Jessica Springsteen Opens Up About Olympic Equestrian Debut: 'Timing Is Really Everything'

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Jessica Springsteen; courtesy of US Equestrian (USEF)
Jessica Springsteen; courtesy of US Equestrian (USEF)

courtesy of US Equestrian (USEF)

Jessica Springsteen is ready to rock the arena in Japan.

The professional equestrian, 29, will make her Olympic debut in the jumping events of the Tokyo Summer Games this coming week, achieving a dream she first imagined as a child on a pony in New Jersey.

"It's the biggest honor," Springsteen tells PEOPLE of competing for Team USA. "Throughout my career, representing my country has been my goal, and so to be doing so at the Olympics, it's a huge honor. I couldn't be more excited."

Springsteen — who is the daughter of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa — is currently ranked 14th in the world in show jumping, and secured her spot on the U.S. equestrian roster on July 6. In Tokyo, she'll navigate challenging courses of five and a half-foot fences astride Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood stallion.

Springsteen says a silver lining of the year-long Games delay due to the coronavirus pandemic was more time.

Jessica Springsteen; courtesy of US Equestrian (USEF)
Jessica Springsteen; courtesy of US Equestrian (USEF)

courtesy of US Equestrian (USEF)

"As athletes, we need to be adaptable and learn to push through. I just tried to stay as focused as I could on my goal," the equestrian says. "I took the extra year to continue training and developing my partnership with Don, and I think it made us stronger for this year."

The horse and rider combination is critical in show jumping, and she and her mount clicked from the start.

"The partnership you have with your horse is everything, and with Don I have a really, really strong partnership," Springsteen explains. "Sometimes you get a horse and it can take you a long time get to know each other, but with him, we came together quickly and we've been able to build on that ever since. We definitely have a lot of trust.

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"I feel like I know him so well now, he knows me so well, and there isn't any other horse that I want to be going into the Games on," she says of her partner. "He's brave, he's reliable, he's competitive."

The stars aligned for Springsteen and her "horse of a lifetime" to make their Olympic bid, and the gravity of the opportunity is not lost on her.

Jessica Springsteen Instagram
Jessica Springsteen Instagram

Jessica Springsteen Instagram

"In our sport, timing is really everything, so you have to have the right partnership at the right time in order to be considered for teams like this," she says of the Olympic level. "So when I got him, it was one of my first moments where I was like 'Oh my gosh, he feels like a horse I could take to the Olympics,' so the timing lined up for us. I'm really grateful for that."

Though her loved ones are unable to cheer her on in person at the Games due to the historic spectator ban, she's feeling their support stateside.

"My family has gotten so involved in the sport, it's a huge passion for them," she says. "They've all been on this journey with me, so I wish we could be there together, but it's important that that everyone stays safe. That's the most important thing."

When the jumping equestrian events get underway Aug 2 through 7, the athlete added that her parents will be celebrating with a viewing party at home — and that their faith makes all the difference.

"They've been so supportive, since I was little on ponies, they've been like my biggest supporters," she says of her family. "I'm constantly on the phone with them, my friends, every day. Everyone is so excited."

Springsteen debuts as the rookie on the roster, though this isn't the first rodeo for her teammates Kent Farrington, Laura Kraut and McLain Ward. Together, the showjumpers have competed at seven Olympics. Ward was on the U.S.' gold medal-winning teams in 2004 and 2008, the latter of which Kraut was also a member. Farrington helped Team USA win silver in 2016.

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Calling all three equestrians role models, Springsteen says it's a "surreal, surreal" moment to be on a team with them.

Jessica Springsteen
Jessica Springsteen

Taylor Pence/US Equestrian (USEF)

"I think they all know how to handle the pressure, stay focused and rise to the occasion, so I'm just looking forward to being surrounded by that and learning as much as I can from them throughout the process," she says of her senior teammates.

If she could offer a word of advice to her younger self, Springsteen says it would be patience. The rider didn't make the U.S. Olympic showjumping team in both 2012 and 2016.

"There's been so many ups and downs and often in the moment you don't know where it's going to lead you, but looking back, I feel like everything happens for a reason," she muses.

As the ultimate horse show nears on the world stage, Springsteen, like many equestrians, holds a few lucky charms close for an extra shot of confidence before a competition.

"I have a necklace that my grandma gave me when I was 18 and I make sure I'm always wearing it for a big event," she tells PEOPLE.

"And then my team at home, when they were grazing my horses, found a bunch of four-leaf clovers and they laminated them for me, so I'm definitely gonna be putting one of those in my coat pocket to bring me some extra luck."

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23rd and the Tokyo Paralympics beginning August 24th on NBC.

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