It’s early in the morning on Friday, March 3rd, and though it’s cool, the sun is already beating down on Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC), a promise of the heat still to come. When we arrive, the light bay horse is tacked and waiting under a covered portion of the warm-up arena. Lucy Deslauriers’ groom, Mel Borrego, makes a final check of Hester’s tack while we jot notes and snap photos.
It’s clear that Hester—an 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Wandor Van De Mispelaere x Palestro Vd Begijnakker)—with his big bright eyes and ears pricked at attention, seems born to command the spotlight. He poses for photos and even noses over to greet us (or more likely, to ascertain the contents of our pockets) before Mel pushes him back. When Lucy arrives a few moments later, it’s clear he recognizes her, and she gives him a pat and a peck on the nose.
It’s Week 8 at the Winter Equestrian Festival, and this morning’s class is a qualifier for the $100,000 Suncast Jumper Classic CSIO4*. At just 17, Lucy Deslauriers will be the youngest to compete, and while many in the lineup ride as full-time professionals, she’s busy juggling Saturday night’s big classes with an ambitious high school class load. But don’t count her out just yet.
7:08 a.m. Mel gives Lucy a leg up and she heads over to the nearby warm-up arena. A cacophony of birds calls echo from the surrounding palms as she warms up at the walk, mixing in some two-point position before breaking into a rhythmic trot. “I generally wake up as late as I possibly can because I love to sleep!” Lucy jokes. “If I have to be on at 7 a.m., I usually get up at 6 a.m. I don’t normally eat breakfast when I have to wake up early, or before school, either. It’s bad—I know I should—but I don’t like to eat that close to when I ride.”
After a few moments, Lucy’s father, Olympic show jumper Mario Deslauriers, arrives at the warm-up, stopping to watch the pair work and greeting a few of the other riders as they pass. “Lulu!” he calls, and when Lucy rides over, he stops to make a small adjustment to Hester’s bridle. “Lots of walk-canter transitions,” Mario instructs, “walk-canter, walk-canter.”
7:27 a.m. Hester is in high spirits this morning. As Lucy lengthens and shortens her canter stride along the rail, he takes the opportunity to spook and shoot down the long side of the ring. Mario, who is perched on the rail nearby, advises Lucy to keep him working a bit longer.
“I don’t know if he knows when he’s showing in the morning when I’m flatting him, but definitely he knows when he gets in the ring. You can feel him kind of light up, and he knows it’s time to shine,” says Lucy. “He’s a pretty fresh horse, naturally—he has a lot of energy all the time. I just try to get him relaxed and calm [in the warm-up] so that when I go in the ring, he picks up a little bit, but he’s not too much to handle. I don’t want him rushing or anything like that.”
After cooling Hester out on a long rein, Lucy gives him a pat and turns him back over to Mel. “Alright?” Mario asks, and she nods. There is a course board set up to the left side of the International Ring, and Lucy exchanges her helmet for a Bruno Delgrange baseball cap and heads over to give the morning’s course a read.
7:42 a.m. The 1.40-meter Speed Challenge is open for walking, and Lucy and Mario head down the shoot. It’s an idyllic scene inside, where riders in dark sunglasses count off strides to the gentle melody of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, which plays softly over the PA system. Lucy and Mario speak quietly together, walking each portion of the course carefully, including the turns to each jump. “I like to see my approach to each of the fences before I get there on course. We’ll usually walk the course twice, and if there are places where we’re still discussing what number to do, or if a line is in the jump-off, then I’ll walk it again,” Lucy explains.
“Hester has a very big stride, in particular, so that’s something we have to keep in mind [for the course walk]. He has a little bit of a left drift, so in bending lines going to the left, that’s something we’ll discuss as to how to prevent that from getting in my way. Other than that, he’s pretty straight forward.”
When the walk ends, Lucy breaks to rattle off a couple of text messages on her phone and stops by the rider’s lounge for a glass of water.
9:08 a.m. The morning’s class has started and Lucy, who goes midway in the order, has been watching the first few riders go from beneath the tent. Putting her helmet on, she heads back to the paddock where Hester is waiting. A few moments later, she’s in the tack and heading back into the warm-up arena.
The ring is filled with the participants of the morning’s Speed class, and the roster is daunting: Rodrigo Pessoa, Laura Kraut, Leslie Howard and McLain Ward all have horses to go, and the schooling area is abuzz with activity. Hester, for his part, seems more focused than during his morning hack. Lucy does some short trot and canter work with him, but mostly, she walks.
“[Before the class] I just try to work my horse a little bit and keep him relaxed,” Lucy says. “We do transitions and things like that to make sure all my buttons are working and that we’re ready when I go in the ring to tackle whatever it is that’s ahead of us.”
At one point, there’s a loose horse and a rider down in the arena. The air stills with a palpable tension as the riders lined up near the shoot strain to see what’s happening. “Is she okay?” Laura Kraut asks a nearby steward, who confirms a few moments later that the rider is, indeed, fine. Like a curtain opening, the action in the warmup resumes once again.
9:35 a.m. Mario joins Lucy in the ring along with Mel and they grab the warm-up jump to the left. “Lucy in five,” the in-gate announcer calls. She takes a few jumps and gradually, the oxer builds above four feet, then higher. Hester is jumping well, and both Lucy and Mario seem pleased. “He’s a little fresh,” Mario cautions after the pair has a good rub at the final vertical. “You’re going to have to get him over that.”
9:44 a.m. Lucy trots up the shoot into the ring, passing Rodrigo Pessoa, who has just finished. A few moments later and they’ve completed their course. The round is a successful one; Hester continues to jump in good form, and only a small rub at the eight jump—the Lugano Diamonds oxer—costs them a ribbon. “Good job,” Mario tells Lucy as they recap the course, “you had a fast time.”
Just 10 minutes later, her helmet off and back in the rider’s tent, Lucy has already put the morning’s class behind her. It’s her junior year of high school, after all, and she still has a day full of assignments left to tackle.
One day later, Lucy and Hester would take home their biggest victory of the winter season: the 1.50-meter $100,000 Suncast Jumper Classic CSIO4*. Of the field of 49, the pair were one of nine to advance to the second round, where a fault-free finish and a daring rollback turn to the Lugano vertical moved Lucy to the top of the leaderboard. Despite a valiant effort by Ireland’s Darragh Kenny aboard Bolero III—which in the end, separated them by only 0.214 seconds—Lucy’s time would hold, and the crowd, including a pressroom full of seasoned journalists, roared with appreciation.
Lucy and Hester returned to the ring for the prize giving and, as the camera bulbs flashed under the Saturday night lights of the International ring, the future of American show jumping looked very bright indeed.
-Photography by Tori Repole for NF Style.
- Ten Things Lucy Deslauriers Has Learned From Her Father Mario Deslauriers [NF Style]
- A Conversation With Lucy Deslauriers [Noelle Floyd]
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