For U.S. Equestrian Team veteran Lisa Jacquin, this is "the year." She has a world-class horse, a record of major international wins in 1987--and the determination to ride in the 1988 Olympics.
Jacquin, 25, who trains at Seahorse Stables in Rolling Hills Estates, has been long-listed for the team's show jumping squad. This spring she will compete in Olympic selection trials on the East Coast and will hope that her name appears afterward on the final roster--known as the "short list"--for the summer Games in Seoul.
Although the grand prix jumping circuit often takes Jacquin far from California, she is a familiar face on the county equestrian scene. She regularly brings a string of students to hunter-jumper shows at Huntington Central Park and Orange County Fair equestrian centers. Jacquin in a veteran competitor in the Oaks grand prix in San Juan Capistrano, the county's most prestigious jumping event, which she uses to give mileage to young jumpers she is training.
Jacquin, who enjoys working with young horses, recently bought a 3-year-old California-bred thoroughbred that had been a race track competitor.
"He's a wild man right now," she said with a laugh, "but he's shown some real jumping potential. When he settles down, I think he's going to be really something."
In the meantime, her focus is on For The Moment, the veteran grand prix jumper on whom her Olympic hopes rest. She bought the 16.1-hand bay thoroughbred gelding in 1982, when she was working at the Fairfield Riding Club in Connecticut with Olympic rider Leslie Burr Lenehan.
She describes "Fred," as the horse is nicknamed, as "very sensitive to ride but difficult to train" because of his high-strung temperament.
"It took me three years to get him really broken to jump," Jacquin said. "There has been a lot of compromising in training him. He's not the kind of horse you can force into anything. He's going to do what you want, but he's going to do it his way."
She says the horse has become more ridable with age but has become fussier about the type of footing he'll jump in.
"He hates heavy footing and doesn't like to jump in mud because he's a very careful horse. You can count on your fingers how many rails he's ever knocked down. But a lot of riders wouldn't put up with his silly hang-ups," she said.
Notwithstanding his quirks, For The Moment has accomplished much in the competitive world of international show jumping. In 1987 he placed third in the World Cup finals in Paris and was on the silver medal-winning U.S. Equestrian Team jumping squad in the Pan American Games. For The Moment won six major grand prix events last year, including the American Invitational in Tampa, Fla. The pair completed 1987 with Jacquin ranked third in national Rider of the Year standings and For The Moment second in Horse of the Year standings.
"Fred always rises to the occasion," Jacquin said. "He loves jump-offs. If he's clean (without faults) in the first round, I'm confident that he'll go clean in the jump-off. He knows when the pressure's on, and he always comes through for me."
Jacquin learned to develop a rapport with horses as a youngster in Arizona, where she began taking riding lessons in first grade. When she was 12, renowned jumper trainer Kaye Love took her under her wing. Jacquin lived and trained daily at Love's farm, learning horsemanship from the ground up.
"If I rode eight horses who each used a different bridle, I had to clean all eight bridles afterward, even if it took me until 10 at night," Jacquin said. "Kaye really stressed discipline and doing things the right way. She made us earn our way into the horse world."
Those lessons paid off several years later, when Love took Jacquin to the East Coast to work with internationally acclaimed trainer George Morris. Known as a strict disciplinarian, Morris requires that students who come to him be total horsemen, not just riders.
As a junior rider under the tutelage of Morris and Love, Jacquin placed second in the Medalfinals at Harrisburg, Pa. She still considers the equitation win one of her major accomplishments.
"Equitation is the most challenging part of riding," she said. "You have to use your legs and seat effectively as a rider and manage to look pretty while you're doing it. I think equitation brings it all together in riding."
For Jacquin, everything else seems to be coming together this season. Next month she will put For The Moment in intensive training for the Olympic selection trials that begin in May.
"In our sport, you've got to take your shot when you have the horse," she said. "And my horse is peaking now. He's sound, he's healthy and he knows his job. I've worked all my life to get this far, and now is my chance to go for it. I may not have the same chance again."
With that in mind, Jacquin is already preparing for another career: She is a USC law student. But she won't completely forsake the riding arena for an oak-paneled office.
"I do hope to practice law someday," she said. "But I'll always be involved with horses somehow. Horses have been a part of my life ever since I can remember. I wouldn't be myself if I weren't around them."
Darlene Sordillo, an author of two books on horse training, covers equestrian sports for The Times. Readers may send horse-related news to her at: Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626.