The last time we saw Ashlee Bond (USA) and Donatello 141 they were winning the Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) team series championship with the Helios at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) in California.

Since December, the dust from the desert has settled and Donatello has had a well deserved vacation. Until this month that is. The 12-year-old gelding made his eagerly awaited return to top competition at Wellington International in Florida during the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) CSI5* Week V.

Turns out, it was all the warm-up they needed, because it’s now Week VII, and Thursday’s CSI5* WEF Challenge Cup 1.55m was theirs for the taking. The pair’s extra surge of fresh energy brought them across the timers in a blistering 32.62 seconds.

“He always gives me one hundred and ten percent. I brought him out [after some time off] a couple weeks ago and he felt a little bit rusty, but I think we knocked the rust off,” said Bond.

“I said coming out of the ring, ‘he’s back in form,’ so it was just reassuring for him to go out there and do so well. He was actually running today. Normally I’m kicking him, but today he was pulling me, so I just kept pushing.”

The pair needed one hundred and ten percent, having no time to waste. The class of 50 starters gave way to a 14 combination jump-off along the Steve Stephens (USA) track. Jessica Mendoza (GBR) stopped the clock at 33.39 seconds with 11-year-old gelding Play, securing second place, while Jos Verlooy (BEL) and 15-year-old gelding Igor took third on 33.89 seconds.

While most riders have to check their speed to prioritize a clear round, Bond wasn’t the least bit concerned that Donatello “Donnie” would catch a rail along his path to the finish,

“The first round felt unreal and I knew I could just put the pedal to the metal and not even worry about the poles. He was just flying and he felt fresh and taking me to the jumps.”

“It’s almost not fair because he’s so agile,” Bond laughed.

“I did seven strides from one to two where people were doing eight or nine, and he probably has the smallest stride out of the field.”

Bond is no stranger to the podium at WEF, but she has an added hometown advantage this year. She’s now a Wellington resident, giving her horses a sense of relaxation which helps them to perform their best.

“It’s taken a bit for this to feel like home because I’ve been coming back and forth since 2010 and it always felt like WEF had this grandiose feeling attached to it. Now it feels like I’m in my backyard, and maybe that also gives me an advantage; my horses are comfortable here and they love it and thrive in this environment. It’s home now,” said Bond.

And what better housewarming gift for Bond and Donatello than a CSI5* win?

Feature image: ©Sportfot