International Women’s Day – the rise of Jessica Burke, Part 2

  • 8 March 2023, 15:17
In Part 2 of our International Women’s Day feature with Jessica Burke, she talks about forging a mindset that helps her compete against the world’s best and the women in her life that have helped her achieve her dreams.

Sharjah, UAE, Sunday February 19, 2023

Jessica Burke jumps double clear on Express Trend (ISH) to win her second five-star class of the weekend, seeing off in-form Italian speedster Emanuele Gaudiano by one tenth of a second. It is the second time over the course of that momentous weekend she has beaten Gaudiano to the big prize, having finished on top of a podium containing him and Germany’s David Will on the Friday for the first big one after a stunning performance on board Inpulss.

Four weeks previously, Jessica was clear in Abu Dhabi on her five-star Nations Cup debut on board
Nikey HH, helping Ireland to a podium finish and finishing third individually.

Three years previously, she was teaching maths to secondary school students and now she’s solving a different kind of equation – beating the world’s fastest riders.

It’s an incredible rate of progression, and what makes it more impressive is that it came from good old-fashioned hard graft, a change in mindset and an inner belief that she could reach the very top.

“I was always very competitive as a rider,” Jessica says. “I always rode fast. I grew up riding ponies against the likes of Richard Howley, jumped 12.2hh against Danny Mullins. There were a lot of fast, fast riders and I was always doing my best to try beat them – I was just always trying to be fast.

“But I think the biggest change for me was obviously moving to England and training with Roger McCrea at The Billy Stud. For me, it was all about learning the dressage, the flat work and just tidying up everything.

“So I’d had plenty of mileage in the ring and I think I just needed to tidy it up and make everything better? I’ve worked very hard on that side of it.

“And then I think, if you have the horses you can just put it all into place, I suppose. But I feel like I’ve been doing it a long time. And I suppose it’s not that long, really. But when you’re doing something full time, and you’re doing it every day, putting in a lot of time – this is the way I look at it, anyway.

Jessica Burke gives Nikey HH a well-deserved pat down the neck after jumping clear in the Nations Cup

“But I don’t want to do it if it’s not going to be good enough. You know what I mean?

“And I think that was the reason why I didn’t do it full time. You know, when I was in Ireland, I never wanted to do this full time, unless I was going to be really good at it. I’m like that in anything I do.”

In Part 1 of our feature with Jessica, we touched on how Rachael Blackmore has become so much more than a female jockey in racing. She has transcended the sport and become a massive source of inspiration.

At grassroots level in Ireland show jumping is female dominated and, on the face of it, the sport operates on a gender-equal footing. Men and women compete against each other as equals – yet at senior level the sport continues to be male dominated.

Refreshingly, Jessica tells of how she has never faced barriers based on her gender and it is a genuine source of optimism that she has represented Ireland in recent senior Nations Cups, as has Niamh McEvoy.

“I look at the likes of Rachael and how she views herself, and I would be the same. I think, if you see yourself as any different then I don’t think you can be the same, if that makes sense. you know

“For example, when I was in the UAE I wanted to beat the likes of Emanuele and David. For me, it was what I wanted to do because they were two of the fastest riders of the show. As a woman I didn’t think of it like I was a woman looking to beat the boys, I was an athlete going out on my horse trying to win the class.

“I think maybe in the bigger sport, obviously when you see women go off and having kids and taking a year out of the sport, I imagine that that’s a bit harder to come back from. If it’s maybe a case of being forced to take a break in the sport.

“But to be honest, I don’t see it as though there are major barriers for women, certainly not in my experience. And that’s a really good thing!

“And the other thing is, I think show jumping now is very technical. It’s all about flat work – and the better you have your horse riding and trained, the better you can go and the more you can win. And it’s not about strength, it’s more about the way you train the horses. So it’s actually not physical.”

Jessica takes inspiration from so many people around her, especially the women in her life. She is surrounded by an excellent team, advocates and supporters and it has enabled her to forge a winning mindset, an inner belief that perhaps wasn’t always there.

“Me personally, as I said before, maybe it was more about not believing in myself. That was one thing I definitely had to overcome, especially as I stepped into this, you know, to believe in myself,” continues Jessica.

“And I think right now, I really believe that I can go to any show and win, you know? I think you really need that belief. It’s like everything, a good run of form is brilliant. And when everything goes well, you just have to keep rolling, you just have to roll with it.

“And you kind of have to say it probably won’t last forever. I think when you’re going well, you’re going well, and that’s when it is most important to not stop. You need to get better and better.

“Because the minute you let up in sport for a second, even if you’re going well at the moment, there’s someone that’s going to come out, someone new, and then the lads that are going well will still go well.

“I think confidence is a big thing in show jumping. Because it’s a lot of mind games, you see people get nervous. I think you have to just believe, believe, believe. Belief is a big deal – and I don’t really know how I got it – I suppose probably with what I did last year and jumping in Nations Cups.

“When before, I used to knock myself a bit, now I definitely have more belief and more confidence.”

Jessica Burke, groom Aaliyah Phillips, owner Louisa Church and Nikey HH in the UAE

From her family backing her up, even around the globe, to the hard graft of home life in Arion Stud, the women in her life have had a huge bearing on the woman she is and the successful career she has forged.

“I think it’s very important to have good people around you, you know, when things don’t go your way and I’d be very close with my sister. I’m very lucky with my family, they travel a lot to the shows,” she says, warmly.

“So I think it is really important. And even the girls that work in the yard, we are quite close here as well. Mentally you need to be quite strong – it’s about how people deal with things mentally, so I think if you’re in the right frame of mind when you’re on the horse, that helps a lot.

“My owner, Louisa Church, is a big female figure actually. I probably get a lot of strength from her because she worked in the financial industry, which is male-dominated. And she’s made a massive career for herself in that industry. So she’s really strong as a woman. And it’s not that it just so happened that it’s mostly girls working in the yard – that’s not by chance.

“I suppose I look up to her a lot. She’s worked hard in her industry, so she likes to promote women and give women a chance.

“And then there’s my mom, Catherine. She really has always been a big influence on me. And she’s always been a million per cent behind me on everything, even when I was in college, but then when I made the career change, and it’s funny because I’m the eldest grandchild on both sides.

“And my dad had five sisters and my mom has one sister. So there’s a lot of female influence in the family. It’s great to have that support around me and I’d be very, very close to them.”

If you missed Part 1 of our International Women’s Day feature with Jessica Burke you can find it HERE