‘We are so lucky to do this together’: meet the husband and wife competing against each other every week

  • Five-star riders Angelica Augustsson Zanotelli and Marlon Modolo Zanotelli are one of the most successful husband-and-wife teams on the showjumping circuit. So how does it feel to compete against your spouse every week?

    “I am very competitive, not just with the horses, even if we are playing cards or games I want to win!” says Marlon, who represents Brazil and is currently ranked number six in the world.

    “I always let him win!” says Swedish-born Angelica.

    “Angelica is also very competitive in the ring and when the time comes, she always delivers and makes it happen,” says Marlon. “I think we are both very competitive, but not against each other, we always support each other and try to make the other one better.”

    The couple are based in Belgium with their young children and they share similar principles when it comes to riding and training their horses, too.

    “We are so lucky to be able to do this together,” says Angelica. “Every day we train together, jump together, we exchange ideas together, we are a really good team. It is a situation many riders would like to have, so we feel very fortunate to be in this position.

    “It is definitely one of the reasons I have improved so much as a rider,” says Marlon, who represented Brazil at the Tokyo Olympics last year. “Over the past five years Angelica has been there for me and helped me a lot along the way. We have had different experiences in life, she [Angelica] was based in Germany for so many years for example. I think we really help each other and improve each other, and I think that is what makes us so strong.”

    Any arguments?

    When asked if they ever argue over horses, Angelica says “No” while Marlon says with a laugh: “Yes, of course…! When Angelica was pregnant, I had to ride her horses and she was the most difficult owner I have ever had…”

    He goes on to explain: “I would say the horses pick us, instead of us deciding which horses we would like. We try to see who fits the horses best and see how it goes. Sometimes we change horses throughout the season depending on where we are competing.”

    Describing Marlon’s strengths, Angelica says: “He is extremely talented and has an incredible feeling and way of understanding a horse when he rides. He has an amazing ability to make the horse work with him and creates a very special harmony with the horses. He is also very competitive, it doesn’t matter what horse he gets on, he always wants to win and usually does. It is so important to understand the horses and how to work with them, and Marlon has a very special gift to be able to do this so well.”

    Of Angelica, Marlon reveals: “She is also extremely gifted in understanding horses. She is very patient and listens to the horse, which is sometimes very hard to do. You can see how much her horses improve when she starts working with them. She gives so much time to the horses and is very good at the flatwork as well as the jumping and has a very good understanding of how to train them at home. She is a very complete rider, so for me to be around her so much, I learn so much from her.”

    ‘It’s all down to the people I have around me’

    The pair met while they were both based at Ashford Farm in Belgium and left in 2016 to set up on their own. They attribute their success to their entire team.

    “The owners I am working with are very supportive, our entire team at home is amazing,” says Marlon. “I have been away for two weeks competing, but we have some wonderful riders and grooms at home who have been taking care of the horses. Angelica has been riding Grand Slam VDL for me to get him ready. So, this is the main reason I am having this success – it is down to the people I have around me and I am very grateful to have such a strong team behind me.”

    Of the 11-year-old Grand Slam VDL (Cardento 933 x Heartbreaker), Marlon says: “He developed a lot last year. I have very high expectations for him this year, he has some great experience and is feeling very good at the moment.”

    Angelica’s top horse at the moment is 12-year-old mare Kalinka Van De Nachtegaele.

    “She is a wonderful mare who has had some great experience and good results already,” she says. “My second horse is a nine-year-old mare called Danna RJ, she is a little bit green for this [top] level, mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she hasn’t had as much experience as we would have liked. But she has a lot of potential, and I am very excited to see how she will do.”

    Looking ahead to the rest of 2022, it could be a very exciting time for this showjumping couple.

    “I have a very exciting year ahead of me, I have some opportunities that I didn’t have before,” says Angelica. “To compete at a Rolex Grand Slam Major is completely new for me. I have also qualified for the World Cup Jumping Final for the first time, so I am very much looking forward to that.”

    Marlon says: “I am really looking forward to the Rolex Grand Slam events. Obviously, I really want to win one of the Majors, that is a huge aim for me. Last year I got very close, and it is definitely one of my dreams as a rider to win at least one, but hopefully more, hopefully three in a row! This year we have the World showjumping championships, it is something that we look forward to, and to win a big championships has always been my aim as a rider. So yes, a very exciting year ahead hopefully!”

    • With thanks to Rolex Grand Slam

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