British showjumper Jessica Mendoza’s stellar year has culminated in her being named Longines Rising Star of 2015 in the annual FEI Awards.
But the 19-year-old’s continued prominence amid the top echelons of world showjumping remains no surprise for the woman who gave her a golden opportunity to shine at the highest level this year — Great Britain team boss Di Lampard.
Mendoza is very much on Lampard’s radar for the Rio Olympics next summer, particularly after having been part of the British team that secured Olympic qualification through a fourth-placed finish at this year’s FEI European Championships in Aachen alongside Ben Maher, Joe Clee and Michael Whitaker.
Mendoza had also starred when the same team won the Rotterdam Nations Cup two months earlier, and she then went to Barcelona in September and shone again as Britain claimed an impressive runners-up finish in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup final.
Lampard knew about Mendoza’s quality well ahead of the Europeans, yet confirmation — if she required any — that an Aachen place was sealed came during the Longines King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead in early August.
Mendoza did not make the British Nations Cup team for Hickstead, missing out behind Maher, Whitaker, Holly Gillott and Guy Williams, but her response was brilliant.
Only six combinations from a 40-strong Gold Cup entry made the jump-off, and while Mendoza finished as leading British challenger in fourth place, she would have won and clinched a £46,500 top prize, had it not been for a final fence knockdown in a thrilling race against the clock that ultimately saw American Beezie Madden prevail for a second successive year.
“At Hickstead, Jess was given her challenge, which was a huge challenge, and that was delivering in the King George V Gold Cup,” Lampard recalled.
“In some ways, I gave her a bigger challenge there than in the Nations Cup. There was disappointment for her not being in the team, but I wanted to see how she would come back two days later on the Sunday in the King George.
“I had pretty well made my mind up when she went clear in the first round of the King George that she would be going to Aachen and the Europeans.
“There was a risk element because of Jess’ age and inexperience at that level. It was a huge task, but I had convinced myself as the season progressed that it was right. When you look back on Jess’ career, she has been very successful on ponies and in junior championships, and throughout this season she had fantastic results in five-star grands prix.
“Working with her in the Nations Cups, I particularly remember St Gallen, which stands out in my mind. Jess was our third team rider and we hadn’t got a clear round. St Gallen was the most difficult of courses this year – it was big, but it was extremely technical as well.
“When I walk the course, I walk it as though I am riding each horse in the team and what will suit them and what won’t, and I didn’t think the course particularly suited Jess, but she got stuck in and got a clear round. All the time, she was proving what she could do.”
An appearance at a glittering gala dinner in the Puerto Rican capital San Juan to receive a leading FEI award from Hollywood actress Bo Derek proved another memorable occasion to add to her 2015 portfolio, and it has been that kind of year for Mendoza — one highlight after another.
Image: Jessica Mendoza receives her Longines Rising Star award from Chair of the Jury Bo Derek and Longines Vice President and Head of International Marketing Juan-Carlos Capelli, by Richard Juilliart, courtesy of the FEI