Warming up before the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*, Ashlee Bond cantered her Karoline Of Ballmore very slowly to a line of three 1.70-meter verticals that were set two strides to two strides apart. “And that’s it,” Bond said of the unusual schooling program she has with the 12-year-old Belgian warmblood mare before big classes. “No oxers. No nothing. It’s unreal. She’s amazing.
“I feel like when you do that with a horse, you start to trust them very quickly because you’re like, ‘If I can pretty much come and [almost] trot these jumps, then I can jump any course,’” said Bond, who started riding Karoline Of Ballmore only about five weeks ago.
The schooling routine, which they did with the help of Germany’s Nicola Philippaerts who was instrumental in matching Bond and Karoline Of Ballmore, paid off as the pair galloped to victory in the final grand prix of the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival, held on the Derby Field at Equestrian Village in Wellington, Florida.
Bond, who represents Israel, and Karoline Of Ballmore (sire: Diarado, dam: Faraline V, dam’s sire: Convento Van De Helle) bested a jump-off field of five riders with their clear round and time of 44.09 seconds. Second was Bond’s Israeli teammate, Daniel Bluman and Ladriano Z, who were clear in 44.29 seconds. Third was U.S. rider Chloe Reid and Souper Shuttle, who were the first to jump off clear in 47.63 seconds.
Bond said grand prix rider Margie Engle rode Karoline Of Ballmore last year but had asked Philippaerts to help find another situation for the 16-hand mare. Philippaerts was going to school the mare one day and suggested Bond try her. Bond initially declined because she didn’t have a sponsor to buy her the horse but Philippaerts and her father talked her into it. She rode Kora and found they were “a perfect match.”
The win, for which Bond took home $165,000, was a much-needed pick-me up for Bond and her team. Bond’s longtime grand prix horse, Donatello, whose sire is also Diarado, had been out of competition at this year’s Winter Equestrian Festival because of an abscess. “This win, for my team, more than anything, is validation that all the hard times and all the times where you feel like, ‘Do I know what I’m doing?’ … You just keep plugging along and trusting in your team and believing that you’ll come out the other side better. It really showed the perseverance through the circuit and coming together and fighting through the hard times.”
An added bonus for the win is that Karoline Of Ballmore earned the “certificate of capability” needed for her to be eligible to compete in the ECCO FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark, in August. The pair barely missed out earning the certificate at two previous WEF grands prix by a rail and two time faults. Donatello already has the certificate, so Bond now has two possible horses to qualify on for the championships.
Bluman, who won the event 10 years ago and was second last year, said being second “is hard,” but he was very pleased with 14-year-old Zangersheide Ladriano Z, who was out for a couple of seasons because of injury. “At one point, we were not sure he was going to come back. He’s a really special horse so I’m really grateful to have him back.” Since September, Ladriano (sire: Lawito, dam: Gambelle, dam’s sire: Baloubet Du Rouet) has had only one rail. For the Rolex Grand Prix, Bluman, who rode last in the jump-off, said he did not watch Bond’s round, knowing she’s fast. “To be absolutely honest, I really wanted to ride the jump-off that best suited my horse,” he said. “It’s a long year, and there are a lot of important events coming up, so I wanted to feel that I gave the horse the ride he deserved.”
Reid said the course of 17 obstacles benefited Souper Shuttle’s short stride. There were a few places where she added strides in lines with the 11-year-old Hanoverian mare, including before a triple combination and then before a large oxer later in course. Reid said whereas last year, she had been nervous when she walked the course, this year she felt confident. “She’s everything I love in a horse,” she added about Souper Shuttle. “She has a lot of blood, a lot of character, she’s super smart, and she really tried everything for me today.”
Course designer Guilherme Jorge of Brazil said he was happy with the results, which saw the five of 40 riders go clear in the first round. “It’s always very challenging because it’s the end of the season. Everybody’s tired, everybody’s looking for different things, but I think this arena itself gives us a lot of variety and a lot of different things. I knew I had to build a tough course, because we had a really, really strong group of horses and riders.”
The field included notables such as Kent Farrington, who retired Gazelle after two rails down, and McLain Ward who had nine faults with Kasper Van Het Hellehof. Switzerland’s Beat Mandli and Dsarie had 8 faults as did Ireland’s Bertram Allen and Pacino Amiro.
Michael Stone, president of Wellington International, said this is the second year the WEF finale has been held on the grass and the first time with spectators. “Rolex are great supporters and it was them who suggested, ‘Why don’t we try the finale on the grass instead of doing it in the big ring? … We love the grass, the riders love the grass, so we said, ‘OK.’ Last year was the first one and [with] COVID, so we had no crowds. But this year ,there were great crowds, great participation. All the top riders were here.”
Stone also explained why the facility that is home to the Winter Equestrian Festival recently changed names from the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center to Wellington International. “First, we’re not in Palm Beach,” Stone said. “We are international and we are an equestrian center, but everybody in Europe and around the world know the show as Wellington. You ask a rider, ‘What are you doing in the winter? Oh we’re going to Wellington.’ So we decided a) that’s a good thing; it’s more correctly Wellington. And then Wellington International ties into Riesenbeck International, which is Ludger Beerbaum’s and he’s part of the [new WEF owners Global Equestrian Group].
“We didn’t add ‘equestrian’ into it because everybody around here knows it and foreigners all know it and also because we want to do other things with the venue. We want to have more year-round events there as we gradually move up and improve the facility because our ambition is to make this the premiere facility in the world. It’s the biggest facility and it’s a great facility, but still we have a lot of room to grow and enhance it. And that’s what we want to do.”
For complete results, click here.