Written by: Jessica Lefroy

Jaclyn Duff has come a long way from her early days of riding by the seat of her pants on the family farm in Edmonton.

Thumbnail for Jaclyn Duff: Bringing the European System Home

Ben Radvanyi Photo

A transition from a “reckless pony kid” to a pony hunter rider led to a succession of high-profile wins throughout Duff’s junior career, with victories in the 2003 CET Medal Finals, a team silver medal at the 2007 NAJYRC and being named the 2012 Jump Canada National Talent Squad champion. Having just returned from Europe, where she spent two-and-a-half months riding under the watchful eye of Emile Hendrix, the 29-year-old, Jaclyn Duff, has newfound drive and determination to make it to the upper levels of the sport.

Duff has only recently made the decision to ride as a professional, but talent was never the question; from the pony ring through to the amateur divisions she was a consistent winner. Instead, she took the long way to a degree in economics at the University of Alberta, taking most winter semesters off to ride and then taking a year off to contemplate pursuing her Masters degree. “In the end, my passion has always been the horses,” she explains of the decision. “When I was in Europe, I ultimately decided that I wanted to ride professionally and work towards having my own small training business while pursuing my goals as an international rider.”

Notable Mentors for Jaclyn Duff

Europe is the springboard for many young professionals, offering the chance to learn from the world’s best, but Duff is quick to acknowledge her many mentors up to this point. “I have been so fortunate to work with some incredible trainers,” she says. “Gail Greenough was an important mentor for me when I first started doing the grand prix; Jill and Bob Henselwood have gotten me to this level and taught me so much about the sport; Richard Spooner has also been a mentor to me over the years. Without the support of these trainers and the support of my parents, I would never be where I am today in the sport. It takes a whole team to do this and I am really grateful for everyone who has helped me get to where I am today. My groom, Solange Deketele, works harder than anyone I know.”

Duff says her string of horses became more rideable during her time abroad. “My horses have quite a bit of scope, but things go wrong when they get difficult to ride in the ring. The biggest change for me was going from a very North American system to the European system. If there is ever an option to leave out a stride I’d normally do the leave-out, because it helps with our tight time allowed and my horses all have big strides. I found that the Europeans will usually add a stride if there is an option. I think as a rider I should be able to do both systems comfortably. Having that rideability and then as a result the option to do the extra stride into the triple combinations was one thing I took away from Europe that I think will really help me in the bigger grand prix.”

Good Times, Bad Times

The summer of 2016 had some major ups and downs for Duff. During a June tournament at Spruce Meadows, she was approached by the Henselwoods in the warm-up ring after a 1.50 class with the news that her brother had suffered a serious heart attack while mountain biking. “My brother is alive by some miracle, but his heart stopped for 45 minutes,” recalls Duff. “He has a long road of recovery ahead of him. I was [understandably] a bit preoccupied during Spruce and spent most my time at the hospital and with my family.

“My brother is my inspiration. Every class in Europe I won I did it for him. He has inspired me to keep fighting when I’m down and appreciate and take every opportunity I’m given.”

Duff and her horses travelled to Europe with the Developing Riders Tour, amassing a slew of victories across the continent. At the first stop in Bratislava, Slovakia, she won the World Cup Qualifier with EH All of None and the CSI3* Grand Prix with Pater Noster. She then won the grand prix qualifier on Pater Noster in a field of 100 in Roosendaal, Netherlands, followed by a victory in the CSI2* Grand Prix that week on EH All or None, and achieved another victory at CSI3* Donaueschingen, Germany. “As a rider, I like being under pressure, and I think when I am really nervous I usually ride my best. I am really grateful that Equestrian Canada gave me the opportunity to go to the Developing Rider shows, because it helped put me on the radar. Because of those results during the first few weeks in Europe I was invited to Gijon as the reserve for the senior team. Getting to go to a CSIO5* in Europe was an amazing experience. I learned so much in one week in Gijon and was able to jump my first five-star grand prix.

“One of my goals in going to Europe was to get more experience in bigger grand prix. I went there to learn and develop as a rider and gain more experience. It was a fantastic experience and I feel very confident heading into the 2017 show season with my horses.”

FAST FACTS ABOUT JACLYN DUFF

Hometown: Edmonton, AB
Top horses:
EH All or None, a ten-year-old Hanoverian gelding
Caesar Z, a nine-year-old Zangersheide gelding
Pater Noster, a 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding
Stakkarus, a 12-year-old Oldenberg Warmblood gelding
Favourite Netflix show: Suits
Last book read: Throwing Rocks at Houses by Colleen Jones
Favourite food: Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Favourite band: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Show day superstitions: “If I win a big class in a particular hunt coat, you will probably see me wearing that hunt coat in the next big class!”
If you could ride any horse in the world, it would be: HH Azur