In 2018, Ashlee Bond was one of four riders named to the first Israeli team to ever contest a World Equestrian Games (WEG).
But that milestone was just one in a year of sea change on every front of her life.
Five months earlier, Bond changed citizenship (she previously rode for the United States). Three months before the Tryon WEG, she returned to 5* competition for the first time since her top horse, Chela LS, had been sidelined for 12 months due to injury. And within a month, they were named to a history-making Israeli team.
To put those less-than-ideal circumstances in context, most riders spend a year strategically building a horse toward a championship. Bond had only months and two 5* shows to do it—and she was juggling motherhood with a toddler at the same time. (She and her husband welcomed a daughter in 2016).
Despite high hopes however, their championship debut didn’t go to plan in Tryon. Bond fell off in the first round at WEG.
“I felt like there was a lot of pressure to perform and Chela had come back from an injury so I didn’t really use her [before the Games],” said Bond. “I did two big classes at Spruce, that was it. And I just kept second guessing my program and everything that I was doing because I had never done a championship and I was kind of on my own. It definitely was humbling and it taught me that anything can happen and go wrong.”
The hardest lessons are the ones that tend to stick. Looking back, Bond calls WEG was “the worst best experience” of her life—and epiphany-making moment that has shaped her competitive mindset ever since.
“After that experience, I was like, well, it can’t really get any worse than this—falling on the ground the first day [of WEG] and walking out [of the ring]. So after that, I said, ‘You know what, I’m just going to ride for me,'” Bond said.
“I think we get so into the sport and winning and wanting to be the best, it was just getting in my head too much.”
It’s a philosophy easier preached than practiced, she continued. But it’s one she’s finding personally and professionally fulfilling in recent months.
“Lately, my strategy has just been to do what I think is right for me and my horse. I might not win as much but I’ve been a lot more consistent,” said Bond.
“If I win, I’m really happy and if I don’t, I’m still happy.”
That sentiment is echoed by her family. A key component of Bond’s program is her partnership with her father, Steve, who comes from a diverse riding background that features cutting horses, polo ponies, and a foray into show jumping in his 40s.
Steve trains the horses. Ashlee competes them.
“She’s the driver, I’m the mechanic,” said Steve.
“For me the responsibility is to make her the best car she can drive, the best horse she can drive. So whatever she wants that horse will do. And that challenge is constant. It’s a daily learning experience.”
It’s also the strength of their program, said Ashlee.
“When you come from such a different a background where the horses have to be so broke, that’s just not what we’re taught in show jumping. We’re taught you ride on the flat, you jump. It’s just a totally different mentality,” she elaborated.
“He just took parts of each that he had learned and made it work for our sport. And it’s been a work in progress. [Sometimes, it’s] ‘Oh, that doesn’t really work for what we do’ and he fixes it. Now he has it down to a science.”
Steve’s formula draws heavily from his Western roots.
“I had to take mostly from the cutting world because everything we train the horses is off the body. We use the bit mostly as a suggestion, as a tool where they can say, ‘Okay, here it comes, I’m going to follow that.’ The body is where I get them broke. So if you turn your head, they should follow you,” he explained.
When it comes to each horse’s development in competition though, Ashlee takes the lead.
“She’ll come out and say we need to do a 1.30 class, a 1.35 class,” continued Steve. “It will not be consistently pressure. We’ll take the pressure off until she says, ‘Okay, he can handle it. I feel he’s confident.’ She has that innate ability to know and we’ll always follow her guideline in that respect.”
Their results suggest it’s a recipe for success. Earlier this month, Ashlee returned to elite competition at the Palm Beach Masters in Wellington, FL. It was her first 5* show since WEG and results couldn’t be more different.
Over five days, Bond produced five clear round efforts in six CSIO5* classes, collecting victories on the ever careful Ereina, a 10-year-old KWPN mare, and on her upcoming mount Donatello 141, an eight-year-old Westphalian gelding. She went on to post a clear second round on Chela LS in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ as well—Israel’s first team performance outside of a championship and their first ever podium finish. (They took second behind Mexico and ahead of the US.)
Riding on renewed confidence, Bond’s 2019 is looking like a brave new world.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster. I haven’t been at this level in a really long time,” said Ashlee, before adding, “I’d like to scratch out WEG indefinitely.”