Mathilde Candele’s path from pony jumpers to blue ribbons in the 1.35m jumpers at the Winter Equestrian Festival can all be traced back to riding bareback with a neck rope on her favourite pony. She started riding at the age of two on a palomino pony named Taffy – her early lessons were given by dad Yann Candele’s groom, Virginie Casterman (now the groom of McLain Ward’s HH Azur) and she started showing regularly at the age of ten aboard her super pony, Ulior.

Mathilde, who lives in Orangeville, ON, credits much of her confidence and skill in the saddle to Ulior, the barely 14-hand 15-year-old Selle Francais pony and her mount for the Canadian National Pony Jumper Championship at the 2022 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. “I am so lucky to have Ulior, who can not only do the pony jumpers and get me in the jumper ring,” explains the 13-year-old, “but also because he rides like a horse and has taught me a lot of things about riding jumpers before I even stepped into the jumper ring on a horse for the first time.”

Mathilde hacking her grey pony Ulior bareback and bridleless around the family's farm.

Mathilde hacking her ‘super pony’ Ulior bareback and bridleless around the family’s farm. (photo courtesy Candele family)

Helped by Ulior, the transition to horses has been seamless for Mathilde. With the 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding Disco de Pleville, Mathilde recently won the $10,000 NAL Medium Junior Jumper Classic (1.35m) at the Winter Equestrian Festival. “Disco is really brave, scopey, and so honest, which has helped make me feel so comfortable,” explains Mathilde. “He has such a sweet personality and he knows three tricks: how to smile, fist bump, and give hugs. Our partnership works because I believe in him and he believe in me. He is super brave and smart and will do anything I ask – no distance too long, no jump too high … he’s got it covered!”

It was with Disco that Mathilde experienced her proudest moment in the ring to date: her team gold medal at the 2022 North American Youth Championships (NAYC). “Riding at a venue like WEF or NAYC is exciting on its own, and just to be riding in those competitions is an achievement,” she says of the experience in Traverse City, MI. “To have the win at NAYC is so exciting and it makes me feel really proud of Disco and even more grateful for what he does.”

The NAYC was Mathilde’s first taste of riding in a team situation. “It was different because I felt pressure to do well not just for me but for my teammates, but it helped to know that we all had the same goal in mind and that we supported each other no matter what.”

The Candele family lives on a property with their horses, which has allowed Mathilde many opportunities to develop and strengthen her partnership with both her mounts. “I spend a lot of time before and after school doing fun things with Ulior like riding him bareback and on the trails. Even if I have already ridden him that day I will sometimes take him out with a halter and lead rope and just ride him around the farm bareback. He is such a character, so it makes spending time with him a lot of fun.

“My dad always says that just as much as we don’t know what horses are thinking, they don’t know what we are thinking; or, more importantly, what we expect them to be.”

“Disco is the same – but I can’t quite do the same things as I do with Ulior because he’s too big to just run and jump to get on his back … and he’s a bit more sensitive. But I do spend a lot of time with him outside of the ring riding bareback at the end of the day and taking care of him in the barn.”

Although she has in the past trained with Tiffany Foster, Mathilde’s current coach is primarily her dad, Canadian Olympian Yann Candele. Mom Jennifer Candele is also involved with horses and competed with great success, winning the Talent Squad series in 2013.

“I love that my family understands horses,” says Mathilde. “I learn a lot from them even when we are not in the barn or at a show.”

Winner's photo of Mathilde and Disco at WEF.

“I love that my family understands horses. I learn a lot from them even when we are not in the barn or at a show.” (Sportfot photo)

What is the greatest lesson she has learned from a family of horseman?

“They taught me that I need to think more about my horse and pony than myself, that what my horse and pony need from me is much more important than what I want from them. My dad always says that just as much as we don’t know what horses are thinking, they don’t know what we are thinking; or, more importantly, what we expect them to be. To have a good relationship with a horse, whether it is in or out of the ring, you need to understand that first.”

With his success at the Olympic and Pan American Games, World Championships, World Equestrian Games and Nation’s Cups, Yann Candele has his fair share of experience in high-stress situations, and he seems to have found the balance of dad/trainer while Mathilde is in the ring.

“When I watch Mathilde ride in the ring, I am watching as a dad,” he says. “Before she goes in the ring I am focused on being her trainer so I am not nervous then, but when she goes into the ring I get nervous like any parent – we all want our kids to do well. When she comes out of the ring I am her trainer again but for me, the most important thing is that she’s enjoying it and having fun.”

Mathilde’s plans for 2023 include gaining experience at the 1.40m level but she is equally excited about being with her horses and further developing her partnership with them back at the barn. It is clear that the partnerships formed with her two mounts are more important to her than any ribbons.

“I am so proud of the relationship I have with Ulior and Disco,” she says. “I have a lot of trust in both of them and we have so much fun doing things at home other than training. I know how lucky I am to have them and I don’t ever take that for granted.”

Fun Facts:

Favourite TV show/movie: Pitch Perfect 3
Last book you read: Last Message by Shane Peacock
If you could ride any horse/pony in the world, who would it be? My top three would be James Kann Cruz, King Edward, and All In.
Hobbies outside of horses? Volleyball and track and field
Pets: Two-year-old Golden Retriever named Lola