FEI – Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa made the Rolex FEI World Cupâ„¢ series his own during the three-year period from 1998 to 2000 when, partnering the brilliant Baloubet du Rouet, he scooped the honours in Helsinki, Gothenburg and Las Vegas.
He has been quoted as saying that his life changed from the day he first won the coveted title, and as he celebrated his 35th birthday last week he spoke about his hopes of making it to the final again in this 2007/2008 season – and shared some thoughts on his career so far and on the sport on which he has already left his mark.
“I do hope to get to Gothenburg next April – but I have to qualify first!” he pointed out. “I have a horse with a lot of potential in Rufus but right now he is still learning. It may be another six months before he has the experience he needs. Even though he competed in Grand Prix competitions and at the Pan-American Games this year he is still on a learning curve,” the rider explained.
Looking back on his early career he admitted that being born the son of a legend put him under a certain amount of pressure from the start. The long and illustrious career of his father, Nelson Pessoa, ensured that his son would never go unnoticed, but Rodrigo believes that he benefitted from the connection rather than suffering as a result of it. “My father and his success opened a lot of doors for me and provided me with plenty of opportunities so I am very grateful for that,” he said.
“When I was young I tried a lot of different sports but nothing ever gave me the thrill that I got from show jumping. When I started competing I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to do. But I enjoy other sports very much, I play soccer and quite a bit of golf and I follow the main football championships in Europe – I’m a real sports fan,” he admitted.
When he won the World Cup final in Helsinki in 1998, pinning Lars Nieberg into second and fellow-German Ludger Beerbaum into third, he knew he had really made it.
“Once you win a championship like that you enter a certain circle and you start to be considered a contender for titles afterwards. You become part of an elite group of riders who are taken seriously,” he pointed out.
However two years before he first held the World Cup trophy aloft, his prodigious talent had already been spotted by the world-famous watch-making company Rolex who have been sponsoring him for the past 12 years.
“Rolex is a very special and prestigious company and being connected with them gives you great visibility in places where horses and horsesport wouldn’t normally get any real recognition. They are in a class of their own and the company is so very close to its Testimonees. It’s like being part of a family that you never leave – it goes way beyond sponsorship and business, its about friendship too,” Rodrigo said.
His particularly focused approach was probably a principle contributor in attracting the Swiss company’s attention in the first place. “Sport is like anything you want to do in a professional way – you’ve got to have the right attitude and show jumping is no exception. It takes a lot of time and commitment, you need to focus 100% on what you are doing. Besides your horses, your owners and your sponsors there is a lot of work behind the scenes with planning and management and then, of course, you need to be a horseman,” he explained.
The reigning Olympic Champion feels strongly about the relatively new phenomenon of younger riders becoming involved in show jumping without the same sense of commitment. “You can buy wonderful horses but you still have to work hard if you want to produce the results that those horses deserve. This sport isn’t just about big, flashy lorries and expensive horses. It takes talent, effort, horsemanship and a lot of hard work to get to the top,” he insisted.
Rodrigo said his father is his greatest hero “but I was lucky to grow up being very close to lots of great riders and learning from them,” he added.
“For me, Ian Millar is one of the all-time greats, he has been an incredible force in the sport for a very long time. And someone I look up to and admire both as a person and a rider is Ludger Beerbaum,” he said. “Ludger’s commitment and competitiveness has pushed me to try to catch him. I believe my 15-year career would never have been the same without him,” he explained.
So what about the Brazilian ace’s chances of securing his fourth title at the Rolex FEI World Cupâ„¢ Final in Gothenburg next April? “Most of the winning horses have a lot of experience behind them and Rufus is short of that but who knows? If we get there, then we will see,” said the rider who, this Sunday, will line out in the fifth leg of the 2007/2008 series in Geneva hoping to pick up some of those precious qualifying points that could make it possible. By Louise Parkes.