The Latest Show Jumping and Hunter News
Rebecca Walton
May 1, 2014
CALIFORNIA GIRLS: Ashlee Bond Clarke
By Rebecca Walton
Thursday, May 1, 2014 :: Posted 09:56:41 AM EDT

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© Kenneth Kraus/ Ashlee Bond Ashlee Bond Clarke

For this week’s installment of California Girls, caught up with Ashlee Bond, who has been setting the west on fire. This winter, Bond scored the biggest win of her career during the HITS Thermal Million with Chela LS. She took home multiple top finishes throughout the 2014 Thermal Circuit, and she just finished competing at the World Cup Finals in Lyon, France. Now, Bond is beginning a new journey in her career, basing herself in Belgium and taking her chance on the European circuit.

Start by talking about 2014, which has included the biggest win of your career, what has this year been like?

For me, 2014 at Thermal was very reminiscent of 2009 at Thermal with Cadett. I retired him last year and got Chela (below) within a month or so. It felt like a passing of the torch. It’s been a great year.  She’s amazing outside, and we’ve done a fair amount of grand prix outdoors. Unfortunately, for the World Cup Finals we had only done one and a half shows inside, so we were still really green for the indoor stuff. I am really excited to get going here in Europe and show outside.

© Cheval Photos / Selena Frederick: Ashlee and Chela gallop in gleeHow did you find Chela?

Simon Nizri co-owned her with La Silla, and I’ve known about her; I just didn’t think he would sell her. At Spruce, he suggested I sit on her, and it was amazing. It was love at first ride! We tried her once and bought her.

What is she like to ride? What are some of her quirks, especially being a chestnut mare?

She’s really cranky in her stall and to tack up, but when you are riding her she is totally happy and loves her job. She’s hot, and she’s strong. She gets her scope from the gallop, so you have to let her hunt down to the jumps, and try to stay out of her way as much as possible. She’s my type of ride, so it makes my job easy.

The World Cup didn’t go quite as you had probably hoped with Chela, but Agrostar had some really good finishes in the other classes, talk about him as well.

He was incredible. I am so proud of him; he’s growing up. Last year, I had just done one grand prix with him before World Cup Finals, and he did the second divisions and was good but very green. I’ve gotten a lot of experience with him in the last year, and he’s super indoors. I could have used him to switch off with Chela, but I felt like he was a bit green at that height. I knew with Chela I had jumped a lot of big classes, and she had a bit more experience at that level.

Do you see him as a secondary speed horse, or would he rotate with Chela as a top horse?

I look at him as a top horse, not a second horse. He’s just coming 10, and he was a very inexperienced 7-year-old when I got him. I just have taken my time with him. He’s very careful. He has done the 1.60m and would definitely like to switch off with Chela.

© Erin Cowgill: Ashlee Bond's double clear performance on Cadett 7 led the team from the United States to victory at the second stop of the Meydan FEI Nations Cup series in Rome, Italy on FridayYou had a great chestnut in Cadett 7 and now in Chela, can you compare them a bit?

There are definitely some similarities in the way they like to go. Chela is more sensitive and is hotter than Cadett (left), but they both like the same kind of ride. Just gallop, don’t worry about the front rail, go at the pace they want to go, and try not to get in their way too much. There is a natural carefulness that they both have. They go out there and every time they are in the ring they fight to go clear for you and really try their guts out. Cadett was a bit cranky as well. He would pin his ears and stomp his feet when you would groom him, so they are similar in that way too.

What is your plan for the rest of the year? It looks like you are going to spend a bit more time in Europe? When are you planning to come back?

I don’t know. I am here until it’s not going well or I am not happy or my husband is not happy.

No plans for Spruce Meadows?

No, I am here until August, but I am planning to be here a bit longer than that even. In the back of my mind I am thinking two years, but anything can happen.

What led to that decision?

I got married, and we want to have a family. I don’t want to have any regrets. I’ve dreamt of being at the top of the sport. I was there with Cadett and got to experience what that felt like. I wanted to give myself the opportunity, if I had the horses behind me, to try to get in the top 30 and do the GCT and see if there’s a possibility of going to the Olympics in 2016 and the Pan American Games. I really want to give it 150 percent and see what happens. I’ve never been able to go to Europe and do it all out. My husband is so supportive and completely behind me, so that makes it a lot easier. It’s good to have someone there that believes in you and says go for your dream. We have the rest of our lives together, so in the grand scheme of things, two years isn’t the end of the world. That’s kind of where my mind is at.

And you are based in Belgium?

Yes, I am based in a town right outside of Brussels, about 20 minutes from the airport. It’s a really cute town, and we rented a two-bedroom apartment that I am sharing with one of the girls that works for me. We also rented another room for the other person that is going to work for me. Nacho has to go home and take care of the horses in L.A., so I am in the process of finding another groom. We are right next to the Tal Milstein’s facility, and I am going to be riding some horses for him. It’s exciting. I go to my first show Thursday afternoon.

© Kendall Bierer: Ashlee Bond Clarke and Agrostar Ashlee Bond Clarke and Agrostar

What shows are you planning on right now?

I head to Mannheim on Thursday, where I’ll show Saturday- Tuesday. Then I come back and go to a German national show where I am going to take three young horses. Then I will go to a Kapellen, which is a 3* in Belgium. After that I don’t really know. Who knows what invitations I will get. It ‘s very hard to get invited to shows here if you’re not in the top 30 or 40 in the world.

You’ve had he opportunity to show all over the world. How do you compare the U.S. and Europe?

All the shows I’ve done in Europe have been 5-stars because I’ve been with the team; I’ve never shown on my own. That’s always been such an incredible experience, and the shows are how you imagine show jumping should be. In the States it’s looked at more as a hobby, not a real sport. You feel like an athlete here; you feel like you’re legit and you have a real career, not just a hobby. The shows are serious. The competitions is top level everywhere you go. I was looking at the 3* list for the show I am going to in Mannheim and it had Luciana Diniz, Philipp Weishaupt and Carsten-Otto Nagel. These are top riders, so I am going to have to ride my butt off.

You come from the West Coast, but you’ve shown at WEF before; how would you compare the East and West Coast? Where is the U.S. hitting the mark, and where is it missing the mark?

I think Wellington is a top notch show; you just need to have the right horses to be there. I unfortunately did not have the string I was hoping for when I was there. WEF hits the mark more than any other show in the States that I’ve been to. I haven’t done some other shows on the East Coast. Kentucky is also really great. I really like Kentucky. We miss the mark when managers don’t really care about the horses and the riders, they just care about hitting the bottom line, and I think that is the problem. In Europe, it’s about the athlete; it’s about the horses. It’s just different. I think everyone here in Europe has a love for the horse. It’s very old world here, and I think that’s what makes it better and different.

© Flying Horse Photography: Ashlee Bond Clarke and Chela LS on their way to million-dollar glory at the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach, at HITS Thermal. They bested a star-studded international field to win the first jewel of the HITS Triple Crown of Show Jumping.You mentioned how hard it is getting into the 5*. Can you talk a little bit about that process and the difficulties involved?

Climbing the ranks is very difficult. I think you are able to do it a lot quicker here in Europe. In California, the only 2-stars that we have are when it’s a World Cup, and now I think Dale Harvey is doing a 2* and 3*. I don’t think we’ve ever had a 3* in California. He’s trying to step it up, which is good, but you really can’t get any points in California. If you have a good string and you are doing the ranking classes and being consistent, consistency is everything, I think hopefully it shouldn’t be outrageously difficult. I did it once, so I am hoping I can do it again.

You’ve won a $1 million class, talk about the prize money currently in show jumping. We seem to be all over the spectrum, with FEI ranked classes offering $50-$75,000, and then unranked classes that offer a $1 million. What are your thoughts on that?

I think what Tom [Struzzari] has done with the prize money is awesome, but on the flip side I think when you have classes at that caliber you should make it an FEI event. It just makes it better for the sport and for the athletes. I understand the money is a huge thing, but I definitely think it might attract more people if it’s an FEI event.

For you, you won $1 million class, you’ve jumped the 1.60m with Chela, but it doesn’t really count for anything because you still can’t get into the 5* events... That has to be frustrating…

It’s very frustrating. The fact that I won the Million and moved up some on the USEF Rankings, but not that much. I won two other grand prix at Thermal, was second twice, third twice, and I was going down places on the USEF ranking list. That is a bummer; it’s a hard. You feel like you are trying to support these shows because they are close to home, but if I want to be at the top of the sport and do bigger shows I can’t do it from there, no matter how much you win.

I am assuming that played a big part in deciding to stay in Euope?

For sure. Even if you go to 3* shows here and do decently, you will get more points than if you win a 2* grand prix in California.

Speaking of money, the prices of top horses is continuing to sky rocket, and even if you find a top horse, a lot of pressure is put on riders to sell them. Is there any way to find a balance for this? For the U.S. to find top horses in Europe and if we have top horses (like Davos) to keep them?  Is there any solution? We almost need a salary cap to make it so people can still do this sport.

Ideally yes, but it would never happen. People are going to pay what they are willing to pay. The horses are owned personally and by breeders and they need the money. I hear you, but I don’t think it will ever change.

© Kenneth Kraus/  Ashlee Bond and her mount Chivas Z got by a starting field of thirty-nine and then raced past three others in the jump-off to capture the top prize in Saturday's $25,000 Suncast 1.50m ClassicDo you have anyone in Europe looking for horses for you?

No, not really. Tal is always looking for new horses. I have a couple friends here, and if I am looking for a horse I go to them and they help me. I am not picky about what experience a horse has or where it comes from.

Do you feel like you need to find young horses and produce it yourself to avoid paying huge costs?

I can’t afford that kind of money. I definitely have to buy them younger and then make them up, or find one that is more difficult to ride or having problems. That’s what I look for because I can’t afford to spend big money on the horses.

But you feel like the reward is there when you do well?

Of course. You feel like you took a horse that didn’t know anything or not a lot of people could ride and you turn it into something that goes around the big stuff.  It’s super rewarding and fulfilling. It feels better for me to make one. It’s great if you can buy one and if I could do it I would, but I enjoy the process of making one and developing a relationship with that horse. Agro and I have been together for three years and I know him so well. We are such a team. Chela is new, we’re a team, but we’re still getting to know each other. I like to get them young and make them up, that’s fun for me.

What has been the biggest challenge for you as a rising professional? Have you taken on any clients?

I had some clients when I was in California and I enjoyed it, but I find that for me it’s difficult to get a string together. We have been working to build a string, and going back to the last question, we can’t afford to spend that kind of money. Horses now, even 7 year olds, are getting very expensive. That’s been the biggest struggle, building a group of horses and not having just one spectacular one. I think that’s been a really hard thing for me in my career. When I had Cadett, I had Apache and Chivas (above). Chivas was green though, and Apache was older and had foot issues. Then when Cadett couldn’t do it I didn’t have anything else, so I kind of dropped off, which was hard. That’s been tough.

But, Chela now, so onwards and upwards?

Yup I have Chela, and I’ve had Agro for three years. I have two 8 year olds and a 7-year-old. So I have five right now, and I am riding some for Tal, so I have a good group.

All five are in Europe?

Yes, and I actually just gave one of my 7 year olds to my dad for his birthday. He wants to show a bit, so I figured that was better than having him go buy a horse. So that one will go back to California, but I am riding one to three horses for Tal, so that adds a lot to my string.

© Kenneth Kraus/ Ashlee Bond   2-4-12On a different note, you just got married! How was the wedding? Was it everything you dreamed?

It was more; it was a fairy tale. I had this vision in my mind of what I hoped it would look like, and it exceeded every expectation I had, which is hard to do because I had really high expectations. It was beautiful. It was just close friends and family. We had 96 people there. It was on top of a mountain with vineyards all around. We got married on jetty with full views of the valley. It was really stunning.

Is it nice having a farrier on site all of the time? And he has picked up to come with you?

Actually he stayed in California, so we are doing long distance for awhile. His business is going so well he can’t leave. And I would never ask him, just like he would never ask me to not do this. He comes over every four weeks, stays for a week, and then shoes the horses at the end. We’re making it work. He’s super supportive, and we have a really good relationship, so I think that helps and makes this a lot easier.

Anything else you would like to discuss or think I missed?

I am just excited about this new journey. I’ve never done a show in Europe without the team, so I hope we don’t get lost or anything like that, but it’s going to be a good adventure.

Thank you so much for your time and good luck!

Thank you!

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