Few legends left their mark quite as effectively as Nelson Pessoa of Brazil. He not only won Grand Prix contests left and right, east and west over several decades, but he also transformed the quality and fandom of the sport in his home country with such gusto that show jumping remains one of the South American nation’s strengths and national treasures.
‘Neco’, as he is known by his friends and fans, was competing at the world level starting in 1956 when he made his first appearance at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Stockholm (the equestrian events were held in Stockholm for quarantine reasons, the remaining events were in Australia). In 1961 he decided to move to Europe to pursue world class riders on a weekly basis, a luxury that didn’t exist in Brazil at the time. In 1964 he finished fifth individually at the Olympics, and two years later won the European Show Jumping championships.
He continued cleaning up over the years, including winning the Hickstead Derby twice, taking second in the 1984 Show Jumping World Cup, and repeated that performance seven years later in 1991. The following year was his final Olympic performance at 56 years old, and he had the honor of sharing that limelight with 19-year-old son Rodrigo Pessoa. He continued competing at the FEI levels as recently as 1998.
Nelson continues to operate the Haras du Ligny equestrian academy and world class yard in Belgium.
Today we’re sharing one of his finest Grand Prix performances when he won the iconic Dublin Grand Prix in 1989 when he was 53 years young. He was aboard Moet et Chandon Special Envoy, one of Neco’s most beloved and successful partners in the ring. He later gave the ride on this horse to Rodrigo, who rode the horse to 9th place in the Barcelona Olympics.
Go Neco, and Go Jumping!