Jacqueline Steffens Daly has seen her show jumping career grow by leaps and bounds this year. Currently a member of the National Team Program ‘B’ Squad, there’s little doubt that the ‘A’ Squad is within her reach. Having made her Nations’ Cup debut for the Canadian team in Mexico in March, she was again selected by chef d’equipe Eric Lamaze and the High Performance Advisory Group to ride on home soil in both the Longines Nations’ Cup in Langley, BC, and the BMO Nations’ Cup at September’s Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ tournament in Calgary, AB. All three of her Nations’ Cup appearances were aboard Freaky, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Darco x Litho) that was scouted by Steffens Daly’s former trainer, Mark Hayes, from Belgian horse dealer Francois Mathy.

Forming a long-term bond with her horses is becoming a trend for Steffens Daly, now 28. She competed at the annual North American Young Riders’ Championship (now the North American Youth Championship) on four occasions – 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015 – all with the same horse, Quercus van Generhese. Like Freaky, Quercus was also sired by the legendary Darco.

In March of 2020, Steffens Daly began riding for Eye Candy Jumpers, operated by Erica Hatfield of Minnesota and based in Wellington, FL, during the winter season. This has provided an opportunity to work with Eye Candy’s head trainer, Paul O’Shea of Ireland, as well as ride on the Major League Show Jumping tour as a member of Team Eye Candy. As an added bonus, she also works alongside her husband and fellow rider, Dylan Daly. The couple was married in Tralee, County Kerry, in southwest Ireland, in May of this year.

Jacqueline Steffens Daly made her competitive debut in the short stirrup division riding Bayview Better-B-Sharpe, better known as “Dylan” around the barn. (Courtesy of Jacqueline Steffens Daly)

What age did you start riding and what was the name of your first pony or horse?

I was nine years old when I started riding. I started out in a schooling program, so had different lesson horses to ride each week. We got our first pony a little less than a year later, Bayview Better-B-Sharpe. Funny enough, his barn name was “Dylan,” which is also my husband’s name. He was a pony that I shared with my younger sister, Ashlee. I competed in the short stirrups with him.

You are currently named to the National Team Program ‘B’ Squad with Freaky. How long have you been partnered together, and what are your goals with him for the rest of this season?

Freaky and I have been partners for five years now. He’s been a really exciting one to develop. When I started with him, he was quite green. He was eight years old and had shown 1.30m when I got him, so we’ve grown together, and it’s been a lot of firsts for both of us. He’s continued to exceed expectations every step of the way. He was always super competitive, always doing well at whatever level we were showing at. We would try moving him up to see if there was more scope in the tank, and same thing – he always continued to rise to the occasion. We took him from doing 1.30m to now jumping five-star Grand Prix and Nations’ Cup events. He’s a really special horse.

For the rest of the year, we’ll be following the Major League Show Jumping circuit. We have three weeks of showing in Mexico, and then two weeks in California. From there, it’s on to Wellington for the winter circuit. In the coming year, I’d like to continue to represent Canada on Nations’ Cup teams. With the Pan Am Games next year, that would be the big goal we’re aiming for.

What is your favourite competition memory?

A really special one from recently would be going to Xalapa, Mexico, and jumping my first Nations’ Cup with Freaky. Jumping clear in the second round would be a highlight for me, helping Canada to finish second there.

What is your favourite horse show venue to compete at?

For the moment, I would have to say that Spruce Meadows was very special for the atmosphere and level of competition. This was my first summer competing there, and I definitely felt like there was a learning curve, but by the end of the ‘Summer Series’ I had earned a win in a big CSI5* 1.55m class and then had the added honour of coming back to Spruce Meadows in September for the Nations’ Cup at the ‘Masters’ tournament. That was really special.

Another favourite for me is the Royal Horse Show in Toronto. Growing up, the goal every year was to qualify and do well there. I have lots of great memories of doing the ponies, the Junior/Amateur jumpers, and eventually the Canadian Championships. It’s an incredible show. The atmosphere is really special and hard to find.

Which competition is still on your bucket list?

For me, the most exciting one that I want to get to is Aachen. Years ago, before I really knew what Aachen even was, my dad and I happened to be in Germany and in the area, so we went to check it out and watch. I had never seen anything like it, and I still haven’t seen anything like it. It’s at the top of my bucket list for sure.

What is your dream vacation?

The dream vacation would have to be Greece, to do some island hopping and eat some amazing food. My husband and I are currently planning that as our official honeymoon next spring, so we’re getting really excited for that.

Cats or dogs?

I really like both but am probably partial to cats. Dogs definitely suit the horse show lifestyle better, and we have a dog. Her name is Casey and she’s a black Czech Sheppard. She’s a rescue. Dylan found her at the local humane society where she was scheduled to be put down the next day and he adopted her immediately. He’s had her since she was a pretty young puppy.

Last show you binge-watched?

I’m currently binge-watching Stranger Things. I’m in the midst of it, in season four at the moment.

What are the three most used apps on your phone?

Instagram, WhatsApp, and probably Maps.

Favourite motto or saying?

A phrase that Paul often says to me when I go in the ring is, “Get stuck in.” To me, it means to go in, fight for it, and make it happen no matter what. I think it’s an Irish phrase, I hadn’t heard it before, but I really like it.

What three things are always in your fridge?

Some cold brew, avocados are always in the fridge, and apples. I like to cook a lot, so it’s usually pretty well-stocked to be honest, but changes regularly.

If you could ride any horse in the world, past or present, which one would you pick?

My initial thought is Darco. I’ve had two outstanding horses by him. I bought a straw of semen from him a few years ago that was really hard to find and I’m waiting for the right breeding opportunity. I would have loved to ride the father himself.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

Most people wouldn’t know that I have a degree in Molecular Biology. I’m also an avid reader, I really enjoy that. I like to paddleboard when there’s time. We sometimes go to MacArthur Beach State Park on Mondays in Florida, which is a really cool spot to paddle and see some manatees.