Ronald Zabala-Goetschel and Master Rose finished 12th at the Jersey Fresh CCI3* event in May. He gave up riding for nine years in order to build the businesses that gave him the financial wherewithall to pursue his Olympic dream.
Photo credit: Shannon Brinkmann.
Ronald Zabala-Goetschel became the first rider from his country to compete in eventing at the Olympics when he rode down centerline in London. Originally from Ecuador, Zabala-Goetschel keeps his upper-level horses at Phillip Dutton’s True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pa., and lives nearby when he isn’t jet setting around the world managing his businesses.
When he moved to the United States 10 years ago, he had one goal in mind: make it to the Olympics. Zabala-Goetschel spent years building a number of businesses to finance his Olympic ambitions, but he’d spent even longer dreaming about the Games.
Zabala-Goetschel grew up in a non-equestrian family in Ecuador. His parents bought him a pony when he was 3, after which he soon discovered the thrill of jumping when a eucalyptus tree fell on his family’s ranch.
“I must have jumped that tree 100 times,” Zabala-Goetschel said. He had officially caught the riding bug, and at age 9 he started competing in show jumping. He gained Olympic aspirations early in life, but knew it would be a long road to get there, especially when it came to financial expenses.
Taking Care of Business
Zabala-Goetschel moved to the U.S. in 1984 after his high school graduation to attend Boston University. After receiving his degree in business administration, he returned to Ecuador to start building the companies that would one day fund his Olympic dream. But starting his companies meant making an incredible sacrifice.
“I knew I had to stop riding so I could focus on my business and start my companies. I had to raise the money I needed to compete in my sport,” Zabala-Goetschel. “For nine years I didn’t ride so I could build my companies and be able to have the cash flow to pay for my sports. Those nine years were really difficult, but I always kept my goal in mind of going to the Olympics.”
Zabala-Goetschel started a number of companies, ranging from insurance to real estate and engineered diamonds to a successful saddle company. His hard work paid off when he finally achieved the financial freedom he needed to climb back into the saddle and pursue the Olympics.
He started riding again, working his way up to compete in Grand Prix show jumping in Ecuador. Zabala-Goetschel made the switch to eventing in 2001 — “Cross country is just fantastic” — and traveled to the U.S. in 2002 to watch the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* as a spectator.
“I always knew you could not get to the Olympics if you’re trained by someone who has never been to the Olympics. In my country, Ecuador, nobody has ever jumped on a horse at that level,” Zabala-Goetschel said. “I cannot read a book about boxing and teach people how to box. I knew I had to come to the U.S. and train with the Olympians.”
He brought several horses to the States and began training with accomplished riders like Karen and David O’Connor, Joe Fargis, Missy and Jessica Ransehousen, and Jimmy Wofford. While he still had to fly back and forth from the United States to Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil to run his businesses, he still found the time to be successful and move up through the levels.
Moving On Up
The U.S. Eventing Association named Zabala-Goetschel, who started training at True Prospect Farm in 2007, its 2008 Adult Amateur Rider of the Year. A year later, he completed the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* event with Che Mr. Wiseguy. He finished in 30th place and became the first Ecuadorian rider in history to qualify for the World Equestrian Games.
“You must have a plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D and keep going. Plan A normally doesn’t work, so then you go to plan B; sometimes that doesn’t work either. Persistence is key to everything in life,” Zabala-Goetschel said.
His persistence paid off this spring when he officially qualified for the Olympics with Master Rose, a 2000 Irish Sporthorse gelding. Zabala-Goetschel claimed the only Central and South American regional reserved spot after winning the Campo de Mayo CIC*** in Argentina in February. He also earned qualifying points at Poplar Place CIC3* events in Georgia.
“The moment I crossed the finish line for show jumping in Argentina, I knew I had the spot,” he said. At the Olympics, Zabala-Goetschel scored 53.3 in dressage, jumped clear on cross country with 36 time penalties and pulled one rail in show jumping to finish his first Olympics in 43rd place.
“The best moment was the opening ceremony when you start walking into that stadium,” Zabala-Goetschel said. “To me that is the Olympic moment when no nation is better than another one and we are all chasing the same dream.”
Now that Zabala-Goetschel is back in the States, his busy schedule of balancing his riding and his business has once again resumed. He took only three days off last year, but he knows that a dedicated work ethic is crucial to continue funding his riding goals.
“To get to the Olympics you have to be a very hard worker. I don’t have sponsors; I pay my bills myself,” Zabala-Goetschel said. “I always knew I would have to work really hard to raise the money to pay for my dreams.”
Master Rose (aka Big Boy) is currently on vacation at a farm in Vermont, where he will enjoy a few months off before coming back into work in January. This next year is an important one for Zabala-Goetschel, who has his sights set on qualifying for the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.
“I will slow down when I die,” Zabala-Goetschel said. Indeed, there’s no rest for the weary, a fact this Olympic rider understands better than most.