By: Tracy Hanes
Medallist. Mom. Multi-tasker extraordinaire. Welcome to the world of Jessica Phoenix.
Jessica Phoenix, 32, has achieved the seemingly impossible by successfully balancing riding multiple event horses in international competition with raising two young children and running a horse and cattle farm with her husband, Joel.
The day her parents bought a buckskin pony for the then-toddler and her sister Julie may have determined her future as a professional rider and member of the Canadian Equestrian Team. Since being first named to the Team in 2007, Jessica has become one of Canadian eventing’s Most Valuable Players, as winner of four Pan Am medals (individual gold and team silver in 2011, individual silver and team bronze in 2015), a top-10 rider at the Rolex CCI4* (7th in 2011) and top-placed Canadian eventer (22nd) at the 2012 London Olympics. As a member of the Canadian Elite Eventing Squad, there’s little doubt Phoenix will be riding for Canada at the Olympics this summer in Rio de Janeiro.
Hooked on Jumping
Jessica’s passion comes naturally. Her mom, Dawn’s, childhood dream was to have her own farm and horses, so when she married Bob Ferguson, the young couple bought a two-acre farm in Uxbridge, ON. The family did local trail rides and the girls participated in club shows. When she was 11, Jessica became hooked on jumping after she took her first lesson at Dreamcrest Farm in Port Perry, operated by Canadian Olympic eventers Ian Roberts and Kelly Plitz.
Her first event horse, Let’s Boogie, purchased from Dreamcrest, was “the horse of a lifetime,” says Jessica. With the 14.3-hand gelding, Jessica won the Ontario Horse Trials Training Championship when she was 13. In 1999, they finished third individually in the one star-division of the 1999 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships.
Although intent on a career in the horse industry, Jessica studied business administration and accounting at Durham College. While working at Rocabarra Farm, a hunter/jumper barn, she met Exploring, a Thoroughbred gelding that was “an incredible jumper.” Exploring (Digby) took Jessica to the advanced level and earned her a place on the Canadian Equestrian Team. They were part of the silver medal 2007 Pan Am Games team and were named to the 2008 Olympic team, but were unable to compete due to a tendon injury.
In 2005, she added a former racehorse with the barn name ‘Tucker’ to her stable. Shown as Exponential, he progressed from being unwilling to jump a ground pole to a fearless four-star eventer. He and Jessica represented Canada at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 World Equestrian Games in France. (See how she built up Tucker’s confidence, starting on page 26.)
Today, Jessica campaigns four advanced athletes, including her two-time Pan Am partner Pavarotti (a Westphalian gelding owned by Don J. Good), the petite Trakehner-Thoroughbred mare A Little Romance (owned by Don and Anita Leschied), Bentley’s Best (a Trakehner gelding owned by Don J. Good), and Galten Farms’ Abbey GS, a former Trakehner broodmare that has had six foals. All four horses have qualified for Olympic selection. “I’ve really been blessed with good owners and it’s been a blast producing their horses,”
she says. “I’m lucky to have such talented horses.”
Super Support Network
Jessica juggles a hectic competition schedule with raising children Jacob, six, and Jordan, one, and helping run the farm, where her horse business and Joel’s cattle operation are based. “The most underestimated thing in life is the people you surround yourself with,” she says. “It really takes a village and I’m incredibly lucky to have an amazing family – mine and my husband’s. They are such a big part of our lives. And we have an incredible staff at the farm, a great group of people who work well together.” She cites her former coaches Ian Roberts and Kelly Plitz, team coaches David O’Connor and Clayton Fredericks, and dressage coach Jacquie Brooks as major career influences.
Her staunchest supporter, however, is Joel. They started dating when Jessica was 15 and have been married for 10 years. “Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she says. “He does with cattle what I do with horses and he understands the commitment it takes to be the best at what you’re doing. That’s been a great asset to our marriage.”
Jessica’s support network was critical to her recuperation in 2015 from a serious fall at the Jersey Fresh International Event. She broke three ribs and her sacrum and required surgery on her liver. Incredibly, she recovered in time to ride for Canada at the Pan Am Games just two months later. “It was a miracle and not something I could have done by myself without lots of support,” she says. “But there was not one moment where I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the Pan Ams.”
Riding at the international level has created many great memories for her, her family, teammates, owners, support staff, and fans. Jessica is looking forward to more years riding as a Canadian team member, and is up for whatever new challenges may come.
“It’s a sport of longevity,” Jessica says. “It takes a long time to master all of the skills you need, and it is always evolving.”