Ilona Mezzadri: from pony to horse, a transition to anticipate.

14 February 2024 ,

Ilona Mezzadri, a young French rider in her 19th year, performed for many years on the pony circuit, before making the transition to horse. Like all youngsters who have competed in pony events, she has for many years considered riding a passion. Now on the track alongside the world’s best riders, she also has to deal with new rivalry, make strategic choices and adapt her working methods.

Today, surrounded by 5 competition horses, 4 of which are already experienced, she competes on the young rider circuit and has recently started training at Angot Stables. She is discovering a more professional working system, focused on the training of young horses and the quest for performance, and is gradually taking on board the commercial dimension of the equine world. Her status as a young rider allows her to take the time to make choices about the next step in her career.

It’s in this professional frame of mind, acquired throughout her sporting career, that Ilona shares her secrets for a successful transition.

The transition must not be abrupt

Ilona didn’t go from pony to horse in a matter of days. At the age of 11, she took part in her first amateur events on horseback, while continuing to progress on pony.

She will make her final transition to pony riding in 2020. During this year, she will also take part in her last Pony Nations Cup and win her first Junior CSIO in Fontainebleau, a perfect start to her career as a young rider.

She was accompanied at the time by two horses: Arcy Fou, her horse with whom she took part in the European Junior Championships for two consecutive years, and Diamond’s Dream, a young horse of 7 at the time, with whom she took part in professional events at 140cm.

Its organization in terms of competitions and season has not really been impacted, as the rhythm on horseback remains the same. The end-of-year events, such as the French and European Championships, are the main objectives around which the more traditional competition weekends and training programs are organized.

Ilona Mezzadri - Essential Lavender

The construction of the season remains the same

Whether riding a pony or a horse, the seasons are relatively the same, allowing young riders to keep the same organization.
They are punctuated by competitions, nations’ cups, championships and major events at the end of the summer season, the main source of motivation for riders.

For pony riders, these are often international competitions such as the European Championships. On horseback, there are various national and international championships in which young riders can take part.
Each of these stages offers new objectives and a new rhythm to the year.

On the other hand, Ilona points out the difference in effort required of the equines in pony and horse events. In fact, horse events require greater effort, so longer rest periods between competitions are necessary to ensure the horse’s well-being.

The organization of competitions is also impacted by the prize money on offer. Unlike the pony circuits, at horse shows riders are rewarded not only with products, but also with financial gains.

The transition also brings with it certain changes in equestrian ambitions. Ilona explains that the competition is no longer the same, and that the motivations for riding are no longer the same.

“Competition is tougher on horseback.” – Ilona Mezzadri

Competition is not felt in the same way. In the pony classes, young riders ride mainly for pleasure, and are still at amateur level.

By taking part in mounted events from the age of 16, young riders are put in competition with professionals, who train horses or train their lead horses. The stakes are not the same, which influences the competition between participants. Many equestrians are professional riders who make a living from their passion and adapt their training systems to perform at their best. Their competition strategies and horse rotation also vary to improve performance and maintain profitability.

With expectations in terms of income and profitability at this level, riders are sure of each other’s skills and virtually all share the same level. This makes it more difficult to separate them, and young riders have to work harder to compete against riders with more technical and strategic experience.

These young riders, who were at the top level during their pony years, become junior riders again when they enter the horse circuit. Young riders must therefore work hard to improve their technique, strategy and performance, to reach the level of professional riders.

Everyone’s state of mind evolves particularly during this transition, associated with challenges that are no longer the same.

Ilona Mezzadri - Fahrenheit Navy

“My vision of riding has changed, but my passion for horses remains the same.” – Ilona Mezzadri

The notion of the future, of a career path and of profitability are now all part of a career like Ilona’s. At less than 20 years of age, she is already thinking about her future projects involving horses, in order to build the best possible future for herself. She’s thinking about the possibilities of development, in particular by training young horses and sharing her experience with younger riders.

Becoming a professional equestrian requires a great deal of preparation and investment. Even if passion remains a source of motivation, the stakes of a career in the equestrian sector are high, and professionals need to secure their activity in order to maintain profitability.

Often supported by their parents during their pony careers, young riders need to learn how to develop their activity themselves and make it their profession, by thinking about possible avenues of development and surrounding themselves with the right people.

As for Ilona, she comes from a fairly classic system, having stayed with the same stable for 10 years to start her pony and junior career. She was also supported throughout her career by the federal staff during training courses, as well as by Henk Noeren, Edouard Couperie and Olivier Bost. She joined Angot Stables in November 2023, in order to become more professional, benefit from more technical supervision, discover new horses and set up her own working system.

5 horses with 5 different profiles

Ilona currently trains 5 show horses with varied profiles: 4 older horses with experience up to 145cm, including Éléonore de la Bride, Diamond’s Dream, a 10-year-old stallion who took part in the Young Riders Nations Cup this year, Arcy Fou, a 13-year-old stallion who took Ilona to the European Junior Championships, and Charlota, an 11-year-old mare who has just arrived at the stables.

She is also training a 6-year-old horse in need of work and experience, who will be able to compete in the 7-year-old classes in mid-2024. This young horse allows Ilona to continue her apprenticeship in training young horses.

Having joined Angot Stables in November 2023, Ilona has been able to work from the outset to highlight the areas she needs to improve and the qualities she needs to strengthen. She works hard at home to build up her confidence and perfect connection on the track, respecting the horse and aiming to perform.

With a variety of horse profiles, Ilona has the opportunity to progress in many areas. She is becoming more professional and making progress with her top horses, who have experience in the biggest events. She continues to train and gain in technical skills with her young horses, with whom she is also beginning their training.

This change in lifestyle brings with it difficult times, doubts and apprehension about an uncertain future. To overcome these challenges, it’s essential to prepare and anticipate.

“Yes, of course, there is a harsh reality.” – Ilona Mezzadri

To become a professional when riding, riders have to face certain difficulties, which they need to be aware of in order to anticipate and succeed in making a difference. Eugénie Angot’s daily support enables Ilona to learn and become autonomous in dealing with this reality. The supervisor plays an important role in this development, as he or she must prevent and give the best advice for dealing with difficulties.

To stand out from the crowd, Ilona explains that consistency is an important factor. Riding several horses, performing well with each of them and diversifying events and tracks helps to showcase a certain autonomy, ease and adaptability that gives owners confidence.

The experience acquired during the pony career, particularly in the French team, also helps to acquire the skills needed to progress on horseback, such as technique, determination, mental strength and self-improvement.

Ilona Mezzadri - Rider Vest Navy

Ilona’s final tip

“What I can advise those who want to continue after pony riding is to start riding at an early age and to equip themselves with youngsters to prepare for the future. Plan and anticipate this transition as early as possible. And above all, surround yourself with the right people who will give you the best advice, who will be there for your success, watch and be inspired by the best riders, regularly challenge yourself and love horses!”


We are proud to count Ilona Mezzadri among our ambassadors & athletes Horse Pilot and that we’ll be supporting her in her projects. Thanks to her for sharing her experience with us.

Photo credits: Sarah Bedu