São Paulo, March 31 – During the Grand Prix B test at the CDI3* in São Paulo, Brazil, Rogério Clementino rode the pure-bred Lusitano Nilo VO into the record books by achieving a historic score of 65.38% – one step on the road to Olympic qualification. Asked how he felt during the test, Clementino admitted, "Expectations were very high, the pressure from the press, everybody´s hopes, and everything ... so I tried to do what I have been doing in training, I forgot for a while the percentage, prayed to God, asking for peace and tranquility and that He would allow me to do my best."
Although Brazil earned a dressage place to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games thanks to their team’s Pan American Games bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro last August, riders still need to record a percentage score of 64.00+, awarded by two foreign FEI judges, in two separate Grand Prix tests in order to secure their individual places. In São Paulo, the foreign judges who unequivocally gave their nod of approval were Canada’s Elizabeth McMullen and Axel Steiner from the USA, respectively awarding 66.250% and 68.542%. The latter score is the highest ever recorded in an international CDI3* dressage Grand Prix in Brazil.
Being dubbed the “black knight” in shining armour of Brazilian equestrian sport, Rogério Clementino – who prefers to be called Roger – was virtually born on a horse (literally, rather than metaphorically!) as his parents worked as labourers on a farm in Mato Grosso do Sul (which literally means “thick southern forest”), the rural and world-renowned Pantanal region of central-western Brazil that many would describe as “the back of beyond”.
During his early years, Clementino followed in his family’s footsteps as a farm labourer, also spending time on horseback as a casual rodeo rider – until the day he arrived at Ilha Verde Stud Farm, one of Brazil’s world-class breeders of pure-bred Lusitano horses – when his star began to rise with meteoric success. Victor Oliva, a leading São Paulo entrepreneur and the stud farm’s proprietor, decided to take a gamble and provide the necessary infrastructure to convert Clementino into a top-class athlete. Fortunately, Oliva had a home-bred Lusitano in his yard, Nilo VO, who could cement this partnership.
Initially, however, Clementino began riding competitive in working equitation, under the guidance of his friend Leandro Silva – the first Brazilian to ride a pure-bred Lusitano in a Pan American Games (2003 in Santo Domingo), and together with two other riders they won a world championship title in that discipline.
Then, just six years ago, Clementino turned to dressage, with occasional help from visiting clinicians such as Rosangele Riskalla, Infrid Troyko, and Eric Lette – who served as coach for the Brazilian dressage team during the 2007 Pan American Games. A more frequent visitor to Ilha Verde is Belgium’s Johan Zagers, to whom Clementino admittedly owes much of his success.
In 2006, Clementino became Brazilian national dressage champion for the first time, and successfully defended his title in 2007 – when he also represented Brazil at the Pan American Games on home turf in Rio de Janeiro.
However, Clementino was far from alone in Rio, as his team’s anchor rider, 15-year-old Luiza Almeida, riding Samba (Inca x Habíl) – another pure Lusitano, bred by her father, Manuel Tavares Almeida – is also coming very close to the Olympic qualifying standard, scoring 62.92% and taking second place in the São Paulo Grand Prix. Argentinean judge, Janine Rohr-Cicurel, in fact, awarded first place, and 65.65% to Almeida, while McMullen, Steiner and Brazil’s Salim Nigri placed her second.
If Almeida secures her place for Hong Kong, she will become the youngest equestrian athlete ever to appear in an Olympic Games – an honour until now held by her fellow countryman, Rodrigo Pessoa, who was 19 when he competed in Barcelona in 1992.
Clementino must still achieve a second 64.00+ percentage score in one of two remaining competitions scheduled for April 18-20 and May 9-11 in São Paulo, and admits that there are movements that can be improved over this weekend’s performance: “I thought about each exercise followed by the next. What I mean is every time I felt that one exercise was not good enough, I tried to do the next even better, to compensate on the score. There are a lot of details to be improved, anyway. I think that to improve the piaffe and the passage, that are in fact Nilo’s best, and a little more shine on the trot."
In conclusion, asked how he would define this moment in his dressage career, the ever-modest Clementino said, "All I have to do is thank God, and more than ever I need to be more ffocused and humble. I will never forget my origins, my team, Mr. Zagers and Victor Oliva. My happiness will be complete when my friends Luiza (Tavares), Leandro and Luciano get their own place on the Brazilian Team. I am cheering for them."
If you are interested in buying or learning more about this beautiful breed, places are still available on a tour group to Brazil in May 2008. You will be invited to attend the International Lusitano Festival organized by ABPSL in São Paulo, as well as Ilha Verde’s annual auction. We will also be visiting stud farms where you will have the opportunity to ride every day and participate in traditional equestrian activities. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone +1 250 247 9109 (Pacific Canada time zone).
Photo: Roger Clementino riding Nilo VO (Visir x Zico), bred by Victor Oliva of Ilha Verde Stud Farm © Ney Messi/ABPSL