There is no discussing when it comes to Marlon Zanotelli's commitment. Every morning at 7 before his day of work starts at Ashford Farm, Zanotelli gets in the car to take the thirty minute drive from Bocholt, Belgium to Valkenswaard, Netherlands to ride his top horse AD Clouwni – that is stabled at his owners Doda de Miranda and Athina Onassis de Miranda's yard. Then it's back to ride the eight-or-so-horses at home. Among them you will find Michel Robert's former success horse Nenuphar 'Jac who will be sure to greet Zanotelli's arrival with a 'Bisou' – a little kissing trick he learned from his former French rider, which is willingly demonstrated as Marlon shows us around the brand new stable which is filled with current and future stars.
But, Marlon's commitment started long before he got the ride on AD Clouwni. Marlon begun his riding career working for his father, who was a horse dealer in Brazil and when he turned eighteen went on to Guatemala to work for Nelson Pessoa's brother Helio. "I stayed there for almost six months, before I came back home," Marlon says. The young Brazilian's dream was always to go to Europe though, but strict as parents can be Marlon's father would not let his son leave until he was finished studying.
Slowly though, Marlon came closer to his dream and in January 2008 he made a decision that in the end would make it come true. "I went to San Paulo to work for Yuri Mansur – a big name within the sport in Brazil. As my dad and Yuri worked a little together already, it felt like a good place to go. I knew Yuri had connections to Europe, and of course I hoped the chance to go there would turn up," Marlon says looking back. And it did. "I was with Yuri for 1 ½ month before I got the chance to go to Ludo Philippaerts in Belgium. I worked for Ludo for almost two years, and learned so much there. The entire family are so nice, they made me feel like home," Marlon tells of the beginning of his career.
At the end of 2009, Marlon received a call from Enda Carroll. It was a job offer. "I started working for Enda in January 2010," Marlon says. "Like me, Enda started his career with two empty hands. And he was himself a rider, so he knows also how it is to work for somebody else. With Enda, I always felt that he believed in those working for him – including myself – and he has given me that space to make me feel that what I am doing is right, but at the same time supporting and backing me up. What Enda has done for me is unbelievable; the chances he has given me with fantastic horses and the opportunity to go to the big shows. Nobody ever did something like that for me," Marlon says humbly whilst smiling.
Marlon quickly earned a good reputation. Hard working, loyal, humble – not to forget a very good rider. More good things were to come the Brazilian rider's way. In the spring of 2013 a ten year old chestnut gelding named Clouwni came to the stables. Clouwni had jumped solidly on 1.40 level in Germany, but never done anything major when he arrived in Belgium. The talent was there though, and that's how he ended up in Marlon's hands after being spotted by Carroll. "Everything went so quick with him," Marlon says. "Only a few months after he arrived, we jumped the Grand Prix in Chantilly and he was incredible. And he just continued with being consistent, and in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona he did not touch a pole – he was just unbelievable," Marlon smiles.
With results like that, came a lot of interest in the horse. "Normally when a horse jumps in to the spotlight like that, it would be sold – after all this is a dealing stable," Marlon says. Indeed Marlon was right: Clouwni was sold. But with an unexpected twist as Marlon's compatriot Doda de Miranda and his wife Athina Onassis de Miranda stepped in to buy half of the horse with the intention to secure him for Marlon for the World Equestrian Games in Normandy. The other half was kept by Carroll and Jos Lansink. A few months later, Doda and Athina acquired the other half – still letting Marlon keep the ride. "What Doda and Athina did for me was very unexpected. When it happened I could almost not believe it. That was just such an amazing chance for me, to keep a horse like Clouwni. I was so happy when he jumped so good in Barcelona with the team ending second, then at least it felt like the investment was worthwhile," Marlon smiles. "Clouwni is a fighter and he is loyal. He has all the scope in the world and he is so careful," his rider explains. "Clouwni is also the cutest horse in the stable, and so kind – he is the kind that always wants a little sugar and attention!"
Although a little luck appeared on Marlon's way, it's been mostly about very hard work to reach the top level of the sport. "I knew when I came to Europe that I wanted to work my way to the top. And I believe that's the first thing you need to make it – to convince yourself that you can do it. Then you need the chance to do it, and that is what Enda gave me – and later Doda and Athina. I always worked really hard though, that is also part of the life at the big dealing stables," Marlon says. "There will always be moments of ups- and downs, but inside yourself you always have to believe that you are going to get where you want to be."
And after years of hard work, Marlon is where he wants to be with a great string of horses. Through Carroll's co-operation with Eric Levallois – a former French Olympian on the legendary Diamant de Semilly – Marlon has now got access to some very promising Diamant-offspring. "I have two very good ones from Levallois' in my stable; Extra van Essene and Rock'n Roll Semilly. They have both jumped some really good 1.50 classes already. I also have a good nine year old mare named Vera from Norwegian owners that I think a lot of," he says.
Then there is of course Nenuphar 'Jac that came to Marlon at the end of last year when his former rider Michel Robert chose to retire. "When you get a horse from Michel you don't have to teach it anything," Marlon laughs about getting a horse that was ready-made. "With a horse like that you know that you can be competitive and that you can go for it." In the beginning Marlon found it necessary with a bit of help from Michel though, as he needed to earn Nenuphar's trust to get him to relax. "Michel lives through the horses and is a real horse man," Marlon says. "It has been fantastic to get help from him and to witness his work. If I have a problem, I know I can call Michel and ask for advice. He gives me ideas that I can explore, and I will maybe use a month or so on doing that until the next time he will come and see me. Michel doesn't try to interfere, he gives guidance."
"The key to success is the people around you," Marlon states clearly when asked about how he got to where he is today. "It's about the entire team of people. I would never have made it to here if it wasn't for people like Enda, Jos, Athina and Doda – I can go on with the names. You need people around you who support you, and then you also need to have a little bit of people-skills and know how to deal with other personalities," Marlon adds. "Also, here at Ashford we spend a lot of time together, and do things together – not just as colleagues but as friends. A win is not only the rider's – it's about the whole team."
"And, in the end this is a 24/7 job, so you have to love what you are doing."
Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson/Text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © worldofshowjumping.com 2014.
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