Fiesta Time

Brazil had an extraordinary run of form at last year's Longines Royal International Horse Show. Victoria Goff finds out more. 

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There are good weeks, and there are incredible weeks – and the latter is surely a fair description of the Brazilian team’s performance at last year’s Royal International. It turned into a bit of a whitewash for the boys in green, with Brazil taking the honours in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup and Yuri Mansur winning the €200,000 Longines BHS King George V Gold Cup.

The history of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Great Britain dates back to 1929, but until last summer Brazil had never featured on the roll of honour – in fact, aside from the USA, no other non-European team had ever won the event. If you’re going to wait that long to win one of the most famous classes in showjumping, you might as well do it in style, and Brazil did exactly that, coping extremely well with some very non-Brazilian wet and windy weather during last year’s show. 

The Brazilian quartet, led by chef d’equipe Pedro Paulo Luz Lacerda, showed they meant business right from the outset. Marlon Modolo Zanotelli on Sirene de La Motte and Pedro Veniss (For Felicila) both produced superb clears in the first round. With Pedro Junqueira Muylaert picking up just four faults with on Prince Royal Z Mfs, it meant the team could discount Yuri Mansur’s 12-faults with Babylotte. Their team score of four faults left them in second place behind Germany at the halfway stage.

The first round was great, but the second round was even better. This time Marlon, Pedro and Yuri all produced perfect clears, meaning they had already secured the win without their final rider having to start. Germany, who’d finished on a clean sheet in round one, dropped right out of contention in the second round, and Brazil finished 10 faults clear of their nearest rivals, the Netherlands, who finished second.

Not only was it the first time Brazil had won the British leg of this prestigious team competition, lifting the Edward, Prince of Wales Trophy, it was the first time any of the four riders had competed here at the All England Jumping Course.  “To win at Hickstead is something special,” said Pedro Veniss, who produced one of Brazil’s two double clears. Such was his team’s prowess, the fourth rider Pedro Junqueira Muylaert didn’t even have to go into jump a second time. “I have to say thank you to the team, for me it was not too difficult a day and I’m very grateful to the guys!” he joked afterwards.

But Brazilian’s moment in the spotlight wasn’t over. Having already won the Bunn Leisure Vase with Inferno on the Thursday of the show, and having been part of the winning Nations Cup team, Yuri Mansur didn’t have to wait long to experience another Hickstead victory. On the final day of the show, he and Babylotte produced the only double clear to win the Longines BHS King George V Gold Cup, becoming the first Brazilian rider in history to claim this 200,000 Grand Prix.

Only four of the 46 starters went clear in the first round, and Yuri Mansur was drawn last to go in the jump-off. This meant he was able to net a steady clear, after the first three riders to go against the clock all faulted. Afterwards, Yuri’s emotion was palpable, as he recalled coming to the European Championships at Hickstead back in 1999 when he was working as a groom. He had watched Alexandra Ledermann win gold at that event and felt inspired to follow in her footsteps, telling himself, ‘one day I’m going to jump here’. “It’s incredible that the first time I come to Hickstead, I win three classes. It’s too much,” said a tearful Yuri after his win.

He’s not from a traditionally equestrian background, but from the age of two Yuri became obsessed with riding a rocking horse. As a child, he rode whenever the opportunity arose, then when he was 13 he ended up buying a $100 horse from a classified ad. Living in San Paulo, and not having much money, there weren’t many options for nearby stables, so Yuri only had a handful of equestrian centres to choose from – he chose the cheapest one! “This horse was like a dog to me, I was walking it… I did not want to do classic riding, I wanted to become a cowboy, classical riding was not very manly,” he explained.

He took up showjumping after being inspired by the likes of Nelson Pessoa and John Whitaker. As a teenager, he moved to Europe to work as a groom at various top showjumping yards including Yves Villain’s, Emile Pequignet’s and Ludo Philippaerts’. After working for Ludo, Yuri returned to Brazil in 2011 and began buying and selling horses, and in his first year, he sold 25 horses and was able to set up his own stable. By then he was determined to make it as a top rider. “I participated in Grands Prix even with $1,000 horses. Sometimes I did not have the money to pay the toll on the way to the event. So I asked people to help me. I had to win at the show to pay for my return.” 

Within a few years, he’d achieved his goal of competing at the top level, and he was regularly taking part in Global Champions Tour shows, FEI World Cup legs and Nations Cup teams. He was becoming a stalwart of the Brazilian showjumping team, but when he ended up as reserve for the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games, he made the decision to move to Europe, initially setting up a yard in Belgium (he is now based in Holland).

After selling one of his top horses, Cornetto K, he was able to buy two horses in his place - Quartz de la Lande, and his King’s Cup victor Babylotte. He originally bought the chestnut KWPN mare Babylotte as a second string, but she soon rose to the highest level. “When I bought her she was jumping in 1.45m classes and hated jumping on grass, but since then she’s more than proven herself,” he added. “She’s a superstar.”

Yuri is currently ranked 40th in the Longines World Rankings, with his Hickstead team mates Pedro Veniss and Marlon Modolo Zanotelli coming in at 37th and 44th respectively. Brazil is currently experiencing a golden era in the sport, having just missed out on a team medal at their home Olympics in 2016. Interestingly, Pedro Veniss was the only rider from Hickstead’s winning Nations Cup team who was selected for Rio, which shows the Brazilian’s current strength and depth. In addition, the Brazilians won the Consolation Final at the FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in 2016, and were runners up in the inaugural Barcelona Final in 2013.

The Brazilians return to Hickstead this week in the hope of retaining the Edward, Prince of Wales Trophy. Anyone who witnessed their performance 12 months ago will long remember the skill and determination the team showed last year as they battled the conditions and conquered the huge, technical track. But perhaps the most lasting memory from 2017 will be of Yuri Mansur – the former groom who once came here as a teenager and returned two decades later to win two of the biggest classes in our sport. If that doesn’t give us riders hope, surely nothing will.  

This article first appeared in July 2018

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