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Ashlee Bond: “If I am not moving in a really quick pace, it feels like I am going backwards”

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I have always felt one with a horse: When I get on a horse, I feel like we are a part of each other," Ashlee Bond tells WoSJ – here with her wonderful partner Donatello 141. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



Flying the flag for Israel, Ashlee Bond and the 10-year-old Westphalian gelding Donatello 141 (Diarado x Lamourex I) impressed with powerful rounds at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. World of Showjumping spoke with Bond about her signature fast-paced riding style, her journey with the Israeli showjumping team, her wonderful partner Donatello, as well as her faith – that is the backbone to her mental strength.

Born to be fast

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I feel extremely uncomfortable moving at a slower rhythm. If I am not moving in that really quick pace, it feels like I am going backwards," Bond tells about her riding style. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Since she was little, Bond loved going fast. “I don’t know if I was born with it,” she laughs. “I used to ride around on ponies and where I grew up, we had a lot of trail rides. We used to run like crazy up and down the mountains, it was so much fun. Later on, Richard Spooner – who is one of the fastest riders in the world – was my mentor for many years, and he taught me how to do it in the right way. I gravitate towards lighter, hotter, forward-moving horses because I do not like going slow! I feel extremely uncomfortable moving at a slower rhythm. If I am not moving in that really quick pace, it feels like I am going backwards. Also, I prefer not feeling like a little person on a horse – and I am not very big –  so small horses suit me better. I have always felt one with a horse: When I get on a horse, I feel like we are a part of each other. The feeling and the connection I get from them, is very important for me.”

Originally from the US, Bond started riding for Israel three years ago. “My father was born in Haifa, Israel, and his whole side of the family is from there,” she tells. “I still have family that lives in Israel, and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to represent the country. Another reason is my very strong faith in God. I felt like it was something I was called to do.”

Bond’s father is also the reason she first started to ride. “He put me on a horse when I was between three and six months old,” Bond tells. “In the community we lived in, they gave lessons down the road and I began going there. I started competing at six and it just went from there – I simply felt like a part of the horse! I have learned to love the flat work, but back then I just loved jumping. I always wanted to be a professional in this sport; I used to dream about going to the Olympics. When I was 18, I turned pro and started riding other people’s horses and did some training. Over the years, I have wanted to focus on the showjumping career and taking horses in from owners, training them and either selling them or keeping them for the sport.”

A small operation

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "We let the horses tell us what they need – we try to listen to them a lot and treat each horse as an individual, not to box them into one set program," Bond tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Up until this year, Bond was based in Los Angeles, California. However, she is currently relocating to a farm in Wellington, which will be the new home base for Ashlee Bond Showjumping. “It is a small operation: My dad rides, there is a manager and an assistant rider. My dad brings so much knowledge from different disciplines to our program. We let the horses tell us what they need – we try to listen to them a lot and treat each horse as an individual, not to box them into one set program.”

“We focus on my sport,” Bond continues to explain. “But, when you buy horses you just never know if they end up being what you need them to be. Hence, you always want to find horses that can also be suited for another job; if it is not the job that you need them for, they should still have a good life with another rider. It is something we try to keep in mind when purchasing horses. However, the horses I like to ride are not necessarily horses that many people would enjoy: I like them hot, a little wild, not the conventional types. Through the years I have learned the importance of trying to find a combination of both; something that fits me but is also commercial. I have some owners now and they like to have the goal of selling them ultimately.”

“Developing young horses brings me the most joy,” Bond continues. “I really love taking on a young horse and developing it to the top sport, that is where my heart really is. Donatello is the perfect example of our program: Taking something that is very young and green and bringing them all the way to the Olympics, that is what I love. I have nine horses at the moment, it is a young and exciting string. They are from age seven to eleven, and they are quite inexperienced to their age due to the Covid pandemic. In California, we were completely shut down without any shows. They don’t have the experience of their normal age group, but they have all jumped over 1.50m and my 8-year-old has won some five-star 1.45m classes. I am really excited about them all!”

Donatello 141

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I think it is his mentality that makes him such a good horse!" Bond tells about Donatello 141. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Bond rode the 10-year-old Donatello 141. “We have had him since he was six,” she tells. “When we got him, he had only done about three shows, so he was very green for his age. We developed him over the years, and he did his first five-star 1.45m at Spruce Meadows as a 7-year-old and went on to win a World Cup qualifier as an 8-year-old. He has just always been mature for his age, a very confident horse, very easy going. I feel like the way the Olympics were set up this year suited him: He is really a horse that thrives under the lights and in new environments.”

“It is funny, we did not try him,” Bond continues to tell about Donatello. “Mark Wirths and Richard Spooner found him for us, and as Mark was in Europe, he went and tried him. He said the horse was really nice, but did we think he was a superstar and would do all he has done? No, definitely not. I think that if anyone tells you that at six, they have not been in this sport long enough. You can have the most talented horse not ending up being what you imagine and vice versa. Donatello was one of those horses where we felt that no matter what, he was a good investment. He was always going to be an easy commercial horse to sell on if he did not end up being good enough for the top sport.”

It took some time before Bond and Donatello really clicked, though. “When I rode him for the first time, he did not feel as the type I like to ride,” Bond recalls. “However, I felt he had a ton of ability. The scope was never a question for me, it was more about the mentality: Was he too laid back? He is a horse I can put my daughter on at home and she can ride him around. He is really lazy and quiet at home. I think by doing the sport, he really changed. When he gets to a show, he gets pumped up – it is like he knows it is time to show. Now, I think it is his mentality that makes him such a good horse! Obviously, his ability and technique are great, but you can feel he really rises to the occasion and he wants to do well. He is still young, but he feels like a seasoned, mature horse – which gives you a confident feeling as a rider.”

Exciting but trying at times

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “For me, riding at the Olympics was a dream come true," Bond says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Tokyo 2020 was the first time Israel sent a showjumping team to the Olympics. “It has been a journey; exciting but trying at times,” Bond tells. “Bringing Hans Hoorn and Jeroen Dubbeldam on to help the team has been a huge asset for us. I come from the US originally, so I am very familiar with the organisation of a well-functioning team. We don’t have the depth of riders but the riders we do have are really talented. Unfortunately, not everyone has a horse, but I think that is everyone’s struggle: Not having enough horses for the top sport – those are hard to find. Also, to keep them sound is another challenge.”

“For me, I thought it would be interesting and I was looking forward to seeing how it played out,” Bond tells about her first Olympic Games and the new format. “This time, nobody could hide when there was no drop score. I believe the Chef d’Equipes thought hard about which horse-and-rider combinations that for sure will complete the course whereas with four riders you could take more risk.”

“For me, riding at the Olympics was a dream come true, I dreamed about this day since I was ten,” Bond says. “The ultimate goal was always going to the Olympic Games. The journey has been incredible and different than the journey I originally had thought. However, I am so blessed that it ended up being this way; that I represented Israel, that I was on Donatello, at the age I am, with the experience I have. I believe it all gave me many more advantages versus if I went younger. So, I am grateful, it has been a lifelong dream.”

Mental strength

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "Any up or down situation, my faith is what I fall back on, and my family," Bond says – here at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon with Chela LS. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Working towards her dream, it was Bond’s faith that kept her going. “Everything happens for a reason,” Bond says. “And more than that, I believe that whatever happens, if you have your faith, God works all things to the good, even if it seems like the worst thing to happen to you. One horrible experience for me was for sure the World Equestrian Games in Tryon – being jumped off, the next day my horse stopping – that was the most embarrassing, trying time in my career. Any up or down situation, my faith is what I fall back on, and my family. Faith, family, is the order of things. It is the only way I have gotten to where I am now. Without it, you can go to some dark places when bad things happen. This sport is so unpredictable: We are riding an animal, anything can happen. Your horse can be great and then things go wrong – and you cannot just rely on yourself in those moments of blessings and failures. Faith is the backbone to my mental strength.”


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