Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Ronald Zabala-Goetschel Has Big Plans For 2010

With his amazing mount Che Mr. Wiseguy, he hopes to be the first rider from Ecuador to compete in a World Equestrian Games.

Ronald Zabala-Goetschel is used to being a little unconventional. When he was about 3 years old he made horse sounds instead of talking, and his non-horsey parents bought him an old and lame pony to ride. Little did they know that this would begin a lifelong passion for horses.

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With his amazing mount Che Mr. Wiseguy, he hopes to be the first rider from Ecuador to compete in a World Equestrian Games.

Ronald Zabala-Goetschel is used to being a little unconventional. When he was about 3 years old he made horse sounds instead of talking, and his non-horsey parents bought him an old and lame pony to ride. Little did they know that this would begin a lifelong passion for horses.

Zabala-Goetschel, 43, and his striking dark bay gelding Che Mr. Wiseguy are qualified to compete at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky. He’s the first Ecuadorian to qualify for a WEG.

The U.S. Eventing Association’s 2008 Adult Amateur Rider of the Year, Zabala-Goetschel only competed lightly in 2009 after the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April. Instead, he had to return to Ecuador to get his new businesses going. He wanted to be organized for 2010, when he plans to spend most of his time in the United States riding and preparing for the WEG.

“I was born with this chronic, incurable, hopeless disease called horse-aholicness, and it’s even gotten worse over the years!” joked Zabala-Goetschel, the second in a family of four brothers and three sisters from Quito.

And it seems that the disease is contagious. After Zabala-Goetschel started riding, two of his brothers and two sisters gave it a try. “At the moment only my youngest sister, Carmen Maria, 22, is also riding, while going to vet school in Ecuador,” he said.

Growing up in Ecuador, where eventing is not a popular sport, Zabala-Goet-schel still learned to ride and jump in
the open.

“I used to ride at our little farm, and one day I realized that a tree had fallen near the river. I had a beautiful palomino mare called Palomina and thought that it would be fun to jump over that foot-high log,” he said. “So I did and of course loved the feeling of suspension over a fence. I’m not sure Palomina enjoyed it as much as I did, since she had to jump that log at least 100 times that morning—and the morning after, and the morning after that!”

Zabala-Goetschel took jumping lessons, but eventing was only a military sport in Ecuador. But the magic of the silver screen captured Zabala-Goetschel’s imagination when he was about 9 years old and watched the movie International Velvet, about a young girl who represents England in eventing at the Olympic Games.  Since then, he’s dreamed of competing at the Olympics.

Zabala-Goetschel competed in show jumping and endurance, and his first eventing competition was in 2001 at the Bolivarian Games in Ecuador. He was part of the team with a horse called Harley that had first been ridden and owned by his brother Max.

But the event ended tragically for Zabala-Goetschel when Harley fell at the water jump and broke his right shoulder. “It was a jump to immortality, because since then he always lives in my heart,” said Zabala-Goetschel.

After the accident Zabala-Goetschel stopped eventing and thought he would never come back. But the horse addiction ran deep, and after five months a friend asked him what could be the worst thing that could happen if he evented again.

He answered, “Losing a horse is the worst thing because if something happens to me, well, I know the risks and I’m not afraid.”

Knowing that the worst had already happened gave him the courage to try again.

The Entrepreneur

Zabala-Goetschel doesn’t earn his living as a rider, but he lives to ride. “My whole life revolves around horses,” he said. “I’m an entrepreneur and work very hard to be able to afford my sport at the highest level.”

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Zabala-Goetschel achieved a business administration bachelor’s degree from Boston University (Mass.) with a concentration in finance and has worked in business since then, with diversified companies and investments that include life insurance, real estate, ocean, sea current and river electric power generation and engineered diamonds made from hair (human, horse, dog or cat). In January 2010 he plans to market custom-made riding boots and apparel produced in Argentina under his own brand.

Additionally, he has a breeding program for approved Belgian Warmbloods in Ecuador with his stallion Che Wonderboy (registered name Wonderboy Stal Ghyvan), by Darco out of a Voltaire mare, though he never sells any of the horses.

He is experimenting with a new breed for eventing by crossing Anglo Arab mares with Wonderboy, hoping to combine the speed of the Thoroughbred, the endurance and resistance of the Arabian and the power, scope, mind and movement of his stallion, who is by the same stallion as Sapphire, McLain Ward’s two-time Olympic gold medalist in show jumping.

“Only time will tell if this experiment works, however, I enjoy breeding so much that maybe the journey will end up being better than the final result,” he said. “I already have 32 horses, and I’m expecting 10 babies next year: five in Ecuador, three in Argentina and two in Belgium.”

Of these 32 horses, five are retired. “They live in a beautiful place. They sleep in their own stalls, get turned out every morning, get groomed every day,” said Zabala-Goetschel. “They live like kings, just the way it should be. Not selling my horses is what keeps me motivated to keep doing more businesses in order to be able to afford them and to treat them properly.”

Zabala-Goetschel has even put horses ahead of his personal life. He almost got married in 2001. “But my beautiful girl did not like horses,” he said. “Actually she was very afraid of them. Being a chronic horse-aholic, it was easy to realize that both of us would be happier going different ways.”

He started living the nomadic lifestyle of the horseperson in 2002 after spectating at the Rolex Kentucky CCI. The following year he brought some horses to the United States to train and compete with Karen and David O’Connor. Since then, to maintain his work and riding, he has had to fly back and forth between the United States and Ecuador, as well as Argentina, Brazil, Panama and all over the United States.

“I have dated very nice girls, however, by not being in one place for more than three weeks, I have not been able to have a steady, long-lasting relationship,” he said. “I just got a place in Pennsylvania and would like to settle down. So, if anyone reading this article knows of a nice, smart girl in the eventing world, please let me know, and I will send her my résumé!” he added with a laugh.

Though horses and his business endeavors keep Zabala-Goetschel busy, he said, “I love spending time with my nephews and nieces and visiting my family. I love making new friends. I love dating and meeting new girls in the process of finding ‘the one,’ especially if they are in the horse world.”

The Horse Of A Lifetime

Over the years Zabala-Goetschel has had a number of horses, and he credits them all with teaching him something along the way. His most successful competition horses include his stallion, who is a grand prix show jumper, and his “dream horse,” Che Mr. Wiseguy, his partner in his first four-star at Rolex Kentucky in 2009.

“Everybody loves and admires Wiseguy,” he said. “He took this rookie on a clear round [in Kentucky]. I have had many offers, but of course he already has a last name and will keep it forever.”

Dressage trainer Silva Martin kept Wiseguy in training for much of the fall while Zabala-Goetschel traveled for work in South America. “I’ve been working on his flying changes, because that is where he lost some points in his dressage test in Kentucky,” said Martin, based in West Grove, Pa. “They had a good test, but the changes have come a long way, so they should have an even better test [in 2010]. I think Wiseguy is probably the best horse in the world—he’s a great dressage horse and show jumper, he’s just struggled a little bit with the changes.”

Because Wiseguy is a gelding, Zabala-Goetschel tried to clone him so that he could produce a  breeding stallion with the same genetic makeup as Wiseguy. He was expecting two clones in March of 2010, but both clones were lost.

“I was very sad as I was expecting them with open arms,” he said. “I don’t know what happened, but we’ll try again next year.”

Though the cloning has hit a roadblock, Zabala-Goetschel has become friends with Christine Geurden, who owns Wiseguy’s dam in Belgium, and though she would not sell the mare she finally agreed to help Zabala-Goetschel in his quest for another Wiseguy. He now has two surrogate mares in Belgium carrying full siblings to Wiseguy, as well as another one by Noblesse, and one by VDL Corland, the sire of Jennie Brannigan’s advanced horse Cooper.

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He also has a couple of talented horses competing at the three-star level: Che Kairo, a 14-year-old Argentinean Thoroughbred gelding, and Che Italica, an 8-year-old Belgian Warmblood crossed with Thoroughbred and Westphalian blood, also from Argentina.

When Zabala-Goetschel is out of the country Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin compete these horses for him, and Zabala-Goetschel hopes to keep them fit and qualified as back-up horses for the WEG.

Zabala-Goetschel trains with Dutton and purchased a townhome in Kennett Square, Pa., in order to be close to Dutton’s True Prospect Farm.

“This is where I expect to spend most of my life,” he said. “I will spend three weeks every month in the U.S. and one week at any place where I have to go to work: Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, China and so on.”

As he prepares for the WEG, Zabala-Goetschel wants to represent Ecuador in the best possible way. “Phillip is guiding me very wisely in this process,” he said. “The plan is to compete a lot on my other four eventers and save Wiseguy for the WEG.”

He’s also planning to train during the spring of 2010 with 0-rated dressage judge Jessica Ransehousen and Olympic show jumper Joe Fargis. He’ll spend January and February in Ocala, Fla., and then spend March in California, to compete and to promote the sale of the diamonds, riding boots and riding clothes on the West Coast.

In April Zabala-Goetschel will return to Pennsylvania and try to compete at Rolex Kentucky or the Jersey Fresh CCI*** with Che Italica and Che Kairo, to qualify them as back-up horses for Wiseguy for the WEG.

Thanks to his connection with Geurden, he and Wiseguy will travel to the Netherlands in May to train with Dutch dressage superstar Anky van Grunsven and her husband Sjef Janssen for two months.

“I have always hoped I could ride with her,” he said. “Having been a show jumper all my life, dressage has been my weak phase since I started eventing. At the beginning I used to call it ‘stressage,’ but now I enjoy it.”

Dutton said he admires what Zabala-Goetschel has achieved so far: “Ronald is very dedicated to eventing and just loves horses. He has to balance his businesses in Ecuador with riding, so it’s not unusual for him to go some months without riding.

“Jumping around Rolex on the horse of his dreams, Che Mr. Wiseguy, was just an incredible achievement,” Dutton added. “Not only now does he want to get to the WEG, but he wants to try to be as competitive as he can.”

Dutton, who’s competed in four WEGs himself and holds two Olympic team gold medals, believes Mr. Wiseguy is up to the task. “Mr. Wiseguy is a freak of a horse!” he said. “He is a beautiful, balanced mover and quiet. He has an excellent, bold but careful jump, and he is still so young. His top speed wouldn’t be as fast as some, but he makes up for that in ease of ride and quickness away from the jumps. Ronald and Mr. Wiseguy epitomize the phrase ‘a great partnership.’ ”

Ask Zabala-Goetschel about Che Mr. Wiseguy, and he can’t hold back the enthusiasm. “Wiseguy is the best ride ever,” he said. “Besides being a very handsome boy, he’s the bravest horse I have ever had. He’s my best friend; he’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse, and he makes riding even more fun. I really think that if Wiseguy had a rider like Phillip Dutton, Karen O’Connor or Kim Severson, he could win an Olympic gold medal. However, he’s stuck with this rookie who loves him.”

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If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing to The Chronicle Of The Horse. “Ronald Zabala-Goetschel Has Big Plans For 2010” ran in the Jan. 15 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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