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The young Brazilian, Rodrigo Pessoa seems like he was born to win. At the age of 28, Rodrigo has already been in two Olympic Games and is the only rider to consecutively win three World Cup finals on the same horse. He is following in the footsteps of his very famous father, Nelson Pessoa, with whom Rodrigo has a wonderful relationship, and is carrying on the family heritage as one of the top riders in the world.

Nelson Pessoa moved the Pessoa family from Brazil to Belgium in 1983. The Brazilian showjumping industry left much to be desired by the five-time Olympic veteran. The move to Belgium was a strategic one for the Pessoas. It put them at the core of the competitive showjumping industry and at the perfect place to bring up the young Rodrigo Pessoa.

Nelson never forced Rodrigo to ride, but he encouraged his son to do so. Rodrigo started with ponies and then moved up to the junior divisions. By that time, he was hooked on the sport. He thrived on the competition and the winning. Rodrigo went international at the age of sixteen and knew then that he wanted to compete professionally. He quit school in order to concentrate entirely on his riding career.

Nelson Pessoa was pleased by his son’s ambitions; however, he knew that his experienced horses and top training facility could hurt the future of Rodrigo. He wanted his son to have to work hard for what he wanted. In order to make sure that he did, Nelson sent Rodrigo to train with some of showjumping’s greats, such as Norman Dello Joio and U.S. Equestrian Team chef d’equipe George Morris. Nelson Pessoa still remained very involved with his son’s progress but acted more as Rodrigo’s manager than his trainer.

In 1989, at age 17, Rodrigo Pessoa turned professional. He immediately had sponsors on account of his father’s high standing in the industry. He was also able to start out with two of his father’s very experienced horses, Moet Imperial and Special Envoy. This made the transition from junior to professional status an easier one than it is for most other riders.

However, the young Pessoa began to meet some of the frustrations that come along with having a very well-known father. Many people simply expected him to be as successful as he was with such a famous father and such experienced, talented horses. Even with the pressures of peers and the frequent comments, Rodrigo maintained a wonderful relationship with his father. They frequently exchange advice and respect each other’s opinions.

Rodrigo Pessoa was off to a very good start. After only a few years of being a professional, he had won a fair number of grand prixs and also qualified for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics along with his father. It was a great experience for the two Pessoas, even though the overall position for the Brazilian team was tenth. Rodrigo then went on to win the very prestigious Aachen Grand Prix two years later in 1994. His success continued at the 1995 Pan American Games. There, Rodrigo helped the Brazilian team (with Nelson Pessoa as the team trainer) win the gold medal.

In 1996, Rodrigo Pessoa went to the Atlanta Olympics and helped the Brazilian team win the showjumping bronze medal, the very first Olympic medal in the sport of showjumping for Brazil. The Pessoa family has remained very loyal to Brazil despite their residence in Belgium. The fame of the father and son team has also greatly benefited the Brazilian showjumping industry. It has gotten more attention, better riders, and is generally more competitive than it has been in the past.

Rodrigo has made quite a name for himself in recent years. After winning three World Cup Finals consecutively--the first being the finals of 1998--peers and showjumping fans alike are beginning to look at Rodrigo Pessoa as his own person, not attached to his father. So, to the young Pessoa, who has already made history and won events others spend their entire lives trying to win, there is only one question: What’s next? Rodrigo’s goal probably lies in Sydney, Australia, in the 2000 Olympics.