Jessica Springsteen in Global Champions League

Another Springsteen, Starring Way Off Broadway

12/28/18 |
The New York Times |
Brian Pinelli

PRAGUE — Diminutive in stature but determined as ever, Jessica Springsteen counted the steps between the vertical obstacles so she could calculate the number of strides for the 11-year-old bay mare RMF Zecilie.

Springsteen, 26, who is 5-foot-6, was careful not to overlook any detail as she crafted a plan to leap 16 fences with her explosive yet agile Holsteiner breed horse. Together, they would try to navigate a serpentine course of 480 meters, or about 525 yards, in a little more than a minute.

The only daughter of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, who also have two sons, she has proved her talents as a professional show jumper, ascending the ranks of international competition.

After two seasons with the Shanghai Swans, she recently concluded her first season riding for the Miami Celtics, a new entry in the three-year-old Global Champions League, a tour of show jumping competitions. The Celtics consist of four Irishmen and her, and competed on a 17-event, four-continent circuit. With wins this year in Mexico City and Rome, and second-place finishes in Cannes and Doha, the Celtics quickly became a force.

“We really came together as a team toward the end — they’re so upbeat, positive and always making me laugh,” Springsteen said of her teammates.

One of them, Shane Breen, 44, of Limerick, Ireland, called Springsteen a “superb rider and competitor” with a “great head under pressure.”

“I suppose the Americans have a great system when they start out their riders very young,” he added. “Jessica has that American flair, but she has adopted a lot of the European ways as well. She’s an all-around top-class rider — good eye, good feel and a great understanding of the horse.”

The Celtics performed below expectations at the league’s playoffs in mid-December in Prague, failing to advance to the six-team final. Unable to ride her preferred horse, RMF Swinny du Parc, because of an injury, Springsteen, aboard RMF Zecilie, knocked off two rails, incurring eight faults.
“Unfortunately, I had two down,” Springsteen said. “I gave her a little bit of time off and we were a little out of sync, but she jumped beautifully as always."

Otherwise, it was a superb season for Springsteen. Individually, she won the Queen’s Cup in October in Barcelona, Spain, defeating 53 competitors to earn nearly $37,000. As of Dec. 21, she was the seventh-ranked show jumper in the United States, according to U.S. Equestrian.

After spending much of her childhood riding on the Springsteen farm in Colts Neck, N.J., she is now driven to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“Representing my country and competing in team competitions is so important to me,” said Springsteen, who was an alternate for the London Games in 2012. “I’m hoping everything lines up. If not the next Olympics, then hopefully the one after that.”

She recalled her first competition, riding a pony at 5 at a show at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., an indelible moment for Bruce Springsteen, who reminisced about it in his 2016 memoir, “Born to Run.”

He wrote: “She captures a green ribbon and places sixth. The ride home is quiet as she sits in her riding gear, mysteriously humming. We tell her how well she did, how proud we are. She says nothing. Then, from the musical quiet in the back seat come two questions: ‘What was the name of the girl who won?’ and ‘What did she do to win.’”

“I was really upset,” Jessica Springsteen said recently. “I was very competitive at a young age.”

Her father, the rock ‘n’ roll and New Jersey icon who concluded his 14-month “Springsteen on Broadway” show at Walter Kerr Theater on Dec. 15, and her mother, an E Street Band member who sang on a couple of the numbers in the Broadway show, make every effort to see their daughter compete.

“They haven’t had much time off with their Broadway show, but they came to London this year,” Jessica Springsteen said. “Sometimes, events would line up with their tour destinations and if they had a few days off, they would come.

“We were once competing in Madrid, and by chance they had a huge concert there, so we all went. It’s nice that I still get to see them a lot.”
And what advice might the Boss — as her father, who has spent much of his life leading the E Street Band, is known — offer to his daughter?

“I think some people can feel pressure from their parents, but they’re just so supportive,” she said. “I think he’s grown to love show jumping. As nerve-racking as the sport can be, he actually finds it really relaxing. He loves to come and watch. It’s fun for him, and my mom is so into it as well.”

She said her father, who has electrified fans with his high-energy, marathon rock concerts for decades, is a soothing presence for her after a tough day of competition.

“He is always just so relaxed — I could think I’ve had the worst round, and he is just so calm at all times,” she said. “Things can be going so bad and he’s like, ‘No, no girl, everything will be fine.’ ”

Springsteen divides her time training between Eschweiler, Germany, and Wellington, Fla., where she has four horses at Rushy Marsh Farm. When she is in New Jersey, she enjoys leisurely rides with the family at their 300-acre Stone Hill Farm. Before visiting for the Christmas holidays, her previous visit had followed a November competition in Doha, Qatar.

“We all went out for a ride — it’s so beautiful in the fall with all the leaves changing, and we have some really nice trails,” she said. “It’s nice to ride for fun when you’re used to competing under such pressure.”

In his memoir, Bruce Springsteen recalled learning to ride on the farm, often being tossed off, until finding two easygoing horses — Cadillac Jack and Cal — who would respond to his unskilled commands.

“Those were my dad’s two horses — I was so little, but I remember that he loved riding Cal,” Jessica Springsteen said.

She said her parents had retained their horseback skills and joy of riding.

“Both of them have such an amazing feel on a horse,” she said. “They’ve been doing it for so long and have a real nice, natural feel, which is nice to see.”

Jessica Springsteen in Global Champions League