Jessica Springsteen has notched a lot of firsts in the past few months—first Olympic Games, first Olympic medal, first Aachen Nations Cup win—and on Wednesday in Burbank, California, she completed another first: Teaching her first clinic.
The clinic was hosted by West Palms Events show management and the riders invited to participate were 2021 recipients of the Michael Nyuis Scholarships, which provides show credit and other support to young equestrians who are passionate about competing but lack the financial resources to do so. In addition, members of the Compton Junior Equestrians were invited to ride in the clinic, for a total of 16 riders. The Compton Junior Equestrians organization teaches horseback riding to youth in Compton, California, and the surrounding areas.
The unique format of the clinic at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center’s Hap Hansen Arena put Springsteen’s formidable show skills to good use. Courses were built by FEI course designer Marina Azevedo, and each of the first two groups of riders walked the course with Springsteen, who advised them on how she would answer the questions asked. Then each group mounted their horses and entered the warmup ring with Springsteen there to set jumps, coach and talk about how she warms up her horses for a show jumping round. After that, riders executed their plan in the show ring one by one. Finally, each group dismounted and reconvened with Springsteen to watch replays of their rounds and discuss what went well and what could be improved upon.
Springsteen’s positivity was unwavering, even when some riders had stops or other miscommunications.
“There can be so many ups and downs in this sport,” she said. “It’s about learning from your mistakes, learning from your horse, listening to your horse, and always trying to find the lesson even when it doesn’t go your way.”
Springsteen emphasized that one of the keys to her success is having patience with her horses and not asking for too much in one day.
“Horses are not trying to be difficult,” she said. “They’re probably just trying to understand and sometimes they don’t know how to do it, or they don’t get your signals. You have to learn a little bit every day, and when they do something correct, give them a lot of positive reinforcement to let them know that they’ve done it right.”
The format for a third group of less experienced riders was more traditional, with riders warming up on the flat under Springsteen’s watchful eye, then working through pole and jumping exercises. As a bonus, the riders and auditors watched the video of Springsteen’s jump-off round from the Tokyo Olympic Games, listened to her commentary and were able to ask questions.
Several of the riders were curious about the mental aspect of competing at the top level, and Springsteen agreed that confidence and a positive mindset are vital in equestrian sport. She shared that before the Olympic Games, she read “The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive,” by Jim Afremow, and implemented some of the tips she learned.
Springsteen also credited her Olympic teammates with helping her mental game in Tokyo.
“All three of them have this incredible talent of remaining calm and actually rising to the occasion when the pressure is on,” she said. “That’s so admirable, and it’s something I’m trying to learn to do. Being on the team with them gave me so much confidence and it was helpful hearing that they, too, still get those nerves and feel that pressure.”
West Palms Events CEO Dale Harvey asked Springsteen to give the clinic despite her lack of teaching experience.
“When we set this up, she expressed to me that she had never taught before, but it sure didn’t seem like that today,” Harvey said. “She just hit it out of the park. What I loved most is that every single thing that happened, she put a positive spin on it. Her approach is just really amazing.”
Veteran rider, trainer and clinician Archie Cox served as the clinic’s moderator and was similarly impressed.
“Everyone improved, everyone took away a positive, and I think the horses were better when they finished than when they started,” he said. “That’s the mark of success.”
Also in attendance was show jumper and Olympic gold medalist Will Simpson, who has worked with the Compton Junior Equestrians for many years. He was excited for them to have the opportunity to work with Springsteen.
“Having a silver medalist come right off of the Olympics to this event shows these riders that they matter,” he said. “Jessica was so full of information and also inspiration, and it was just fantastic to be here.”
With her first clinic in the books, Springsteen said she would love to do it again.
“It was so much fun,” she said. “All the kids were amazing and had the best attitudes. I loved working with them. I’m finally at a place in my career where I feel like I have something to teach, and I’m comfortable doing it.”