Thirty-year-old Taiwanese rider Jasmine Chen competed in two World Equestrian Games and two Asian Games, medaling individual silver in Doha, Qatar when she was 17 years old. Jasmine has taken a sabbatical from her job at Sotheby’s and is on a quest to accumulate points for the Olympic Ranking List. She spent January and February in Dubai, March to August in central Europe and is now down south in Portugal. So far the plan is working and she is likely to represent Taiwan as an individual in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The final decision will be announced at the end of December 2019. Her father, renowned businessman and art collector Pierre Chen, will be cheering her on from the sidelines!
Winter Hoffman: What was your childhood like and how were you introduced to riding?
Jasmine Chen: I was introduced to riding through one of my best childhood friends when I was 8 years old and then riding became a family sport – all of my family members rode in varying degrees of intensity. In the summer of 2002 my parents took us to Paul Schockemöhle’s yard to buy horses and since then I’ve been training and competing in Europe every summer during school holidays.
WH: How did you come to have a passion for the sport – through your parents or through your trainers Paul Schockemöhle and Norbert Nuxoll?
JC: I’ve always loved animals and loved to be outdoors and active, so horse riding naturally became a passion and daily hobby. The competitive edge was mostly kindled and inspired by my father who is ultra-competitive. He is an all-or-nothing kind of guy who gives 120% effort every second he can.
WH: Did you ever do the equitation? What are your thoughts on the equitation as a foundation for show jumping?
JC: I have never done equitation as it does not exist in Taiwan nor Europe where I spend my time riding. I think it definitely helps give riders a great style and a consistent, smooth rhythm in the ring.
WH: Was growing up in Taiwan an advantage or disadvantage for your Junior show career?
JC: It was a disadvantage in the sense that the sport really was not advanced there, and a lack of facilities prevented us from shipping good horses back home to practice during the school-year. However, it was easy for me to get on the National Team and compete for my country in important senior championships such as the Asian Games since a young age. I won an individual Silver medal at my first Asian Games in Doha in 2006. I was 17 then and it is definitely a highlight of my life – something I will never forget.
WH: Please tell us about spending your summers competing in Europe – how this came about, the high points and what you’ve learned from this experience.
JC: The first two summers my parents didn’t really give us a choice, sending us off to Germany when the summer holiday begins, but soon I fell in love with the routine and looked forward to it. Because we could really only train and compete in the summers, the constraints meant that we had to train extra hard in order to ready ourselves for competition. For example, it was a lot of sitting trot without stirrups to strengthen our bodies and get better balance and a lot of flat work so the horses listened well for the ring. This kind of work ethic and routine of bootcamp-training really benefited me later on when I started working full-time and have limited time in the saddle.
WH: You must have a very supportive family – please tell us about them. Do they travel with you? Is your twin sister Joy still riding?
JC: Yes my parents are the most important part of my riding career. My father gives me 100% financial support and never stops pushing me to achieve more, jump higher, go faster, etc., whereas my mom provides the spiritual and mental support and would follow us everywhere we go every summer until I went to college. I really appreciate them for the unconditional support. My twin sister rode with me until we went to college then she quit riding while I continued.
WH: You work in the art world – please tell us what you love about it. How do you balance riding and your career as an art specialist at Sotheby’s? How did you manage it at Penn? Do you think college is important to being an accomplished show jumper? You took a break from riding – why was that and what did you learn from the time off?
JC: At Penn I would schedule my classes so they would finish by 2 p.m. then take the train up to Kevin Babington’s barn to ride. The commute alone took 3 hours roundtrip and I would go ride around 4 times a week. In the summers I would train and compete in Europe like usual. I don’t think college is important at all for riders, however I don’t consider riding as my profession so college is definitely important for me. After college my father decided it was time for me to “work” so he sold all of my horses. At that moment I was forced to make a decision about what I wanted to do and decided to pursue a career in art. My father is an art collector and I studied art history at Penn, so an auction house was a natural choice for me. I applied to Sotheby’s in 2013 and moved to New York for the job, thinking that my riding life is over. At Sotheby’s I specialize in 20th-Century Western art, more or less sourcing works of art in the US and Europe and selling them to my clients in Asia – mostly Chinese collectors. For three years I did not sit on a horse but one summer I went to Germany to visit one of the horses we didn’t manage to sell, rode in a few shows and rekindled my passion. My job is not tied to a desk so it allows me to ride a few shows in the summer which is generally (and conveniently) low-season in the art market while helping clients through the phone or meeting up at art fairs and museums in Europe.
WH: What is your favorite art work and which artists do you like?
JC: My favorite artist is Picasso. Next would be Schiele and Rothko. Favorite sculptor is Calder. I love to buy art for the house, for the garden, so favorite work will depend on what kind of space I’m looking at.
WH: What is your view of the sport and how does it impact the training plan and path you chose for you and your horses?
JC: This is a great sport where more and more money is involved, which can be both beneficial and detrimental to the players involved. However, for me riding is a passion and a hobby so my program and goals are oriented to the sport and not the business. For example the Olympics is one of the ultimate dreams for all riders, and I’ve been extremely close to making it twice. In both the trials for Beijing and London I was the runner-up, both times just beaten by Taizo Sugitani who is one of the best and most experienced riders in the whole of Asia. A year ago with Tokyo in sight I decided to put my art career on hold for one year in order to fully train and compete and give myself a fair chance to qualify for the Olympics. My father respects lofty goals like this so he was very supportive and we bought a new string of horses. Since January 2019 I have been on a sabbatical from my job at Sotheby’s. My horses and I have been on an intensive program of competitions to accumulate ranking points for the Olympic Ranking List: January and February in Dubai, March to August in central Europe and now down south in Portugal.
WH: How do you manage the peripatetic lifestyle of an equestrian and the stress of traveling to horse shows?
JC: I love traveling and thrive in new places and meeting new people, so this nomadic lifestyle fits me.
WH: What advice do you have for ambitious young riders?
JC: Never give up. Be strict but fair with the horses. And patient.
WH: What is your day like? Please describe for the readers your training program.
JC: I always try to finish riding in the morning, so generally I ride 4 horses between 8:30 and 12:00 noon. In the afternoon I run errands, work on my laptop and cellphone, and take the occasional nap. In the evenings I would socialize with my friends over dinner. I go to the gym sometimes, but I don’t find much correlation between gym time and ring performance. This is a very mental sport after all.
WH: You have outstanding horses – please tell us a little about each one and what qualities you favor in a show jumper? What were the high points of the past year?
JC: For me the most important quality in a show jumper is the combination of braveness and carefulness. It is also the rarest combination, as most brave horses are not careful and most careful horses are not brave. I have four stallions, two geldings and a mare. My stallion Benitus di Vallerano is my all-time favorite horse: he has an amazing canter and a heart like a lion in the ring. He is the most fearless and positive horse I have ever sat on and also the most intelligent and careful. And also has scope for days. He is really a dream horse that would suit any rider, however he is only 9, so he still needs a lot of experience.
On the other hand my 11-year-old stallion Ninyon has been on an incredible streak this year. Since July he has gone clear in all grand prix classes except for one where he had an unlucky rail. Alone with Ninyon I’ve jumped about 700 places in the Longines Ranking List since January, and on top of that we are about to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo! Ninyon and I know each other inside-out: my mother bought him from an auction when he was 2 years old from a free-jumping video. He is extremely honest and just smart enough to behave like a computer. If you give him the wrong commands it won’t work (he doesn’t jump well), but as long as you ride well and give the right commands he will always give you a clear round. Qualifying for the Olympics will definitely be a highlight of this year and of my life!
A year ago it was another stallion Jaguar vd Berghoeve who brought about the highlight. He is one of the scopiest horses in the world (agreed by every rider who’s jumped him) and as a 9-year-old new into my stable, we pulled off a clear round at the WEG in Tryon.
WH: You were training with Janika Sprunger and have recently made a change – how does your new trainer prepare you and your horses? How does his or her coaching differ from the program you were in before? What do they have you practice?
JC: I currently train with Piergiorgio Bucci who is a veteran rider on the Italian team. We have been great friends for a while and I moved to his barn this year in March when I came back to Europe from Dubai. It has been an amazing experience thus far because not only do we have a tremendous amount of fun working together, Piergiorgio has an uncanny understanding of horses – the strengths and weaknesses of each jumper and what each horse needs to practice at home. He puts a lot of emphasis on jumping single-fence exercises at home that improve the jumping techniques. For example, using poles to help one to back off at the jump, one to stretch forward, one to use the back more, one to take off quicker, etc. I have felt a drastic difference in the ring and my results and performance since the summer are telling.
WH: You must have a routine to prepare yourself mentally before you go in the ring – what is it?
JC: I don’t have a routine but I definitely like to be left alone before an important class. Some riders thrive with verbal reassurances but I get distracted easily when people talk to me so for me the most important thing is to focus and have my plan well laid-out in my brain.
WH: What are your plans for the future?
JC: I would like to continue developing my career in art and investments but also ride and compete on the side like what I do now. It’s the perfect balance where I get the best of both worlds.
WH: What do you look for in a jumper prospect ?
JC: A combination of brave and careful. In today’s sport the mental element is more important than the scope. Usually these are horses who have a fight in them, they give everything in the ring no matter what. On a hot day, when they are tired, an unideal distance, you want a horse that fights to stay clear to the end without giving up.
WH: Who is favorite international rider and why?
JC: My favorite riders are Beezie Madden and Steve Guerdat. These are riders you watch in the ring and you think wow, they can make their horses do things that other riders cannot. They have what we call natural talent that one cannot just learn or replicate.
WH: Who is your favorite international horse?
JC: Besides my own Benitus, my favorite horses are Darragh Kenny’s Balou du Reventon and Daniel Bluman’s Ladriano. Simone Blum’s DSP Alice is up there too.
WH: Do you or your family breed prospects for show jumping? If so, which bloodlines do you favor?
JC: We breed for fun but we are nowhere near professionals. Nonetheless Concorde has been in the bloodlines of the two best horses in my life: Comodoro, the horse that brought me up to the big classes a long time ago, and Benitus.
WH: Is it possible to make a spooky horse brave, ie can you teach a horse to have courage?
JC: I believe bravery is an innate quality that you cannot teach. A horse with no heart will give up sooner or later especially given the demands of the top sport today.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Jasmine. See you at the shows or the art auctions or both!
About the author: with a background in filmmaking , fashion and contemporary art, Winter Hoffman brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. A life long horsewoman she helped her daughter, Zazou Hoffman, navigate her way to a successful Junior career culminating in 1st place in the 2009 ASPCA Maclay Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show and second in the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final with East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Zazou is now an Assistant Trainer and professional rider at Meadow Grove Farm in California. She has competed on several developing rider Nations Cups representing the United States.