It’s 8:30 in the morning in Wellington and Ashlee Bond strides alongside a pristine walkway at Deeridge Farm, a tiny hand clutched in hers. Scottie, Ashlee’s 3-year-old daughter, trots along beside her mom, white blonde hair blowing in the Florida breeze. It’s another day at the Palm Beach Masters World Cup Week and for Ashlee, and another day of balancing mom life with the demands of being an elite competitor and a rider for Team Israel.
“There’s nothing better in the world,” she tells me, knowing that I’m expecting my own baby in a few months. Ever-bubbly, she giggles when I ask (pleadingly, and bewildered) how she does it all. “My little village. My crew. I have my husband here, Roy (Meeus, a retired professional soccer player), and we’ve had the same wonderful nanny for years, Marisol, and she travels with us when we go to shows. She also helps out when we’re at home in California and Roy and I need to get out for a date night.”
Scottie, keeping her parents on their toes.
Not far behind Ashlee is her dad, Steve, who operates Little Valley Farms in Hidden Hills, California, alongside Ashlee. “He rides them the day before I show, which is a huge help.” There’s a strong sense of mutual trust there, and it shows. Ashlee is a seasoned competitor at the 5* level and in team competition, but she – and her horses – just keep getting better.
The Palm Beach Masters Series, which runs on three weekends in late January through March, is a must-attend on Ashlee’s competition calendar for her horses’ preparation and development – especially Donatello 141, the 9-year-old Westphalian gelding that Ashlee is aiming at Tokyo. This weekend, she’s also competing 9-year-old Boheme de Fleyres and 12-year-old Belo Horizonte, and she hopes to return for the final week at PBM, the Palm Beach Open CSI5*.
Ashlee competing Belo Horizonte.
A Morning School for “Bo”
Boheme de Fleyres, “Bo” is not competing today, but Ashlee gets the spicy chestnut mare out and about to stretch her legs and move her body. She has ridden this impressively scopey mare for under a year, having found her last summer with the help of Eduardo Menezes. When the mare throws a little buck as another horse canters by in the schooling ring, Ashlee seems unphased.
"Bo" starts the ride a bit spirited, but leaves the schooling ring looking relaxed and happy.
The pair’s session is short, sweet, and focused. They work on a bit of flatwork and straightness, plus some cavaletti. No jumping for Bo today to give her legs a rest, and the mare looks happy and relaxed as she hacks out of the schooling ring.
“The footing and the environment is so class. It feels very homey but at the same time, everything here is just top-notch. I love how it’s laid out – the fact that we can school so close to the stabling is a huge help in getting everything done, and it’s just well-thought out.”
Time in the Shade
Ashlee, her daughter Scottie, Roy, Steve, and Scottie's nanny, Marisol, retreat to the rider’s lounge for a bit of shade and rest before Ashlee competes in a few hours. Ashlee’s go-to recharge drink is in hand: a vanilla sweet cream cold brew from Starbucks. Even with a class only a few hours later, the Bond crew seems relaxed and happy to enjoy a quiet moment together.
Top photo: Ashlee and her husband Roy sit with Scottie, and Marisol and Steve beside them. Bottom photo: Ashlee greets Lee McKeever, Mclain Ward's longtime groom.
“Showing here hardly feels like a horse show because it’s so calm; it feels more like you’re just at the (Jacobs’ family’s) farm!” Ashlee says. “The sand ring can be going on and you don’t even know it’s happening when you’re in the grass ring, and vice versa. I’ve known the Jacobs family (who own Deeridge Farm, where PBM is held) since I was little, I’d heard amazing things about the facility and the hospitality, so I was really looking forward to going. Last year was my first year here and we’ll definitely be back. It’s such a privilege to be able to ride at such a beautiful venue and it’s a really organized show.”
Settling into Focus: The Course Walk
With Donatello in the $72,900 CSI4*-W Candy Tribble Qualifier this afternoon, Ashlee gets down to business. It’s time to walk the course and make her plan of attack. For as vivacious and warm as she is when she’s not in the ring, Ashlee is equally focused when it’s time to compete.
As she walks the course, the level of competition here at the Palm Beach Masters becomes clear; this competition boasts a truly elite field of riders. The no. 2 jumping rider in the world, Martin Fuchs, strides out his course nearby. Names like Laura Kraut and Rodrigo Pessoa color the live scoreboard. If you want to watch the cream of the crop of show jumping compete in a beautiful, serene atmosphere – Palm Beach Masters is the place to do it.
Top: Ashlee chats with fellow competitor, Georgina Bloomberg. Middle: Ashlee and her dad, Steve Bond, walk the course. Bottom: Ashlee and Donnie on their way to a fault-free finish.
A beautiful, fault-free round lands the pair in third place in the qualifier. As Ashlee exits the ring, she and Steve recap her round and strategize about “Donnie’s” upcoming classes. Donnie gets a big pat on the neck and a relaxed hack back to the barn, and Ashlee receives a big hug from Scottie and Roy as she wraps up her day at the Palm Beach Masters.
When she’s done competing and the horses are tucked in for a restful evening, Ashlee, Roy and Scottie head down the road to the Peeps Foundation for a bit of family and pony time. There’s not much cuter than tiny children with tiny ponies, and Karl Cook and PEEPS Foundation co-founder Josh Dolan show up to watch Scottie play with the ponies.
Top: Scottie and Ashlee with one of the many PEEPS rescues. Bottom: Show jumper Karl Cook and PEEPS co-founder Josh Dolan.
One benefit to showing somewhere as central as Deeridge Farm is that there’s rarely an amenity that is too far away. Ashlee is a firm believer that fitness has to take place out of the saddle as well, and typically follows a routine of “3 days on, 1 day off” for her workouts. “I usually go in the evenings depending on my day, usually anywhere from 5:30 – 8:30. I’ll go to yoga or Orangetheory or Hotworx,” she says.
Another unmistakable trait of Ashlee’s? Her style. She’s not afraid of a bolder look, like a few rainbow highlights in her hair, or a bit of edge in a schooling outfit, like a moto jacket or a patterned legging. Here at Palm Beach, she’s decked out in Horse Pilot shirts, jackets, and breeches, which are classic but innovative with technical fabrics. Her manicures are fun and inventive – not your mother’s red nail. If she takes a day off from her workouts but has a few extra minutes, she’ll pop into Vanity Nails in Wellington for a little self-care time.
All photos by Kate Metzner for NoelleFloyd.com