Nick Dello Joio’s first riding lesson was on the Valkenswaard Grand Prix course in Holland, with his showjumping professional father, Norman, teaching. His father encouraged him to hop on the chestnut mare Nelson Pessoa had brought for him to try out. Norman lowered the jumps course to two feet, and his son rode the course, starting and stopping over each fence.
Until that day, Nick had no real experience riding, just a few jaunts on the beach at the Bahamas. A rewarding father-son equestrian relationship evolved from the impromptu learning experience, where the master horseman Norman, son of the Pulitzer winning composer by the same name, added “coach” to his parental responsibilities.
While Nick continued to participate in school sports, including hockey, football, golf and soccer, at St. Andrews School in Boca Raton, Florida, he requested lessons with trainer Missy Clark. The equestrian gene had made its imprint and Norman’s son rode his way to Florida Children’s Modified Circuit Champion the following year.
“He’s a natural horseman, more than I was,” commented his father, who rode Glasgow to the 2004 Horse of The Year award, about Nick’s fluid riding style.
Though the beginning of Dello Joio’s tall, lean son riding on the Florida circuit went well, he said the striding on the 14.2 chestnut was difficult to adjust for jumping. He still didn’t know how serious he was about showing. Yet at his parents Wembley Farm in Wellington, Florida, he went on to ride “whatever was available,” says Norman, adding that “He didn’t have a fancy junior jumper.”
He did go on to win in the High Junior Jumpers Division, however, and expanded competitively to the national showjumping circuit.
Today, when the father and son go in horse shows, they strategize together about Grand Prix courses, and Norman says he likes to hear feedback from his son – that he helps simplify his riding. The partnership – Nick emphasized “it’s not touchy-feely , its a workmanlike relationship” – included a recent business trip to Mexico to look at sale horses, in conjunction with his father’s recent Chef D’Equipe appointment to the Mexican Equestrian Team. Yet his father and equestrian mother Jeannie, (“the backbone of the family” says the son) keeps a broader balance and perspective as well to their lives. This involves doing a lot together as a family, like diving, explains the father, “Probably more so than most of the show families,” he states. Nick has also participated in the last four years in Just World International , an organization raising money for third-world countries through horse show events.
“I have to watch that I don’t become impatient” Norman says about instructing his now twenty year old son. I expect certain things from him that are technical.” But he is still just in his fifth year of showjumping, he adds. “Though he is very serious about everything he does.” Part of Dello Joio’s training instruction is to help the rider feel certain about riding the course – and that has to do with understanding the technical facts. “Part of alleviating fear is to have a good game plan, and the course becomes less stressful.”
At the 2009 Atlanta Fall Classic, Norman was discussing with Nick what was the best way for his son to gain optimal time on the course. Nick was riding Malcolm, a horse Norman used to show, so his dad knew the horse, and what his strengths were. Some key jump questions were asked on the course, and Nick had to decide about his father’s advice on ways to streamline time. On the initial round, one especially tight move involved a skinny (narrow) jump – after clearing the third jump, he turned left and rode to the inside of the rail – the athletic precision required to move through such a small space at an angle paid off, and he saved seconds off his first round. At the jump off, the young rider watched as riders tried to gallop around grass Derby banks. He was hesitant to try the course option of going over the banks, it was risky – by going up and down the banks, he could knock down the fence set after the descent by the change in stride momentum. Nick put his leg on the chestnut Dutch warmblood with an extra firm push just before the banks and then trusted him to know how to make it through . Malcolm pushed up the hill and compressed his stride on the sloping descent to the fence that immediately followed where the terrain was level.The trust came through – Nick won his first grand prix.
“Thank you,” he said to his father after the class.”It worked out well.”