Best of JN: Rodrigo Pessoa Takes the Reins of Irish Show Jumping Dream Team

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Photo courtesy of Sport Horse Ireland

Brazilian Show Jumping dynasty and superstar Rodrigo Pessoa will be the Team Manager and Chef d’Equipe of the Irish Show Jumping Team, Horse Sport Ireland announced earlier this week. Under no uncertain terms, Irish leadership made it clear this appointment was made in hopes of “delivering medals” for a team chock full of talent but somehow left off the podium at major events all too often in the past decade.

Talent and Leadership in Spades

44-year-old Rodrigo is a formidable choice for leading a team to victory; the famed rider has a gold and two bronze Olympic medals and won the FEI World Cup Final three years in a row aboard his iconic Baloubet Du Rouet.

Additionally, Rodrigo has a long history of leadership in the sport, having served as president of the IJRC and as athlete representative to the FEI for Show Jumping.

He is equally admired for his character and love of fair sport. Rodrigo was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Diploma in 2010 following the World Equestrian Games, where he offered his fellow competitors advice on riding his mount Rebozza in the final four showdown. He would go on to finish fourth, but earned the admiration and respect of fans and fellow riders.

Of his new role, Rodrigo Pessoa said: “I am looking forward to working with this very talented group of riders and horses in the near future. At the end of August we have the European Championships in Sweden where we want to have a strong team ready to battle for top positions. I want to thank Horse Sport Ireland for giving me this opportunity and hope that we will be successful together.”

Tackling a Chronic Problem for Team Ireland

The pressure will be on Pessoa and the high performance team, who despite a slew of superstars (they have more riders in the top 30 rankings than any other country in the world) failed to qualify a team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Bertram Allen secured an individual slot for an Irish Olympian by way of his global ranking, but former Irish Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine opted to give the slot to Greg Broderick, who did not qualify beyond the opening round in Rio. He was ranked 252nd at the time of his nomination.

This was after an already devastating drama for Team Ireland in which they lost the 2015 European Championships by a single rail – a rail which they argued happened because of interference by a grounds crew member who stepped in front of Cian O’Connor’s Good Luck in the jump-off. Ireland lodged multiple protests, all of which were denied, costing them a team slot in Rio.

Interestingly, their unfortunate performances as a team have not extended to Nations Cup appearances, as the Irish have taken very prestigious CSIO titles in Wellington, Ocala, and Aachen in the past few years. But Olympic, WEG, and European Championships continue to evade them. Rodrigo will be pushing to weed out the weaknesses of timing, chemistry, and comparability in a team primed for the group spotlight.

Pessoa Still to Ride

This will not spell the end or even the pause of Rodrigo’s riding career, but he has said that coaching Ireland’s team will be his first priority. He still plans to compete his string when it is convenient, as long as the schedule permits him to still be available for the team’s needs. The timing is somewhat fortuitous in a ‘making lemonade out of lemons’ for Rodrigo, as his main five-star mount, Jordan, has been in a long rehabilitative recovery since sustaining an injury during the Rio selection trials. The Anglo European gelding may very well have another year or more of recovery, and Rodrigo’s current contract with Ireland extends through the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

Horse Sport Ireland interim CEO James Kennedy shares in Rodrigo’s enthusiasm to move toward success, adding with both seemingly optimism and determination,”I wish Rodrigo the very best of luck in his new position and we look forward to a new chapter in Irish Show Jumping with a shared goal of delivering medals.”

Let the countdown to WEG 2018 begin.

[Rodrigo Pessoa appointed Senior High Performance Director of the Irish Show Jumping team]

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