Nick Dello Joio

Despite a late start,  he is following in his father’s footsteps.

Most children of professional riders start riding before they can walk. But Nick Dello Joio, 19 — son of Olympian Norman Dello Joio — didn’t pick up the sport until he was a teenager. Still, his late entry into the jumper and equitation ranks has not kept him from being one of the top junior riders on the circuit.

Norman and his wife, Jeanie, never pressed Nick into riding. “It’s not that we discouraged Nick, but we didn’t encourage him,” explains Norman. “We wanted him to get a real understanding of what the world is like and all it has to offer besides riding.”

Despite a late start,  he is following in his father’s footsteps.

Most children of professional riders start riding before they can walk. But Nick Dello Joio, 19 — son of Olympian Norman Dello Joio — didn’t pick up the sport until he was a teenager. Still, his late entry into the jumper and equitation ranks has not kept him from being one of the top junior riders on the circuit.Image 

Norman and his wife, Jeanie, never pressed Nick into riding. “It’s not that we discouraged Nick, but we didn’t encourage him,” explains Norman. “We wanted him to get a real understanding of what the world is like and all it has to offer besides riding.”

Nick was always conscious of his parents’ wishes. “They wanted us to explore everything else first,” he shares. And that is exactly what this enthusiastic teenager did — trying his hand at many different pursuits including fishing, scuba diving, golf, and roller-hockey.

But he still traveled with his father to horse shows. And he always loved watching. All those years when he wasn’t riding, he was soaking in the show jumping world. Then, while traveling with his father in Europe, Nick says he “got the bug a little.”

At Valkenswaard, his father’s good friend Nelson Pessoa obliged Nick’s burgeoning interest by lending him a 14.3-hand European pony champion named Radieuse. Nick began showing Radieuse periodically in the children’s jumpers. “At first I had no sense of basics but was just galloping around for fun,” he admits. “I would fall off in three out of five classes that I did. I would be winning a class because I would be going all out, and then I’d fall off.”

But Nick quickly became more serious and dedicated himself to learning the fundamentals. His hard work started to pay off in 2005 when Missy Clark lent him an experienced jumper, Lucky Four, and he started to win. At WEF that year, Nick was circuit champion in the children’s modified jumpers.

The next horse in Nick’s life — Cyril du Lys — was purchased to help Nick make the move up to the junior jumpers. “Cyril really showed me the way,” says Nick of the gray Selle Français gelding that took him from the low to high junior jumpers. He and Cyril had many wins together, at venues from the American Gold Cup to Spruce Meadows to WEF. Nick also has a promising young jumper in the seven year-old Kenzo.

Besides working with his father in the jumpers, Nick also started showing in the equitation, training with Clark. 2006 was his first full year doing the big eq and he qualified for all the major finals on a horse leased from Sam Edelman. He was on the standby at the USEF Medal Finals and finished just out of the ribbons at the ASPCA Maclay Finals.

Nick doesn’t see the equitation as a means to an end. “The main reason I did the equitation was to improve things like my position in the air over the jumps, which helps me in the jumpers.”

To those riders who have dedicated years to honing their skills, watching someone like Nick skyrocket to success in just three short years can be unnerving. Clark attributes Nick’s almost instant success to his studious attitude. “His rapid progression is remarkable and highly unusual and I think it stems from his never-ending quest to learn,” she explains. “Nick is a great student — he’s always interested and inquisitive.”

While many top juniors have been at it forever, a late bloomer taking the world by storm is not completely unprecedented. In fact, Norman himself didn’t start riding until he was 15. “I think it’s nice that Nick became interested in the sport on his own,” Norman says. “It’s not like some of the child prodigies we have today who start riding so young they may become less and less interested and even forget why they started riding in the first place.”

Nick doesn’t always feel like he’s on top of the pack either. “Right now I kind of wish I’d started riding earlier because I’d have much more experience than I do,” he muses. “But at the same time I’ve experienced so much more because I didn’t ride from an early age.”

So he tries to catch up by watching, riding, and learning. “I love to watch my dad, Rodrigo [Pessoa], Markus Ehning,” Nick says. “I’m fortunate enough to get to travel and see all the great riders in action. I think part of the reason I’ve come along so quickly is that I’ve always loved to watch. So even when I wasn’t riding I was watching.”

In addition to his father and Clark, Nick works with Darragh Kerrins. His mother also plays a big role in his training. “Most people don’t know it but my mom is my dad’s trainer. She’s the best trainer I know,” he says.

As for the future, education is very important to the Dello Joio family. While in high school, Nick commuted forty-five minutes from his home in Wellington in order to attend the prestigious St. Andrews School in Boca Raton. He graduated from St. Andrews and now attends Suffolk University in Boston, Mass.

“Nick has a much greater degree of natural talent than me,” Norman confides. “I’m not that naturally talented—I actually have to work pretty hard at it.” Which isn’t to say that Nick doesn’t work hard. Clark cites his “incredible work ethic” as another reason he has come so far so fast.

For now, son watches father and father watches son. “I wasn’t born when Dad won the World Cup and I was only three when he rode in the Olympics, so I missed out on some of those great events,” says Nick. “But I was there in Florida when he won three grand prix [classes] with Glasgow and when he won the King George the V Cup at Hickstead and it was amazing.”

Adds Norman, “It’s been wonderful to share the sport with him and I hope he continues to progress and enjoy the horses. Sometimes I wish I could give him a pill that would give him all the experience I’ve had but I tell myself not to say too much or try too hard with him. I have to stand back and let him make the mistakes any normal kid would so he can learn on his own.”

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