"It is necessary to remain humble." - Mathilde Pinault
Having just passed her early exams for her French and Science Baccalaureate, Mathilde Pinault, 17, manages her great passion for horseback riding and especially show jumping in parallel with her studies, and is also equipped with a nice string of horses. The young Frenchwoman spoke to Studforlife.com without reserve about her ambitions and her opinions on equestrian sport.
HOW DID YOU START RIDING?
"I started riding when I was very young; my mother introduced me to it and it all started in Paris, at the Parc du Luxembourg, with Shetlands! At first, I rode ponies in a small pony club, not at all in the competition world, and it was around the age of 12 that I really got interested in jumping, because I found it rather fun. I started competing at that time. My father and grandfather are very sport-oriented and I'm the only athlete in the family so it's good pressure and I'm very proud of that.
It hasn't always been easy; the transition from pony to horses was quite difficult for me; it took me a long time to adapt. I was lucky enough to ride for Virginie Couperie-Eiffel, who really introduced me to hack competitions. I'm now riding for Edouard Mathe and we're targeting the junior circuit. It's a rather difficult goal, but I'm happy with the fruits of all this work and the team around us. It's going well."
HOW DO YOU DO WITH THE CLASSES IN PARALLEL WITH HORSES?
"My mother prioritizes my studies: she tells me that as long as I do well in school, I can compete, otherwise I'll have to cut back a bit. But I agree with her: it's true that it's important, especially when you see the extent of the business in the equestrian world; it’s necessary to speak well and to know how to communicate. For that, studying is very important. Continuing my studies is something that is essential for me, but to be better on horseback and to go to the highest level is also my goal.
At the beginning, I wanted to stop and only ride horses, but I realized, while remaining positive, that an accident can happen quickly and even if I get to the top level of the sport, if I develop a real business around horses, given the price of horses at the moment and the deals that happen, I think it's important to have tact and a bit of knowledge about the economy and how the business markets works."
ARE YOU BEING ENCOURAGED TO TAKE OVER THE FAMILY BUSINESS, THE KERING GROUP?
"On my father's side (Editor's note: François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and CEO of the Kering group and Chairman of Artémis), they are always very flexible and have always told me to do what I like, without any pressure. They support me and the horses and push me in that direction in a gentle way: if I ever want to stop, I’ll be able to, but I have never had any pressure put on me to take over the family business."
HOW OFTEN DO YOU RIDE?
"We have a great team around me because I can't ride every day unfortunately, although I would like to. I have a lot of work to do, especially this year with the baccalaureate. My horses are ridden at home either by my coach or by other riders who know them well. I usually go and ride 4 or 5 times a week, depending on my schoolwork. In any case, I try to go as often as possible, because that's how we progress."
WITH MONEY BEING A SENSITIVE SUBJECT IN FRANCE, HAVE YOU FELT ANY PRESSURE IN THIS RESPECT?
"Obviously money is a big subject in the horse industry. I think that in France, compared to the United States for example, it's a little more complicated to be labeled as someone who can put in a lot of money to achieve their goals. I try to remain as humble as possible in view of that because my name means nothing in the horse world, only my riding counts. For sure I have good horses and financial help behind me. I’m lucky to have this family support, but they have worked hard to get all of this for themselves. I would say that in France, this is a subject to be handled with kid gloves: one must obviously always remain as humble as possible, but that doesn't prevent people from judging, often wrongly, unfortunately. I'll live with that all my life, I know that, and I'm prepared to face it. For the moment I have never had any big problems with it, but I know that I’m going to have some, and I must take this as an opportunity, because I’m lucky to have parents who help me and who have succeeded in their professional lives. It can only be a daily source of motivation for me."
YOU’VE GOT SOME VERY GOOD EXPERIENCED HORSES IN YOUR STRING THIS YEAR, WHAT’S THAT LIKE FOR YOU?
"It's a pretty big deal because I had some good horses up until then, but they didn't have a lot of experience at a higher level. Now I have horses with all the experience in the world, so it's true that it's different; it's really up to me to work hard because they already know their job. It's definitely an advantage, but there's also pressure because such great riders have ridden them before me so it’s quite stressful, but I think it's a good pressure and I have to take things positively. I'm super happy to have horses like these and I just need to keep up!
The first time I tried Zigali PS was at Jan Tops’. Eric Van Der Vleuten, his former rider, was there and I was a bit stressed, I was looking at my coach a bit and hoping it would go well! In fact, that's where you really see the difference: they’re horsemen, horse people. Eric was really nice to me and he knew the horse well so he was there to explain the buttons to me, which helped me focus. Our test ride went well and the horse is great, so he told me to pretend he wasn't there, which made me feel safe and reassured."
DO YOU SEND UPDATES TO YOUR HORSES’ OWNERS AND FORMER RIDERS?
"Yes, plenty; for Zigali, I give updates to Marta Ortega, his owner. As some people follow me on social media, I try to post updates about all of these horses a little bit. As for Sea Coast Kira, I also send updates because I'm asked for them a lot, because she’s young and she has had quite a lot of good results with her former rider Gudrun Patteet, who got very attached to her. I think that it's something important to do."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF TODAY'S SPORT?
"It's true that it's a pretty special sport, as many people say, and as Virginia says very well, it's a school of life. You can have a clear round one day, and retire during a round the next day, so it's a sport where you have to be very humble and that's where you see the best riders who know their horses very well and must have a good feel on them. That's what I like about this sport, that humility that we have to have.
I admire Jan Tops because he accomplishes a lot of things that are huge in the horse world, things that didn't exist fifteen years ago, whether it be the level of competitions or the Global Champions League... I think it's great and that we’ve got to continue! It's a sport that's growing, especially thanks to him, and I hope it will continue in that direction."
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR END OF THE SEASON GOING?
"We have a pretty busy season ahead because our goal is to do well on the Juniors circuit; to gain experience in those events because they are circuits that I haven’t done at all before and they’re tough, especially mentally. Obviously, there is still a lot to do. I haven’t ridden for the French team, even though that's still my goal, but I know girls who ride on the team like Jeanne Sadran, and they’re always super motivated and know their horses very well. I get a lot of inspiration from them. They are riders who have incredible riding technique, but above all they have team spirit, and that's what I need to learn. I think we have a good team in France and mentoring worthy of the name!"
Interview by Marie-Juliette MICHEL. Featured photo: Sportfot.com