2016 was a breakout year for Italy’s rising show jumping star, Lorenzo de Luca. He’s taken top honors in Grand Prix from Spruce Meadows to Paris and Dublin, skyrocketing from relative obscurity to 13th on the Longines FEI ranking list.
For de Luca, the path to a professional show jumping career wasn’t paved by family dynasty or industry connections – it’s been one of passion and will. As a child, de Luca was drawn to a horse farm his family passed while en route to their beach house. After some begging, de Luca’s parents relented and stopped at the farm, allowing their 9-year-old son to sit on a horse for the first time. “It was a magical feeling,” says de Luca of his first horse encounter, “I loved it from the first moment and I knew I wanted to jump.”
For the next 10 years de Luca took riding lessons and participated in small shows. At 19 he left his home in the south of Italy and headed to northern Italy where he worked for dealers and owners, embarking on his professional riding career. This wasn’t without a dose of family controversy. “My family thought I was crazy, no one is into horses so they were against my decision,” says de Luca, who left with the money he’d scraped together, despite their protestations.
After two years in northern Italy, de Luca moved to Belgium where he spent 5 months training at the stables of Henk Nooren, “He [Nooren] has really taught me a lot, I consider him one of the best,” says de Luca of Nooren who still serves as his coach.
De Luca remained in Belgium and worked for English horse dealer Neil Jones until he was approached by Stephen Conter to join the Stephex team in 2015, which served as a turning point in de Luca’s career.
“My life has changed a lot,” says de Luca of the move to Stephex, “I have a fantastic team of people and horses around me. We are very lucky to do what we love as a career and to do it at the top level.”
For de Luca, a key change since transferring to Stephex has been his integral role in management of the horses. “I like to organize the training of my horses, their free time, what they eat, veterinary needs, farrier needs etc. It’s very important to have good management in order for the horses to give you 100% and my team is very helpful in this regard,” says de Luca.
De Luca has the good fortune of having the ride on numerous top horses, his favorite of which are Ensor de Litrange LXII, Armitages Boy, Limestone Grey, and Halifax van het Kluizebos.
Limestone Grey, the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse with whom de Luca picked up 5* wins at the Paris Longines Masters and Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ tournament will be making the trip to Omaha. Also securing his plane ticket is Ensor, the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood that de Luca partnered with last spring. Together de Luca and Ensor won a Nations Cup competition at the Dublin Horse Show and took top honors in the Longines International Grand Prix of Ireland.
Of all his top horses, de Luca expresses great confidence in the bond they’ve developed. “I know they want to win and that’s a great feeling. They are fighters and like to do their best. They know me and know that I would never ask them something they can’t do – the trust between us is fantastic,” says de Luca of his fleet of top athletes.
For the past year de Luca has been unmistakable when he enters the show ring thanks to his unique riding attire. He’s earned the support and sponsorship of the Italian air force, a distinction offered only to Italy’s most elite athletes. A perk of this sponsorship is wearing the air force uniform, in this case for piloting horses rather than planes.
Despite his recent successes de Luca feels no added pressure to perform. “I worked hard to progress in the sport and I don’t see the recent notoriety as an arrival. I’d like to continue to improve but would never do it by putting more pressure on my horses or myself – I think it’s very important not to push too much.”
With his stable of top horses and current hot streak, de Luca will be one to watch as he aims to give World Cup veterans a run for their money in Omaha.
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By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza