Jessica Springsteen, who was an alternate rider for the 2012 Olympic team, was in town over the weekend to compete at the first Longines Los Angeles Masters, an elite show jumping event at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Springsteen, who was recently named one of Gucci’s equestrian ambassadors, sat down with beginning equestrian competitor Hannah Mitchell, the 13-year-old daughter of Sports Now editor Houston Mitchell, to discuss how she got started and her Olympic goals.
Do you remember your first horse when you were a kid?
Well, I had a paint pony called Half-Pint and I rode her in Madison Square Garden and that was my first big show. But my first real pony was this red pony called Chantal. He was absolutely amazing. He was a great pony, except he did spin me off a couple of times! I would blink and then I would be on the floor. He would spin around so fast I just couldn’t stay on! But that was good because it taught me to be a little bit tougher.
When did you know that show jumping is something you wanted to compete in?
There was no real moment where I decided this was something I wanted to do. Because I started doing it when I was so young. So it was something that sort of happened naturally, because I had horses at my farm. I grew up across the street from a big junior farm, so I was kind of lucky. I started doing it a little more seriously. Then I started training with Laura Kraut in Europe. It was about four years ago, my first summer in college and I decided “OK, this is something I want to do as a professional.” The atmosphere in Europe is so incredible, it’s one of their really big sports there.
Can any young horse be taught to become a show jumping horse?
I don’t think so. I think some horses are meant to do ... eventing or dressage. We have Western horses who canter around. I think it takes, especially at the level I’m at now, it takes a horse that wants to do it.
What advice would you give to young girls who want to become show jumpers?
Just stick with it. This is a tough sport where you are constantly moving up. Once you’ve mastered one level, you have to go to the next level, where you start at the bottom again. So I think it’s hard, especially for myself. Without my parents, I wouldn’t be where I am. They are constantly pushing me, saying, “You can do it.” So just keep at it and work hard. When you do it well it’s really an amazing feeling, especially when you bond with your horse.
What advice would you give to young girls looking to buy their first horse of any kind?
I think, because this sport can be really expensive, that you decide if this is something you really want to pursue, something that you really love and want to dedicate a lot of time to. Really think about that and if it is the direction you want to take your life.
Is it hard to have friends when you are traveling the world and competing all the time?
For me, I was very lucky, because a lot of kids in this sport get home-schooled. But I did a normal high school. My best friend in high school was always so supportive of my career. I went to college and I kind of did it half-and-half. It was tough but it was still worth it to me. I met lifelong friends at college, and they love coming to watch me ride at the shows whenever they can, even when they didn’t always know what was going on. And then you meet friends competing. There is such an amazing group of young riders right now that are doing school and competing. We all try to support each other.
Do you ever dream of winning an Olympic gold medal?
I do. I did the trials two years ago, just to kind of test it out. It was a really good experience and made me really want to go to the Games. I’ll try again in another two years and hopefully this time I will make it.