A year ago this month, Jessica Mendoza accomplished a lifelong goal when she was named as the traveling reserve rider for Great Britain’s Rio 2016 Olympic Team. But far from sating Mendoza’s drive to reach the top levels of the sport, the honor only fueled her desire to not just travel but compete for the U.K. at Tokyo in 2020—and she’s making no bones about it.

As one of her country’s most accomplished young riders, Jessica, 21, first made a name for herself as a member of the back-to-back gold medal-winning team at the Pony European Championships in 2011 and 2012. Another breakthrough came in 2015, when she was part of the winning Nations Cup team at the Rotterdam CSIO5* with Spirit T. Mendoza has been a regular on British Nations Cup teams ever since.

Currently based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, Jessica continues to hone her string of grand prix mounts, earning top placings in Knokke this summer with Constance, a 10-year-old KWPN mare, and Wan Architect, a 14-year-old gelding. We caught up with the globetrotting rider to talk embarrassing pony ring moments, staying inspired in the sport, and one ice cream sauce recipe that should be on everyone’s guilty pleasures list.

1. At what exact moment did you fall in love with horses?

Probably when I was three and won my first rosette, which was in the show ring on a wonderful Shetland called Hollie.

2. For riding, do you prefer black boots or brown boots?

Black boots for myself, definitely, but brown for the horses.

3. If you could do any other equestrian discipline, what would it be and why?

It would have to be eventing. That way, I would still get to show jump, and I would have the added excitement of cross-country.

4.  What is the most embarrassing thing to have ever happened to you while riding? 

It would have to be when I was about eight years old in a class riding someone else’s pony. We were waiting for the final lineup and it took an age. I kept asking if I could go to the toilet, but the judge said I couldn’t. I ended up wetting the lovely suede saddle I was riding in and it wasn’t mine, either!

5. What is the most inspiring thing to have ever happened to you while riding?

Watching the British team win gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to get my chance. I so-nearly got it last year, and that has made me even more determined to ride in Tokyo.

6. What is your favorite #TwoHearts Moment of recent seasons?

I think it would have to be with “Spirit” after our final round in Aachen in 2015 when we helped clinch Olympic qualification for Rio against the odds.

7. What was the hardest lesson you have had to learn in your riding?

How to bounce back when it’s not going well. That lesson really hit home in Aachen, too, as our first two rounds had been terrible.

8. Who is your mentor and why?

It would have to be my Dad (Paul). My journey has been very much my parents’, as well as my own. I could not have gotten here without them. Dad has trained me from the beginning and he usually gets it right. We do fall out occasionally, but we always make up!

9. If you could ride a horse from the past, who would it be?

Well, it was before my time, but I have seen footage of Stroller. He was amazing for his size and I just love riding good ponies. They are so brave and give their all.

10. If you could ride a horse right now that is not your own, who would it be?

It would have to be Marcus Ehning’s Comme Il Faut. He is another small horse, which I always like, but he’s so careful and talented—he has everything.

11. How do horses keep you grounded in the industry that you live/work in?

As anyone who competes at the top regularly knows, horses require a lot of hard work behind-the-scenes, day-in, day-out, and that’s what keeps me grounded.

12. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

My favorite treat is ice cream and a Mars bar sauce, which I make myself. You just melt the Mars bars and add milk and butter. It’s so-o-o good!

13. When were you most happy on a horse?

After my first Nations Cup win in Rotterdam in 2015.

14. If your horse were a famous person, who would they be?

Spirit T would definitely be Kim Karshadian—she has a big bum and is a complete diva!

15. What is one piece of riding clothing or equipment you could never do without?

My Animo long-sleeved riding shirts. They are a really nice fit and shape and keep me warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

16. What is your helmet of choice and why?

My shiny Antares Galaxy helmet. It’s so comfortable and looks fab too. It’s really pretty and stylish, and reflects in the ring.

17. Which famous clothing brand do you wish would come out with an equestrian line?

Balmain. I just love their lines.

18. What is your biggest splurge to date when it comes to your riding and/or horse(s)?

An equine spa for the horses.

19. What is the best piece of riding advice you have ever received?

To ride the same in the warm up as you do in the ring.

20. What is your life motto?

Whether it’s riding, or my painting, to do it well but never stop enjoying it!

-Photography by Erin Gilmore.