Lea Rucker made her first appearance on a senior Canadian Nations Cup team one to remember, bringing home second place in the Longines CSIO3* EEF Nations Cup Peelbergen in Kronenberg, NED. Rucker, who had previously competed as a junior on the Canadian team at North American Young Riders, delivered a double-clear result despite intense pressure to perform.

“It was a big step for me,” says Rucker. “To compete for your country among the best riders was such an amazing feeling. Of course there is always pressure to do well, not only for yourself but also for the team; however, my teammates were so supportive and made me feel so welcomed. It was such a cool feeling having so many people root for you and be in your corner.”

Rucker says she typically manages stressful situations pretty well and in the moment trusted that her preparation ‒ and her horse’s talent ‒ would be enough to deliver the result for the team. “Thankfully, I would say I do well under pressure, so there weren’t many emotions I needed to manage. I have an amazing horse that I trust with everything, so I just wanted to go in there and show our potential.”

Rucker laughs and admits that she has no idea how she got the idea to begin riding, as growing up in Syracuse, NY, there weren’t any lesson barns readily accessible to the family. When she was seven they moved to the riding mecca of Aurora, ON, and she remembers that her first priority was to immediately find a barn with school horses. “Two year later I had the opportunity to lease Honey, the best pony ever,” she remembers. “I went to my first Trillium show and was champion in the Short Stirrup division and since then I was addicted and never looked back.”

In 2023, Rucker moved her three top horses Macarena 42 (Monte Bellin x Saccor), Barcelona (Balloon x Captain Fire), and Firefly 66 (For Pleasure x Colman) to Zurich, SUI, to train with Alain Jufer, who that year was named Swiss Show Jumping Champion.

The move was intended to give Rucker a chance to experience the European system, and has given her a new perspective on the sport. “For most of my teenage years I knew that I wanted to be based somewhere in Europe, and I felt that was the place to really become a horseperson,” she explains. “I have noticed so many differences between the riding community in North America and my time in Germany and Switzerland, and I feel like here my horses have a better chance of thriving, and at the same time I’m not paying nearly as much as I used to in Canada. I would say here, riding horses is more of a lifestyle and not just a luxurious sport.”

Rucker’s mount for the Nations Cup, and her current top horse, is Macarena, a 10-year-old mare purchased in 2023. “She is everything and more to me,” she says. “She fights so hard for me every time we step into the ring, and I’ve never had a feeling like that before.”

They have a simple routine at home that focuses on keeping the mare happy and relaxed in between shows. “She knows her job so well, so we only jump right before a show ‒ she has a ton of blood so our jump schools are not always … effective. We go out hacking three or four times a week in the Swiss mountains. She is such a reliable partner and I have every ounce of trust in her. I got so incredibly lucky to be able to have a horse like her and her happiness will always be my top priority.”

A presenter handing an award to a woman on a horse.

Lea and Macarena placed second in her first-ever 3* 1.50m Grand Prix in Olivia, Spain.

Rucker admits to struggling with her confidence over the years and notes one of the achievements of which she is most proud is the work she has done on addressing and improving the mental aspect of the sport. “I have been struggling with low confidence and almost like an ‘imposter syndrome’ since I was 13, and it has always affected my riding,” she says. (Imposter syndrome is the condition of feeling anxious and not feeling successful despite being capable and high-performing.)

“This spring, I had a major mental breakthrough and started believing in myself again. A huge part of it is the support of my trainer, Alain Jufer. He has really taught me to stop over-complicating things and just to go other there and have fun and ride with feeling. All of my horses have progressed astronomically with this new mindset and I am really proud that I get to bring out at least a little of their potential without my lack of confidence hindering them.”

In addition to her competition goals, which include consistency in grand prixs and more experience on Nations Cups teams, Rucker’s goal for the upcoming season is one with which many Canadian equestrians can relate: “Really, my main goal is to be faster!” she laughs. “I am always very cautious and prefer to have a slower, clear round rather than try to go out for the win. But I will have to learn at some point if I want to achieve some of my bigger goals. All of my horses are very capable of going faster and I am excited to start trying a bit more and learning along the way.”

Fast Facts

Age: 20
Hometown: Saltillo, Mexico
Coffee or Tea: Tea
Favourite TV show: Criminal Minds
Hobbies outside of horses: hockey
Favourite horse show venue: Hamburg Derby
Show ring superstitions: I always need my lucky crop in my left hand!
Recent competition highlights: 2nd 1.50m 3* Grand Prix, Olivia, Spain; 7th 1.50m 3* Grand Prix, MET, Olivia, Spain; 5th individually U25 at Saut Hermes, Paris; 8th 1.50m 4* jump off, Arezzo, Italy.

If you could ride any horse in the world, who would it be and why?
“There are so many horses I would like to sit on, but if I could only choose one, it would have to be Ursula, ridden by Scott Brash. That pair is just everything I want to be ‒ it was so effortless for them and they were a true partnership. I still like to watch their old videos and learn something each time.”