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Nelson Pessoa Working His Magic with Australian Equestrian Team

03 June 2019

The decision of the Australian Equestrian Team (AET) to appoint international show jumping legend Nelson Pessoa as a specialist coach for its eventing squad has proven to be a masterstroke. Less than two years after Pessoa’s appointment there has been a notable uplift in the performances of the nation’s elite riders, and, at a crucial time in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The 82-year-old former Olympian and European Champion and owner of the famed Pessoa equestrian school in Belgium, says he is enjoying the role and focus on the discipline of eventing which is something new for him. “We have a very good partnership. I like very much what I am doing with these people.”

Pictures courtesy of Australian Equestrian Team

“They are real horse people and very dedicated and enthusiastic and want to ride for their country. They are also very passionate about the sport of three-day eventing,” said Pessoa.

The AET’s Director of High-Performance Chris Webb could not be happier with the impact that he’s had so far.

“Nelson’s commitment to the riders, and the program, has been a real boost for the group.” “We have had the opportunity for the bulk of our program’s riders to be exposed to Nelson, and his systems, regardless of where they are based in the world,” said Chris.

Nelson recently traveled to Australia where he spent two weeks with squad riders ahead of the Oceania Championships in Taupo, New Zealand. He then followed the team across the Tasman for the competition which they went on to win.

“Nelson’s presence in New Zealand recently at the Oceania Championship was a contributing factor to the performances of the team and the individual combinations.” Pessoa was impressed by his experience in Australia and New Zealand and the winning performances of the squad riders he oversees.

“I had a very good time. They are very attentive people and they treat me very well. I also like the rapport between the riders and Erin O’Neill who is the manager,” he said.

After the Australia/New Zealand mission, Pessoa ventured back home to the Northern Hemisphere to oversee the Australians competing at the Saumur CCI 4*. For the fourth time, after his 2012, 2016 and 2018 victories, Chris Burton was successful in the CCI 4*L class.

From beginning to the end, he dominated the dressage and the cross-country and produced a faultless round in the show jumping on his very talented horse Polystar I. Importantly, the victory saw the combination fill the qualifying conditions for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Pessoa has very high regard for Burton. “He could be a fantastic show jumper. He is really a complete rider.”

Since joining the AET as a jumping coach for the Eventing riders, Pessoa has been working closely with not only Chris Burton but also one of Australia’s most decorated horsemen Andrew Hoy who is a three-time Olympic Gold medallist in the sport. Based in England, Hoy does not miss an opportunity to hone his skills under the tutelage of Pessoa and has attended many of his clinics.

”Nelson is an incredible horseman and coach with a holistic approach, treating every horse as an individual, always positive, and brings out the best in a horse's ability.”

“My horses and I gained so much experience, inspiration and knowledge – we never stop learning,” said Hoy.

Pessoa is pleased with the dedication and professionalism of the Australian riders which, he says,  has resulted in improved performances.

“Their mentality has changed. I am not always present but when I come to every different stable I see that they have been practicing what I produce for them. That is the quality of the people. If you are not convinced it is impossible to agree,” he said.

Pessoa’s healthy influence over the AET will undoubtedly play an instrumental role in how they are likely to perform at the Olympics next year.

“Nelson is highly respected and sought after throughout the world at the pinnacle level of the sport. A true horseman with unparalleled experience, knowledge, and drive who will be a critical factor on our team’s journey to Tokyo,” said AET High-Performance Director Chris Webb. 

There are just over 12 months until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and so far Pessoa is seeing all the right signs that the Australian Olympic Team is in good shape to medal. “My message for every rider involved and for Australia is that they can be very confident that this group will represent the country in the best manner possible,” he said.

Written by Jo Mckinnon