Comparing Legends: McLain Ward vs. Rodrigo Pessoa
In this head-to-head series, Prixview will compare the numbers behind some of show jumping’s most well-known athletes.
Few riders have transcended the sport of show jumping like Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA) and McLain Ward (USA). Of course, Pessoa is hailed as the individual Olympic gold medalist of the 2004 Games, riding the legendary Baloubet du Rouet, who continued his prowess as a breeding stallion upon his retirement from competition.
Ward has made his reputation as a team rider, contributing to two Olympic gold medals (2004 and 2008) with the great Sapphire, as well as a gold medal at the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
Both athletes ironically now hail less than an hour apart, with bases in the New York/Connecticut area and Wellington, FL. The numbers also show more similarities than might appear on the surface.
Just three years apart in age (Pessoa: 49; Ward: 46), Ward and Pessoa’s careers have all but paralleled. In 28 and 25 Championship appearances across the Olympic Games, WEG and World Cup Finals, Ward and Pessoa are separated by just a single medal: Ward has 8, while Pessoa has 7. Again, the discrepancy comes in the manner in which they were earned.
Pessoa has excelled as an individual rider, with 2 individual golds and 3 World Cup Final victories. His record at the World Cup Finals is astounding. In 13 starts, he’s finished on the podium 6 times with 3 wins—meaning, he has finished in the top three nearly half the time, with a win percentage of 23%. However, he has not attended these finals since 2010.
Ward has had the support of a strong group of American riders, but he has repeatedly delivered as team anchor, earning 7 team medals. He also holds a World Cup Final championship of his own from 2017. Since 2007, Ward has finished in the top 10 at World Cup Finals in 8 of 10 appearances—80% of the time.
Outside of championships, Prixview examined both Pessoa and Ward’s performances at the CSI4* and CSI5* levels between 2016 and 2022—through the last Championship cycle. Again, there are surprising similarities.
The averages are very close. Ward has averaged 3.68 faults in this timespan, while Pessoa’s fault average is 4.34. There’s slightly more separation in average finish position, but not much. Ward has averaged a finish position within the top 20 (17.6), while Pessoa is just outside of this (20.6). It’s worth noting, however, that Ward has made more than double the starts at this level than Pessoa in this timeframe: 615 vs. 306.
Each with his own style, Ward and Pessoa give a riding lesson nearly every time they enter the arena and demonstrate that there’s more than one way to achieve success in this sport (though none are easy). In a head-to-head matchup, who would be your pick? Weigh your options at Prixview.com/fantasy.