If ever there was a pony stuck in a horse’s body, it would be Bond. While he’s got a big cresty neck and a pony face with delicate features, it’s his character that most screams pony: talented, oozing personality, and demanding about hitting his generous daily treat quota.
It’s made him not only a barn favorite, but also has gained him a lot of fans around the horse shows.
The 11-year-old Italian Sport Horse (Clarimo—Wylandra, Marlon) started his hunter career under professional Chris Payne’s saddle in 2019, winning the opening round of the Platinum Performance USHJA 3’6″/3’9″ Green Hunter Incentive Championship (Kentucky) in August. Shadowfax Equestrian purchased the gelding during the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) that year, so he did double duty, competing in the small junior hunters, 15 and under, with Isha Swani. In their second show together, they were reserve champion, earning a spot in the coveted USHJA WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, where they finished 12th.
“There was that one bogey jump that everyone was scared of at the top of the ring, jumping into the Jumbotron, and like the entire course I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ because I didn’t know him that well at all, so I didn’t know what he was going to do,” Swani said. “Most horses I know what they do when they get scared or if they’re going to spook, and him I had no [idea]. There were so many different possibilities, and as we were going to the jump, I was like, ‘He hasn’t done anything yet.’ I was like, ‘He’s going to do it one stride out’—and he literally just popped over it like nothing, didn’t even look at the Jumbotron. … I think that class was the night I was like, ‘Wow, this is such a special horse.’ ”
Their stellar 2019 continued with a fifth-place finish at the Adequan/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships—East (Pennsylvania)—which they repeated in 2021—and the reserve champion at Washington International (District of Columbia).
In 2020 they won the WCHR Junior Challenge at Capital Challenge, held that year in Ohio, and were reserve in the division. Professional rider Geoffrey Hesslink also rode Bond to second in the WCHR Pro Final (Ohio) and reserve in the 3’9” green hunters at the National Horse Show (Kentucky).
In 2022, with Swani in starting college at Princeton Univesity (New Jersey), her younger sister Raina Swani took over the ride for most of the year before turning over the reins to Augusta Iwasaki for the indoor shows. Bond found great success with Iwasaki, earning the grand championship at Washington (Maryland), champion at Pennslyvania National and reserve at the National.
We met up with Bond at Hesslink Williams LLC during Week 6 of the Winter Equestrian Festival in mid-February, just before Hesslink Williams LLC announced via social media that Bond had sold to Ava Berman, who trains with Samantha Schaefer at Shadow Ridge Farm.
Go behind the stall door with us.
• The name’s Bond. Just Bond. But he’s got a few nicknames, including Bondito and Bondi.
• Hands down, he’s one of the biggest personalities in the barn.
“The most opinionated, big personality is Bond, no ifs ands or buts,” said Hannah Hlopak, one of the barn managers at Hesslink Williams LLC. “There’s no other horse that can compare to how much he demands attention.”
• Treats are a very important part of his day. Apples are No. 1 in his book, and carrots rate second.
He has no qualms in telling you he believes he’s owed more treats. While Isha was home for winter break this year, she was standing in the barn aisle with Bond and chatting with Hesslink. They happened to be standing near the massive lidded bucket the holds treats. After growing bored with the conversation, Bond started gesturing towards the bucket before taking matters into his own hooves and opening the box himself.
“I’ve been told I give him too much—I give him treats all day when I’m at the barn, sitting in his stall and feeding him most of the day,” Isha said. “He sees me more as a vending machine of treats and snacks and an actual person when I come to visit him now.”
• Bond is also proficient at bobbing for apples.
“He will submerge his entire face with his nose into the bucket to retrieve the apple, [then] panic because he’s submerged in water and wrench his head out, but he still gets the apple,” Isha said. “He will go to any length possible to make sure he gets his treats.”
• Bond is a simple man, and he prefers a simple routine. He thinks he’s far too good to practice and would prefer trail rides to ringwork as preparation for shows.
“He doesn’t mind going to the horse show, but he’s like, ‘I go to the horse show … and I go to win, and then I come home,’ ” said Hlopak. “He’s like, ‘I don’t need to practice.’ He’s like, ‘I don’t need to ride at home.’ He much rather go on the trail and be happy-go-lucky walking around.”
Happily, it’s a program that works for him: He can hack between shows then go into the ring and perform beautifully.
“We’ve definitely learned it over the years that he’d rather trail, turnout, hang out and then show up at the horse show,” she added.
• He knows when it’s time to turn it on, and there’s no convincing him to do it sooner.
“He’s cold by nature,” Hassling said. “It’s funny, sometimes you watch the kids pony-kicking him trying to get him to go at home or in the schooling ring, but as soon as he walks in the [show] ring, he immediately knows, and he picks up, and he goes faster.”
• It is very hard to convince him to do something he doesn’t want to do—especially if that means coming in from a hand-grazing session. Once he’s decided he doesn’t want to come inside, you have to wait him out because he’s stuck in “park.”
“I have so many videos and photos of this happening to us where I’m pulling on the leadrope to walk back in. He won’t even eat grass in this argument,” said Isha. “He’ll just look at me, and I’ll look at him. And I’ll be like we’re leaving. He’ll just stand there with his head right up in the air.”
• Bond likes his space. His stall is his, and he would prefer you leave him be when he’s there.
“He is very protective of his space,” said Hesslink. “In his stall he doesn’t really like you to go near it or go in it and be with him, but if you have food he definitely changes his tune, and then he’s like oh you can come in.”
• He’s picky about who he chooses to love.
“He definitely picks his people,” said Hesslink. “He loves, loves, loves to the end of the earth Isha Swani. He would do things for her that he would do for no one else. He’s always loved her. Secondly he loves Augusta Iwasaki who helped us and rode him [last] year. She just got on and they were like an immediate match. It was really special to see.”
• Bond is very comfortable in his own skin. He’s not concerned about whether anyone is around him or not.
“Literally you could bring everybody in and leave him out [in his paddock], and he’d be like, ‘OK cool bye! See you later! Please don’t come out here, please.’ ”
• Faith McKee, another manager at Hesslink Williams LLC, joked that Bond sees the people in his life as his minions. When he needs them they should dote on his every desire, but when he doesn’t, he’d like them to leave please.
• He’s arrogant.
“He always knows how good he is,” said Hlopak. “He is one that is like, ‘I know that I can go into this class and beat every single person that walks in.’ Whether he’s first in the class or last in the class he’s like, ‘I can hold my own.’ He’s so confident.”
• The camera loves him, and he loves it back. If you’re ever in need of a model, he’s your guy.
“You put the ribbon on, and he just turns it on, and he knows where the camera is at all moments,” Hlopak said.
• Speaking of the attention being all on him. Isha said he’d definitely be the person who is always chasing headlines.
“He’s constant entertainment,” she said. “He is a celebrity that just, like, is constantly showing up in headlines, doing random weird things that you would never expect someone to do. And just like loves the attention of it. A lot of people, don’t like being in the spotlight. He thrives under that spotlight like he lives for the attention.”