the level she's at. People assume that because she comes from a wealthy background that that's all it takes — and that isn't even a quarter of it. The talent has to be there, the dedication has to be there and the focus has to be there."

Riders at this level are bona fide athletes who combine physical strength with mental agility as they guide their horses over fences as high as 1.6 meters (five feet, three inches) while carefully calculating approach, takeoff and landing points and maintaining mastery of their steed's stride and speed.

"The best riders in the world with the best horses make it look so elegant and graceful," Springsteen says. "When you watch it done well, it looks so easy that it's difficult for the public to understand how hard this really is."

Making the Olympics is hard too. Springsteen was an alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic equestrian team. Schoellkopf says Springsteen has the right stuff to make the 2016 team but that so do a dozen or more others vying for four spots, plus one alternate. That's a lot of pressure.

"Yeah, it is, but you can't think of it that way," Springsteen says. "Every time I get nervous I try to remind myself I'm doing something I love and it's so much fun. And the good thing about this sport is you can do it into your 40s, 50s, 60s. So there's always next time if it doesn't work out this time."

There's that common ground between show biz and show jumping once more: Her father and mother are still rocking out in their 60s. Even so, there are others ways in which the world of rockers and riders differs: Hardly anyone notices if a rock star misses a chord, but all the world can see when a rider and her horse miss a jump.

"Musicians always get to sing it again," Springsteen's father once told The Chronicle of the Horse. "Riders get one shot."

 

Original article by Erik Brady published in USA Today

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