Harrisburg, Pa., October 12, 2009 -- Seventeen-year-old Jessica Springsteen of Colts Neck, N.J., was the biggest star at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show October 11 as her famous parents cheered her on. She bested 237 riders over two rounds of competition, and a four-rider work-off to win one of the nation's top equitation prizes, the Pessoa/USEF Hunt Seat Medal Final.
Course designer Steve Stephens, in conjunction with judges Ellen Raidt and Leo Conroy, were very specific about the distances they required between related fences, mandating that the riders perform with precision.
Riders were instructed to proceed directly to fence 1, giving their horses no time to acclimate to the ring. A bending line to fence 2, followed by a tight turn to fence three, set on the center line, and another change of direction to fences 4 ABC, an oxer, vertical, oxer combination tested control of the horse. Fence 5 was set on an angle at the far end of the ring to fence 6 which was set on the rail. After fence 6, there were three options for the turn to fence 7, a short approach which was very tight, a medium approach inside another fence or a long approach. ence 7 was a natural log pile with no wings. Fence 8, a skinny fence also with no wings, was set off the rail and was another on an angle followed by a bending line to fence 9. Fences 10 AB were set on a curve, two strides apart, around to fences 11 and 12 where the riders had to demonstrate five strides.
When asked about her first round strategy Springsteen laughed, "It's hard to remember--it was almost eight hours ago. It was a good course for me. It was mostly off the left which is my horse's good lead, so I was happy. My horse [Papillon 136] is really pretty simple. He has a really nice rhythm and is very adjustable. He just does not automatically stay in a frame and is a bit lazy so you have to be there with your leg."
Twenty-five riders were called back to jump in round 2, which consisted of a series of bending lines and numerous options for the riders. After the first three jumps on the left lead, riders faced an option on how tight to roll back to fence 4, then continued on to the natural coup then a vertical to oxer one-stride combination. The course bent right to the skinny wingless wall which, although relocated, continued to haunt riders, before the course looped left to the fan fence and then right to fence 9 then left to finish over 10, where a few horses had hind rubs and pulled rails.
"The second round was really tricky so I planned to stick to the same strides I did in the first round," said Springsteen. "It was a little nerve-wracking to watch everyone else for hours because I went so early in the first round. I was supposed to be doing homework, but I never quite got to it."
After the second round, the judges called back four riders to jump off in the following reverse order: Tina Dilandri of LaJolla, Calif., Springsteen, Zazou Hoffman of Santa Monica, Calif., and Samantha Schaefer of Westminster, Md. The test included fence number 4 (at a hand gallop), then canter number 5, 6A, 6B, 7, counter canter to number 8, canter number 9, halt and canter final fence number 10 before returning to the line up at the end of the ring where riders stood separated from trainers.
Each rider faced challenges. Dilandri seemed uncharacteristically disorganized while Hoffman and Schaefer both knocked down a rail. Springsteen, however, produced a polished solid trip. The ride-off was very effective in determining the clear winner.
Springsteen is trained by the Beacon Hill team, led by Stacia Madden and Max Amaya, with assistance from Olympic veteran Beezie Madden.
Springsteen has one more year left to show as a junior rider, but with this win, coupled by her win last year in the Maclay Final, there are not many awards left for her to win. "I plan on concentrating more on the jumpers," said Springsteen when asked about her future plans.
The 2009 Pennsylvania National Horse Show runs October 8-17, at the Pennsylvania Farm and Show Complex in Harrisburg, and features 10 full days of hunter and jumper competition with both amateurs and professionals vying for the coveted championships. The Pennsylvania National hosts 10 national championships. The competition highlight is the $75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National on October 17.