On Nov. 9, Jessica Springsteen strode intently across the floor of the Ricoh Coliseum, the arena at the Exhibition Palace convention center in Toronto, Ontario. The 24-year-old daughter of Bruce Springsteen wasn't taking in a Marlies game, the top affiliate of the Maple Leafs. She was taking a "course walk" a few minutes prior to a Grand Prix qualifier show-jumping event, part of the Longines FEI World Cup North American League series.
The event -- and show jumping in general -- appears the antithesis of minor league hockey: million-dollar horses; a VIP section where spectators wine and dine in black tie; and a plethora of very wealthy riders (like Springsteen) who could probably buy the Marlies if they liked.
Yet behind the glamour, money and famous names of the elite show-jumping circuit are legitimate athletes. "When it's done well at the top level, it looks so easy and effortless," says Springsteen. She should know, as she's currently ranked 5th by the United States Equestrian Federation and 47th in the Longines world rankings. "But it's not. There is so much physicality to it."
For Springsteen, that physicality starts on the family's 300-acre Stone Hill Farm in Colt's Neck, New Jersey. Show jumping at the elite level is not a part-time occupation. In addition to competitions nearly every weekend, Springsteen, like most riders, exercises her horses (she has five) six days a week. Controlling those 1,200-pound animals requires a myriad of muscle groups, including back, legs, arms, shoulders and core, and the many hours in the saddle take a toll in the form of soreness, strains and injuries. "For me, I feel in it my shoulders and back the most," says Springsteen.
Traditionally, show jumpers maintained fitness by consistent riding. But in recent years that philosophy has changed. Off-horse training has become essential.
Springsteen, who made the Team USA short list for the 2012 London Olympic Games (health issues with her horse made Rio 2016 untenable), practices both Pilates and Pure Barre two to three times a week to strengthen her core muscles. "I didn't start exercising until I was 19 or 20," she admits. "But I found when I did I had a much greater togetherness with my horse."
Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, follows a strict training regimen of Pilates, cardio, core, stretching and weights. "Since there aren't really any trainers with equestrian experience, I devised it myself," says the 33-year-old. "I try to tailor it as 'horse specific' as possible."
A perfect example? Her dumbbell shoulder presses. "I put an exercise ball between my legs and squeeze as I do the movements," she explains. The twist on a standard press, which mimics the use of her legs as she rides, not only engages her core but improves her balance -- an attribute as vital to a show jumper's success as a point guard's passing prowess.
Nutrition has become another important part of riders' regimens. "I make sure I eat healthy," says Springsteen. She cites a balanced diet and ample protein for energy, and is vigilant about the size of precompetition meals -- a factor when winning and losing a show-jumping event is often decided by a few seconds.
Another issue is hydration. With much of the winter show-jumping season held in Wellington, Florida, the riders, like race car drivers, can fall victim to the heat. "Sometimes you don't notice how hot it is," says Springsteen. "You have to force yourself to be aware and get your fluids."
At 9:30 p.m., the FEI World Cup event begins. Springsteen is one of 22 riders that include 2016 Rio Games gold medalist Nick Skelton, McLain Ward (ranked No. 3 in the world) and 10-time Olympian Ian Millar. Atop Cynar VA, her gray Dutch warmblood mare, Springsteen attacks the course, 370 meters in length with 12 obstacles, some as high as 5-foot-2. She is smooth and flawless until the ninth jump, when Cynar VA's front hoof clips the top rail and knocks it to the turf. It's her lone fault, but enough that she eventually finishes 7th.
While the Toronto result isn't ideal, Springsteen has been at the top of her game of late. In September, she won the prestigious HITS Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix, and she has her sights set on the 2018 World Equestrian Games and the 2020 Olympics. To do so, she'll need to push herself with her off-horse training. It won't be a problem, however -- she knows there's room for improvement. "I still don't stretch enough," she says with a laugh. "As for yoga, I'm terrible at it. I can't even hold a pose."
Tim Struby has been an ESPN contributor since 1999.