‘My parents followed their passion and they really encouraged me to do the same’: Meet Bruce Springsteen’s girl, showjumping star Jessica
Elaine Lipworth for You Magazine
Her father is Bruce Springsteen, whose seminal blue-collar, politically charged anthems – ‘Born to Run’, ‘Born in The USA’ – have inspired a devoted following across the globe. So was he a hard act to follow? Quite the opposite, says Jessica
It’s impossible to separate Jessica Springsteen’s surname from her rock royalty heritage.
Her father is Bruce Springsteen, whose seminal blue-collar, politically charged anthems – ‘Born to Run’, ‘Born in The USA’ – have inspired a devoted following across the globe.
Her mother is Patti Scialfa, Bruce’s second wife, his former backing singer and a member of the revered E Street Band. So was theirs a hard act to follow? Quite the opposite, says Jessica.
‘My parents followed their passion and they really encouraged me to do the same.’
And Jessica has done just that, establishing herself as a showjumping champion and now ranked among the world’s top 50 young equestrian stars.
I am meeting Jessica for lunch in a low-lit Italian restaurant in New York. Very pretty and rather reserved, in ripped jeans and a Rag & Bone T-shirt that couldn’t be further from the elegantly tailored outfits she wears as a Gucci equestrian ambassador, the 23-year-old confesses that none of The Boss’s iconic hits are on her own playlist.
‘I don’t listen to his music ever; it would be weird if I did. I just don’t listen to old music,’ she laughs, though she adds, ‘If I’m ever homesick, listening to my mum’s songs is so soothing. She has such a beautiful voice.’
Understandably, Jessica prefers the sounds of her own generation.
‘I don’t listen to his music ever; it would be weird if I did. I just don’t listen to old music. If I’m ever homesick, listening to my mum’s songs is so soothing, said Jessica (pictured with father Bruce and mother Patti)
‘I am obsessed with Taylor Swift – her songs are so good and so catchy,’ she says, gleefully relating how she attended one of the pop superstar’s concerts with a group of college friends and met her backstage.
‘Taylor was so sweet; we had the best time ever… I’m such a fangirl.’ (Other favourites are Charli XCX, Florence & the Machine and Lorde.)
Growing up, Jessica and her brothers Sam, 21, and Evan, 25, went on numerous world tours with their parents.
‘When we were little we would catch the first few songs of every show and then we would fall asleep.’
A little older, they witnessed adulation from adoring fans: ‘In the mid 90s it was crazy. I remember being at a huge stadium in Barcelona when thousands and thousands of people did ‘the wave’ [standing and saluting her father by waving and cheering]. I had never seen anything like it.’
And she admits now: ‘I love to go to his concerts with my friends – I’ve really started to appreciate the shows.’
For Jessica, a career in music was never an option.
‘I took piano lessons when I was younger, but I never followed through with it. My brothers both play guitar really well, and I’ve tried to play, but I just can’t do it. I wish I could.’
She has an apartment in the same Manhattan building as Evan: ‘He works at an alternative radio station and is always sending me cool songs.’
Sam, ‘the hero of the family’, is a fire fighter in New Jersey.
‘I’m so happy to see him doing something that he loves. All of a sudden he’s grown up into this big, macho guy,’ she says with obvious pride.
When Jessica was a toddler, the family moved from Beverly Hills to a 300-acre farm in Colts Neck, New Jersey (the state where Bruce and Patti were both born and raised) to give the children stability and a ‘normal’ life.
‘We were removed from the whole music scene. Everyone was so used to seeing my parents there that we weren’t treated as special,’ she says.
‘No matter what’s going on in your day, when you’re riding your horse the only thing you’re focusing on is that bond,’ said Jessica (pictured at the Monte Carlo Jumping Pro Am Cup in June)
Did any famous rockers come for dinner?
‘Not that I can remember; no one really lives in New Jersey,’ she smiles.
And did Bruce act as The Boss at home?
‘No, my mum is the one more in control of everything. My dad is very laid-back. My parents weren’t crazy strict; they are both easy-going.’
Surrounded by animals – ‘pigs, cows, tons of dogs and cats; we had ostriches for a while and each had our own little goat’ – the Springsteen children had regular chores.
‘I would feed the baby calves with a bottle. We loved going into the chicken coop and getting the eggs in the morning. And I can’t remember a time before I was riding,’ she says.
‘I’ve always loved horses. When I was about four, my parents used to put me and my brothers on the same pony and we would ride around together.
‘I was obsessed with brushing my ponies’ tails and braiding them.’
She became seriously interested in the sport when her mother started taking riding lessons: ‘I wanted to do it, too.’
Bruce, now 66, and Patti, 62, bought their horse-mad daughter her first show pony for her seventh birthday.
‘He was called Shamrock, and he was always bucking me off and being wild. But he toughened me up. My old trainer’s daughter rides him now. I never want to sell my horses,’ she says.
‘I bring them home to the farm and retire them.’
What Jessica loves about riding is ‘the connection you have with the horses. No matter what’s going on in your day, when you’re riding your horse the only thing you’re focusing on is that bond.
‘They get to know you and there is a strong trust between horse and rider.
‘They can kind of sense what you’re thinking. With some of my horses, I’ll think something and they’ll do it without me even asking them.’
Making a name for herself in the international showjumping circuit in her teens, with her first horse Deneuve (‘I was so nervous competing and she would always get me out of trouble’), Jessica had a single-minded focus that didn’t leave much time for socialising.
‘I would ride every day after school, all day at the weekends and I was constantly travelling for competitions as well as doing homework – I was boring, not a party girl,’ she says.
The small private school Jessica attended was very strict: ‘If you were caught chewing gum they would freak out.
‘I’ve always loved horses. When I was about four, my parents used to put me and my brothers on the same pony and we would ride around together,’ said Jessica (pictured competing in Monte Carlo in 2012)
‘Sometimes I wish I’d had more of a big high-school experience, but what was great was that they let me take off three months at a time to go and ride in Florida.’
The family owns a house in West Palm Beach.
Horses and ponies, farm animals, acres to play in – plus holidays in Greece and skiing in Idaho – sounds like every girl’s fantasy, and in many ways Jessica has a charmed life. But there were challenges to overcome, including a tendency towards perfectionism.
‘I was such a control freak; if I was late for school I wouldn’t want to go at all – my parents were always telling me to relax.’
She was also painfully shy.
‘Around my family I was open and funny and loud, but I was awkward and introverted with other people for a long time.
‘I had a few girlfriends who brought me out of my shell.’
Riding also helped her gain confidence, because ‘when you work hard at something and see the results it makes you feel good about yourself. And caring for an animal at such a young age gives you responsibility. It teaches you patience and understanding.’
Intent on pursuing showjumping as a career, she won medals at the 2010 North American Young Rider Championships and competed in the 2012 London Olympic trials, although she didn’t end up on the U.S. team.
Winning a place at the prestigious Duke University in North Carolina, she continued to ride while studying for her degree in psychology. Did her name and parentage make it difficult to forge real friendships there?
‘Not at all. I think once people get to know me they realise I’m a very normal, laid-back person.’
Still close to the ‘lifelong friends’ she made at college (‘a lot of them went into banking; a couple went to medical school’), her social life revolves around the showjumping world.
Jessica won’t discuss relationships – she has been linked to polo star Nic Roldan, but says, ‘I’m not dating anyone right now. What do I look for in a guy? Someone who’s funny – I love to laugh – and I would almost prefer it if they didn’t ride. I like keeping that separate.’
She is part of an elite equestrian community that includes 18-year-old Destry Spielberg (daughter of Steven and his wife Kate Capshaw) who ‘stays at our house when she comes down to Florida – we are really close, my parents have been friends with her family for ever’.
Bill and Melinda Gates’s daughter Jennifer, 19, is a more recent riding pal.
‘Jen is amazing – one of the kindest girls. There are a lot of up and coming riders right now and most of us spend the winter in Florida from December to March [riding] together, which is nice.’
Jessica hasn’t crossed paths yet with Britain’s Olympic medallist Zara Phillips.
‘She does cross country, so we’re never in the same shows, but she’s really cool. I competed at the Royal Windsor Horse Show [in 2011, where Jessica won first place in her event] and I saw the Queen driving around!’
Since graduating last year, Jessica has been a regular at the top events in the international equestrian calendar.
Her triumphs include winning the American Gold Cup in New York in September 2014 (along with a $200,000 prize).
‘And last year I was on the US gold medal team at the Dublin Horse Show. We hadn’t won there in years. I was so nervous because it is one of the most famous shows in the world.
‘I had never ridden in an arena with so many people watching, and I jumped two clear rounds,’ says Jessica.
‘My mum and dad were there – it was so exciting.’
She loves having her family come to support her: ‘My little brother and his girlfriend came to my last competition – it was so much fun having them there.’
They don’t worry about her injuring herself, she adds – and neither does she.
‘I used to get really scared when I was younger, but now I get nervous because I want to do well, not because I’m scared for my life!’ Talent aside (and Jessica has it in spades), she is well aware that showjumping is a sport for the privileged few.
‘It has been so helpful having parents who are able to support my career. I feel very blessed,’ says Jessica, who is hoping that the sport will become more inclusive.
‘I think we are about to see it evolve. I would love to see more people get involved.’
That means the fans, too.
‘It is so special when you have a crowd that knows the riders and the horses and understands all the work that goes into it.’
Jessica owns seven horses: ‘Wish; Zero, one of the funniest horses I’ve ever had – he always wants to play; Dusty, a young horse I am bringing up; Davendy; Carolina; Vindicat and Lisona.’
She doesn’t have a favourite.
‘Oh my gosh, I love them all so much. Davendy is my top competitive horse right now. She truly loves to compete.
‘She is very sweet, but incredibly spoiled and a bit food obsessed!’
In a world that has its own impeccably turned-out glamour, Jessica now adds a little more in her role as one of Gucci’s equestrian ambassadors, modelling for the Italian fashion house alongside Charlotte Casiraghi, granddaughter of the late Princess Grace of Monaco.
‘It is a huge honour and I was so excited when they asked me. They make individual clothing for every one of their ambassadors so it’s unique; all the fabrics are different. The outfits are classic and traditional, and I think they’re beautiful. I love my white jodhpurs, pretty blue and white stripy shirts and amazing blazers.’
Her beloved horses are equally well dressed: ‘They have beautiful blankets, lined with red and green with a big emblem on the side.
‘That’s my favourite part, seeing my horses wearing Gucci,’ laughs Jessica, admitting that, until recently, she wasn’t remotely interested in style.
‘When I was younger all I wore was my school uniform and my riding clothes. I’ve never been to a fashion show. But I am appreciating fashion a lot more now that I’ve started to do some photo shoots. I hope to get more stylish,’ she adds shyly, taking a sip of iced tea.
Are jodhpurs set to make a fashion comeback?
‘I’ve given some of my friends my jodhpurs because they’re, like, “These are so cute; we should wear them out at night!” But I could never wear anything that looks similar to a horse uniform to go out in, even a blazer, because that’s what I live in.’
Riding, not fashion, is her focus right now. She is currently spending months at a time in Holland with her new trainer, the Australian showjumper Edwina Tops-Alexander (married to Dutch Olympic showjumping star Jan Tops).
‘I love working with her and the facility is incredible,’ she says excitedly.
‘There are multiple rings to ride in and beautiful trails in the woods. I ride each horse every day for about 40 minutes [she takes her horses to Holland with her], and then they’ll go for a walk or a trail ride in the afternoon.’
Jessica won’t know for a few months whether she will be representing the USA in the Rio Olympics next year; if she doesn’t make the team, her sights will be firmly set on Tokyo in 2020.
She remembers being a girl on a pony, looking up to older riders – and the Grand Prix competitions they were riding in felt so far away.
Now she’s living that dream for herself. And the ultimate goal?
‘I would love to win an Olympic medal – that is the dream for every athlete.’
American Gold Cup, Bruce Springsteen, horses, Jessica Springsteen, passion, riding lessons, teen