Thirty-year-old Gort native Jessica Burke is chatting to Helen Sharp in the early hours from the stopover stables in France.
Jessica and her horses are driving home from Madrid following four weeks on the road and a second glorious podium finish for the Irish show jumping team.
This weekend it was an excellent third place finish in the three-star Longines EEF Nations Cup in Spain with an ever-impressive double clear round from Jessica with the oh-so-game nine-year-old mare Namamia (Fantomas de Muze x Berlin).
This placing followed fast on the heels of the team’s incredible victory in the Portuguese Nations Cup in Lisbon a couple of weekends previously.
Chef d’Equipe Taylor Vard’s team of Jessica, Richard Howley, Kevin Gallagher and Jenny Rankin lifted the winners’ trophy on a two round total of just four faults.
“Lisbon was my first ever Nations Cup, I was second to go and I jumped a clear round and then it was a massive team effort with two clears in the first round and three clears in the second.
"The guys in the team I’ve known for a long time, I jumped alongside them when I was younger on ponies, and it was amazing to be on a team with them again and to win it that night was incredible.”
Having left a career as a maths teacher to pursue her riding ambitions, Jessica is now based at Arion Stud in Hampshire. She has been on a forceful trajectory of success ever since and still has ambitions to ride for Ireland in Dublin at the Agha Khan.
“I just want to get to the top level that I can. I feel like I’ve achieved an awful lot very quickly in the last couple of weeks. I’ve some very nice horses so I think I’m just very excited where it can go representing Ireland again.
I want to get to 5* and I’d love to jump in Dublin. Every rider wants to go to the Olympic Games don’t they? I’d also love to jump on the Global Champions Tour. I’d like to do it all if I can! To be honest I’m excited about it all!”
Horse of the moment
Jessica’s horse of the moment is her magnificent Nations Cup mount Namamia. She has had her since she was six and has produced her slowly: “We never really thought what she was, she just sort of went along in the background, never totally impressed us until the Sunshine Tour this year in Spain where she was amazing.
“She has gone on and been incredible in Lisbon and Madrid. She’s just getting better and better, her attitude is absolutely unbelievable.
"She never panics, in Spain she was quite green, now that’s going out of her, she’s losing the babyness and every challenge just seems to make her better. We have a great show partnership so I’m really really excited about her.
“I was a school teacher up until two and a half years ago and surviving life as a show jumper, one thing I find is it can be very full-on when you’re in the industry full time so I’m very lucky.
"One of the things I took from being a school teacher was having a really, really good circle of friends outside of the industry.
“It’s great to take time out of it if you can, socialise with different people, do different things. I like to follow other sports, just not to be totally show jumping.
"It consumes so much of our life, we miss a lot of things over it travelling etc. and I wouldn’t change it, I absolutely love it but I just think sometimes it’s good to take a breath, and talk to people about something totally different."
“On the tough days you know, I’ve a brilliant team around me. My show groom Aaliyah is very good and if we have a bad day we might go away quietly.
"Last year one or two of my horses had injuries and that set things back, and on the really tough days it’s always my mother I go back to.
"She might not hear from me when things are flying, but the minute something goes wrong, she gets the phone call. She always reminds me everything will be OK and she is usually right.”
I ask Jessica why she does it and her answer is direct: “Oh, just because we love it! I’ve always loved it, even when I was in school teaching, I had my own yard at home and I used to work until 4pm in school and then come home and work all evening at the horses.
You’re dealing with horses at the end of the day, they can decide they don’t like the water
"It’s a crazy sport, the lows can feel terrible and the highs can feel unbelievable. I read an article with Beezie Madden, who I love and always admired, and she said to try and stay in the middle.
"It’s one of the most important things, you cannot let the lows get you too low and not let the highs get you too high.
"You’re dealing with horses at the end of the day, they can decide they don’t like the water, you can just crash through a fence and next thing you’re on the floor after jumping a clear round.
"It can go from high to low very quickly, so to stay in the middle would probably be the best piece of advice I’ve had.
“And to be patient, I moved to England two and a half years ago and I had big ambitions to do stuff like this, but obviously I needed to build a team of horses.
"We had a lot of really nice young horses but we had to give them time to grow and there was no point in wanting to go jumping around Nations Cups when I knew my riding wasn’t ready and the horses weren’t ready. But if you have patience and you are ready, definitely push on and give it everything.”