With her mane of blonde hair and model good looks, Jessica Mendoza is not your average showjumper. The 19-year-old will become the youngest British international for nearly 40 years when she rides in the European Championships in Aachen, Germany, next week.
The European Jumping Championships will be her first Championship event. Is she nervous? Not at all.
‘I’m looking forward to competing with the rest of the team, they are really nice guys,’ she says. ‘We jumped together in Rotterdam where we not only won but we also got on really well as a team which gives me great confidence.’
Mendoza will need every ounce of confidence she has. Not only will the teenager be the youngest and most inexperienced rider in the competition next week, she also faces the fact that this is a ‘must win’ tournament for Britain.
Despite winning gold at London 2012, the national team have not yet qualified for the Olympics in Rio next year. They need to win next week or finish in the top three nations not already qualified in order to earn a place at the Games.
It is a huge amount of pressure on Mendoza, but she insists that she can cope. ‘I don’t really feel the pressure or nerves. When I go in the ring I’m just thinking about going as fast as I can and keeping the fences up,’ she said.
Di Lampard, the team manager, says: ‘It may seem crazy to select someone so young, but this girl is so cool, focused and unbelievably determined. She rides with no fear and is an out and out winner.’
If Mendoza helps Team GB to victory next week and keeps her place in the team through to the Olympics, she will join a group of glamorous young showjumpers in Rio who are changing the face of a sport once considered the preserve of older riders.
The glitzy newcomers include Jessica Springsteen, daughter of rock star Bruce, Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s daughter Jennifer, and Athina, granddaughter of shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. And all hoping to secure Olympic places.
It’s very different from the heyday of British showjumping in the 1970s, when blunt Yorkshireman Harvey Smith was the star of the sport.
But Lampard warns against thinking that the sport is all glitz and glamour: ‘It may look glamorous but it involves making a lot of sacrifices and serious graft. Jess has proved she’s as tough as the best of them. She’s put herself out there against the best riders in the world and beaten most of them.’
Mendoza started riding when she was three, and by the time she was seven she knew she wanted to be a professional showjumper.
She enjoyed an illustrious career in ponies and juniors, winning two team golds at the Pony European Championships in 2011 and 2012 and three successive British junior titles. She was widely acknowledged as one of the leading young showjumpers in Europe.
She moved to Holland to be at the heart of international show jumping and continued to see her skills improve. She now rides seven days a week and competes every week, all year round. ‘I start riding at 8.30am but I love it. I don’t really take days off,’ she says.
Top showjumpers spend most of their lives on the road, and Mendoza is no exception. She usually travels in the horsebox with her horses, visiting some of the world’s most glamorous cities — Monaco, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi. ‘I love competing in all these amazing venues,’ she says.
Mendoza’s boyfriend, Michael, is also a showjumper, and her parents, Sarah and Paul, are always with her at events.
Paul is a successful businessman who made his fortune in a number of movie-related ventures including the Harry Potter films.
Today he acts as his daughter’s manager and trainer. ‘We bicker sometimes because we’re so similar,’ she says. ‘I know how much he wants me to win and if I make a mistake or have a bad day, he’ll just get in his car and drive home to watch the football.’
Click on the follwing link to see Jessica in action at Ashford Farm CSI 4* Bolesworth Grand Prix, 2015 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07ekeRP0d24
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