If the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) is known for one class, it’s last night’s $25,000 International Jumper Puissance, a.k.a. “The Big Wall,” presented this year by The Boeing Company and won by 21-year-old Jessica Springsteen aboard Stone Hill Farm’s Lisona after clearing the wall up to 6’10”.
Anthony D’Ambrosio of Red Hook, NY, is the course designer for the jumpers at WIHS this week and fittingly holds the 31-year indoor Puissance record for his win at 7′ 7 1/2” aboard Sweet ‘N Low in 1983. He set the wall for the evening’s $25,000 Puissance presented by The Boeing Company, starting at 5’6” in height, and continuing up to 6’10” in four rounds of competition.
For the win after clearing all four heights, Lisona became the first recipient of a brand new trophy named in Sweet ‘N Low’s honor, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Donald G. Tober.
The Puissance course began with four fences to clear, including an oxer, vertical and triple-bar leading up to the wall set at a starting height of 5’6”. Five combinations, including Kevin Babington (IRL) and Goodwins Loyalty, Kama Godek (USA) and Sandra Zimmerli’s Apollo Mission, Todd Minikus (USA) aboard Coverboy Group’s Vougeot de Septon, Springsteen and Lisona, and Leslie Howard with The Utah Group’s Utah all jumped clear in round one and continued on. The second round had a triple bar set before the wall at 5’11”, and all five horses and riders once again jumped clear. In round three, the imposing 6’5” wall came down for Babington, Godek and Minikus, leaving all three tied for third place. Springsteen and Howard each cleared the 6’5” height, but Howard took second place honors after choosing not to return. Springsteen and Lisona secured their victory with a fourth and final round as the only pair to jump the wall set at 6’10”, and they cleared it with ease.
Friday marked Springsteen’s third win in as many days at WIHS after topping the $10,000 International Jumper Welcome Stake aboard Davendy S on Wednesday and also taking top prize in Thursday’s $20,000 International Jumper Gambler’s Choice with Lisona.
An added incentive for the international riders this year includes new cash bonuses that will be awarded to riders accumulating the most points in the division. A $15,000 bonus will go to the overall leading international rider, sponsored by The Boeing Company, and a $10,000 bonus will be awarded to the overall leading rider 25 years of age or younger, sponsored by Sleepy P Ranch. Although Springsteen had originally not planned on jumping the Puissance, her trainers Laura Kraut and Nick Skelton encouraged her to do the class when they found out it counted toward the bonus. She took their advice and was obviously happy with the outcome.
“I had a feeling that Nick would convince me because he is also the one that made me do it two years ago,” she stated. “I knew that once he found out that it counted towards the leading rider points he would make me do it, but it was really fun. Lisona jumped it so easily, so it gave me a lot of confidence and I am happy I did it.”
In 2012, Springsteen jumped the WIHS Puissance with her horse Temmie and cleared 6’3”, but was eliminated in the third round after failing her attempt at 6’9”. Her success at 6’10” with Lisona is an exciting feat accomplished with great confidence in her mount.
“I doubt she has done a Puissance before, but she has so much scope and she is actually better the higher the fences, so we had a feeling that this would be a good class for her,” Springsteen said of the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (OBOS Quality x Porsch). “She gets impressed by it, and she felt like she was just flying over the wall.”
“I felt confident,” the rider stated. “She is such a scopey and brave horse that I knew nothing disastrous would happen. Classes like this, you kind of have to have fun with it, so we were all just having a good time. It is important to have a brave horse that wants to do it and she did. I think she enjoyed it actually.”
Springsteen also had added confidence in her own ability after many big wins this year and and let that momentum take her into the challenge of jumping the biggest height of her career.
“Winning definitely gives you confidence. Your spirits are high, but you can’t get overly confident. That is one thing I have learned in this sport,” she remarked.
Another thing Springsteen learned is that riding to a Puissance wall is much different than cantering to your standard jump. “I didn’t know you had to ride a wall that size differently,” she admitted. “It is so big that you just want to gallop down to it, but you are supposed to go really slow and get close to it so that they kind of climb over it. That is kind of the opposite of what your instinct is telling you to do, so it takes a couple of times to really learn how to ride it correctly.”
The high jump competition is a fan favorite at WIHS as spectators watch the incredible power and athletic ability of horse and rider attempting to clear a wall set at record heights, and the fans were in full force on Friday night as they took in the competition.
“It is so fun. It is not normal in the States when you have so many people that come to watch, and they really know what’s going on,” Springsteen stated. “You have all of the younger kids that are really excited about it, like the pony riders, so it is really fun. It makes it an exciting event for the riders, and I think the horses feel it too.”
“I have been coming to this show since I was maybe ten years old on ponies almost every year. Last year was one of the first years I didn’t come, so I have spent a lot of time here and it is nice when the crowd knows you,” she added. “The experience has changed a lot over the years. I think I was actually more nervous when I was coming for the pony hunters and the equitation finals. There is a lot of pressure in those classes. I think it is actually much more relaxing doing the open division.”