World of Showjumping
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Major Tom – “He has everything we as riders look for in a horse”

Wednesday, 22 February 2023
From youngster to international Grand Prix horse

Photo © MacKenzie Clark “He shows so much ability; he has everything we as riders look for in a horse,” Rodrigo Pessoa says about the 10-year-old Major Tom. Photo © MacKenzie Clark.


Text © World of Showjumping



“A proper good jumper…”, “…unbelievable...”, “…never wanted to knock a jump down...”, “...the purest jumper I have ever ridden…” – these are just some of the descriptions used by Greg Broderick, David Simpson, Alex Hempleman and Michael Duffy when they talk about Rodrigo Pessoa’s Olympic prospect Major Tom (Vagabond de La Pomme x Heartbreaker). 

Bred by Armand Van Gijsel, Major Tom – or Nielsdaka van de Rhamdia Hoeve as he was originally named – comes out of a performance proven mother-line. His dam Uphdim van de Puitvoet – by Heartbreaker – is also the mother of several other horses jumping internationally, including Nabab de Revel, that was successful at 1.60m Grand Prix level with both Lars Nieberg and Katrin Eckermann. 

Discovered at the age of three by Greg Broderick, Major Tom was as a 4-, 5- and 6-year-old carefully produced in the UK by Alex Hempleman before Michael Duffy took over the reins. In the autumn of 2020, when the gelding was seven, Olympic Champion Rodrigo Pessoa got to hear about him – and shortly after Artemis Equestrian Farms, the Brazilian legend’s owners, acquired the horse. However, not without risk… With the Covid-pandemic restricting international travel, Pessoa could not fly from the US to Europe to try Major Tom. The solution: Buying without trying. “I have never bought a horse without a trial before, so I was a bit nervous,” Pessoa laughs.

Fast forward to 2023, the now 10-year-old Major Tom has proved that Pessoa made the right decision. “He shows so much ability; he has everything we as riders look for in a horse,” Pessoa says. 

A proper good jumper

Photo © MacKenzie Clark “It’s nice to see him now; he gets the chance to be as good as he can be, and hopefully become an Olympic horse," Greg Broderick, who discovered Major Tom, says. Photo © MacKenzie Clark.

Major Tom was discovered at the age of three by Olympian Greg Broderick while he was looking for future stars at Joris De Brabander’s Stal de Muze in Belgium. “He had a great canter – which he still does, was very active behind and balanced. He was just a proper, proper good jumper; he was like rubber – he was very catlike over a tall vertical but then over a wide oxer he showed that he had a lot of scope as well. He was just naturally very talented,” Broderick tells.

He was just naturally very talented

“I bought him from Joris, and he then came over to Ballypatrick. At home, he looked like an exceptionally good horse when free jumping. I sold half of him to David Simpson, and he went there to be started under the saddle,” Broderick continues. “Not long after, we sold him to Alex Hempleman’s owners.”

“The next time I saw Major Tom, he was five and jumping at the Sunshine Tour with Alex – and at that stage I thought that he was the best of the horses in his age group,” Broderick says. “It’s nice to see him now; he gets the chance to be as good as he can be, and hopefully become an Olympic horse.”

Extreme amounts of character

Photo © MacKenzie Clark "Back then the conversation was whether he was going to have too much character to be in the top sport," David Simpson, Major Tom's former co-owner, tells. Photo © MacKenzie Clark.

“Greg called me and told me he had found an exceptional horse,” David Simpson recalls about how he ended up buying half of Major Tom. “At the time when he arrived at my stables, I was busy showing so I sent him to Alex Hempleman who always does my young horses for me. Alex was crazy about the horse, so when he was a four-year-old we sold him on to his owners. I might have owned Major Tom, but my part in his history is probably only that I sat on him once,” Simpson laughs. 

He was probably one of the horses that I should not have sold

“He was unbelievable as a young horse though. He had a lot of character, like as in an extreme amount – but he was an exceptional jumper. You could tell he was going to be a really good jumper, but back then the conversation was whether he was going to have too much character to be in the top sport. He had a crazy amount of blood, and he had very strong opinions on how he wanted to do things. But obviously, he has proved that argument wrong! He was probably one of the horses that I should not have sold,” Simpson smiles. 

Clear round machine

Photo © Moisés Basallote "He was clear in every round he jumped,” Alex Hempleman tells about Major Tom's first international event, the Sunshine Tour in 2018. Photo © Moisés Basallote.

“Major Tom, or Jammy Dodger as he was known to us, came to me from David Simpson, a good friend of mine,” Alex Hempleman, a well-known young horse producer in the UK, says. “David was jumping at Oliva Nova but said he had a really nice young horse which he wanted me to ride while he was away.” 

“Major Tom arrived and we started working with him immediately,” Hempleman says. “He had lots of blood, was a little nervy, quite sharp, but confidence in himself, which all had to be channelled. His biggest challenge was his big, active canter and the fact that he found it difficult to co-ordinate himself with the stringhalt. His trot was more half-trot, half-canter.”

“However, with some excellent management and routines, he softened and started working well. He started to trust me and those around him. He relaxed more and became easier to work with,” Hempleman tells. “When he realised what was being asked of him, he actually found it really easy. After a while, we began taking him to training shows and let him relax into those. Then, in February 2018, we were going on the Sunshine Tour, and he came with us. It was all new to him, but he definitely took it all in his stride. He must have wondered what was going on because it was pretty full on, but, by the end of the tour, he had not knocked one fence down. He was clear in every round he jumped.”

All he wanted to do was jump clear

“Although he was pretty green back then, I think all he wanted to do was jump clear. He had a fantastic brain, was really intelligent, had lots of blood and power. He just needed time to strengthen his body and understand what we were asking him to do,” Hempleman continues.

“After the Sunshine Tour, he had a bit of time off,” Hempleman tells. “Then he jumped Addington, Hickstead, Wales, those kind of shows. Horses receive a really good grounding when jumping at these important venues – lots of different rings, different jumps, different atmospheres. Day shows are really good for young horses. Repetitive loading, unloading and experiencing all the noise and atmosphere is invaluable.

“As a five-year-old, Major Tom went to the British Breeding Championship, a qualifier for the FEI WBFSH Jumping World Breeding Championship for Young Horses. He jumped clear the whole way through, won the bonus but, because he was foreign-bred, his placing was overtaken by British horses in the qualification for Lanaken. He received a wild card in the end, but it was decided he had really done enough that year and that it would be pushing him too far.”

“After a break out in the field, we started riding him again in December 2018. By March 2019, he was jumping at Lier and the interest in him really started to grow,” Hempleman recalls.

A rider’s horse

Photo © Spidge Event Photography “I always felt that he actually never wanted to knock a jump down,” Alex Hempleman says. Photo © Spidge Event Photography

“He continued his season with the same national young horse shows in the UK. After qualifying for our Newcomers regional final, he went on to qualify for the Horse of the Year Show too. I was really happy about that because he really deserved it,” Hempleman says. “Then we went to Bolesworth for the Young Horse Championships and, this time the British-bred and foreign-bred horses were combined. He finished 4th. The jump-off was easily 1.45m, but he just found another gear and made it feel pretty simple. 

“So, as a six-year-old, he had qualified for Lanaken, but I was getting married that weekend, so we didn’t go,” Hempleman continues. “However, we felt that he did not really need to at that time. That fall, we jumped at the Newcomers Final at the Horse of the Year Show, where he had a couple of fences down. He was a little bit green because we had not trained very much indoors. However, he was only six and was jumping against nine- and ten-year-old horses.”

“I always felt that he actually never wanted to knock a jump down,” Hempleman says. “He never wanted to get too close to the fence. He always wanted to give himself a gap. Many of the things we as riders try really hard to train a horse to do, he picked up easily.”

It was at the shows he really thrived

“Major Tom is a rider’s horse,” Hempleman smiles. “Grumpy in the stables – he liked his own space, so the grooms did not really enjoy him, but he loved to work, he loved to hack, he loved to be out and about. It was at the shows he really thrived. He would always grow in the ring and really enjoyed them.”

“As a seven-year-old, his owners wanted him to jump at more international shows, which wasn’t the right route for me to take at that time, so Michael took him over,” Hempleman explains.

“It has been great following him, though. It sounds a bit soft, but I always thought he was quite special and that he was as good a horse as I had ever had – and I have twenty young horses in at all times.”

“Now that he is with Rodrigo, he will get the best chance at being as good as he can be. Rodrigo is obviously very excited about him and, as a producer, it is absolutely fantastic to see them together. To produce horses, to start them off in the right way is extremely important and then to see them carry on to be as good as you knew they would be is extremely rewarding,” Hempleman says.

Pretty flawless

Photo © Moisés Basallote "Major Tom was just something different," Michael Duffy tells. Photo © Moisés Basallote.

Michael Duffy got the ride on Major Tom just before the gelding turned seven. “The horse had always been a bit of a semi-talk in England; he had done a lot of good things with Alex – who is a lovely young horse producer – and had been clear in the 6-year-old final at Bolesworth,” Duffy tells. 

“However, it took me longer to figure him out than I had expected,” Duffy tells of Major Tom. “For the first two months, I just had him at home and worked with him.”

He is just the purest jumper I have ever ridden

“I took Major Tom to the Sunshine Tour in March 2020, just before the Covid-pandemic broke out, and he was directly doing well – he is just the purest jumper I have ever ridden,” Duffy says. “I have had some proper ones, like Miss Untouchable and Zilton, but Major Tom was just something different – you just could not make him jump bad. He just did not know how to knock a fence down; he found a solution for any problem. You could take him into any ring, on any day, he was just pretty flawless.”

A really strong mentality

Photo © MacKenzie Clark "It would not surprise me if he wins a medal in Paris,” Michael Duffy says about Major Tom. Photo © MacKenzie Clark.

“He had a special character though, and was bloody tough,” Duffy continues. “While he was sensitive, he also had a really strong mentality. Because of his character, he was a horse that needed proper structure. He needed someone who was firm but who could also meet him half-way. However, once I got to know him, he was such an easy ride. That being said, Major Tom was definitely not a horse you could just hop on. You really had to have a relationship with him.”

You really had to have a relationship with him

“Due to Covid, we had a very quiet summer and only did a few shows in Eschweiler and Peelbergen before we went to Vilamoura in the fall. After two or three weeks there, Rodrigo called and that was it,” Duffy tells. “I always said that whoever would buy him had to have the time for him, so it was a match made in heaven with Rodrigo. Rodrigo has a 100% feeling, he is all fingertips, and with a horse like Major Tom, who is so fine, it’s the perfect match. I think Major Tom is Rodrigo’s comeback horse; it would not surprise me if he wins a medal in Paris.”

“I would have loved to have kept him; it’s not often you find a horse with as much quality as Major Tom. However, it wasn’t possible, and I am delighted he went to Rodrigo,” Duffy says.

Buying without trying

Photo © MacKenzie Clark "Today, horses like him are so rare, so when you get your hands on one – it’s just luck,” Rodrigo Pessoa says about Major Tom. Photo © MacKenzie Clark.

Pessoa came to know about Major Tom through Philippe Guerdat – Brazil’s Chef d’Equipe – who had seen the gelding compete in Vilamoura with Michael Duffy. “In October 2020, I was looking at another horse that was jumping in Vilamoura,” Pessoa tells. “I called Philippe to ask him how the horse had gone – and he told me it had not jumped so well and that he did not think it was necessary for me to come and try it. However, he went on to tell me about another 7-year-old he thought was unbelievable and that was Major Tom. He said it was a crack of a horse.”

“I looked at the videos of him jumping with Michael Duffy, and thought he was really impressive,” Pessoa continues. “I told Philippe I was going to come over and see the horse, but this was during the Covid-pandemic, so it turned out I was not allowed into Portugal. Eventually, we decided to vet him without a trial. I had done my research, and I also know Michael Duffy well so I trusted him when he told me that this was an incredible horse – which was also what Philippe had told me. When Major Tom passed the vet-check, we decided to buy without a trial. I have never bought a horse without a trial before, so to tell you the truth I was a bit nervous – especially as it was substantial money involved.” 

To tell you the truth I was a bit nervous

“By the time we were organising the flight, it was mid-November, so we decided to fly Major Tom to New York. As I had not tried him, I really wanted to ride him at home before he joined my other horses in Florida,” Pessoa tells. “However, when he arrived in New York it was a snowstorm – a total blizzard. As he came off the truck at home with one meter of snow around him, he was with all four legs in the air – and I just thought to myself ‘this horse is like a lion...’. We don’t have an indoor, and with all the snow and the cold temperatures, I was unable to ride him – so I decided to get him down to Florida with the other horses, so that he could start being ridden there. At the time, Christmas was coming up and we were going for holidays, so it was not until a month and a half after we bought him that I finally got to sit on him – and by then it was really starting to bother me. Here I had this horse, bought without a trial and that I had still not even ridden…”

“On my first day in Florida, I was in the stable at 7 AM to ride him – I had started to have sleepless nights over him,” Pessoa laughs. “I tacked him up and got on. After trotting and cantering him around, I jumped three jumps of about one meter and I was so relieved by the feeling he gave me – he was amazing, like a rocket. Two days later, after a bit more work and getting him more organised, we put him in a course of 1.35m. Mr. Clark – his owner was there, as was his wife Kristy, and Major Tom was jumping a meter over every jump – and they were like ‘Is this normal?’. It turned out we had been right buying him.”

“In the end, it was pure luck that he came to me – two other top international riders had already tried him but had for some reason not been able to close the deal with his previous owners. Today, horses like him are so rare, so when you get your hands on one – it’s just luck,” Pessoa says. 

Intelligent and temperamental

Photo © MacKenzie Clark “He has a lot of character and in the stable he is very grouchy,” Rodrigo Pessoa tells. Photo © MacKenzie Clark.

“As he is very careful and has so much power, we have taken the two last years to develop him quietly,” Pessoa tells. “However, when you have such a good horse it’s hard to go slow – but luckily his owners have been patient with him. At home, he does not jump a lot, we just focus on keeping his mind good, and make sure that he is fit and healthy – he does not need to practice his jumping much."

“While he has so much quality, the best thing about him is his intelligence. He understands everything that you ask of him. He is a little bit neurotic though, and he has a lot of temperament – as well as endless blood, which comes from his Heartbreaker mother-line,” Pessoa continues.

The best thing about him is his intelligence

“He has a lot of character and in the stable he is very grouchy,” Pessoa laughs. “He is not friendly at all – unless you bring a carrot with you. When I ride him, he’s kind of nonchalant – he is like ‘OMG, do we have to do this?’ – because he is so good at what he does. But, when he goes to the show, I really need to keep him in check – he becomes very temperamental and puts himself in a lot of stress because he wants to jump. But, when I finish the course, I can drop the reins and he’s like a puppy.”

Huge potential

Photo © MacKenzie Clark "Hopefully, 2023 will be the first of many good years to come,” Rodrigo Pessoa says about Major Tom's future. Photo © MacKenzie Clark.

Huge potential

“Last year, when he was nine, I did a little bit more with him – in August he did his first five-star Grand Prix in Dinard. Then he did London, Toronto and Washington, and in those Grand Prix classes he had one down. Toronto and Washington were his first indoor shows, it was a lot of atmosphere and public – which he had not experienced before. He made some little mistakes, but I really felt that he has huge potential.”

I think Major Tom is a horse that we definitely would aim towards Paris

“I think Major Tom is a horse that we definitely would aim towards Paris,” Pessoa says. “This year will be a big year for him, because Brazil has to qualify – either at the PanAm Games or at the Nations Cup Final. We will start him up slow this year and build up towards these important events this summer.”

“I believe we did everything right with him when choosing to go slow, and that he is now ready to go. Hopefully, 2023 will be the first of many good years to come,” Pessoa concludes. 


22.2.2023 No reproduction of any of the content in this article will be accepted without a written permission, all rights reserved © World of If copyright violations occur, a penalty fee will apply. 


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