Nov. 12, Sacramento, Calif.
Rich Fellers and Flexible showed no signs of being rusty when they picked up World Cup points and raced to a win in Northern California on Saturday night during the $50,000 Grand Prix of Sacramento CSI-W at the fourth annual Sacramento International Horse Show.
It was the first time in four months that the popular 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse stallion (Cruising—Flex, Safari) had been in the ring after a minor injury to his right front leg put Flexible on the sidelines for the end of the summer season.
“We don’t know exactly what it was, but he was fighting over the stall wall at Thunderbird [British Columbia] in August, and he banged the back of his right front leg,” Fellers explained. “He had a lot of swelling in his tendon sheath, and he was lame. There are a lot of things in the tendon sheath, and we did all the scans but didn’t see anything. So I just gave him some time off, and he came sound. We brought him back slowly and carefully, and here we are.”
Course designer Heiko Wahlers set a technical, legitimate 1.60-meter World Cup qualifier track for the 27 entries.
Big names the region doesn’t regularly see flocked to the Sacramento International, which was the brainchild of show co-managers Rudy Leone and Dale Harvey, who wanted to bring a European Indoor atmosphere to Northern California each fall. Beezie Madden in particular made waves by competing at Sacramento this year, finishing ninth in the grand prix and winning the welcome on Thursday with Coral Reef Via Violo, her individual silver and team gold medal winning mount from this year’s Pan American Games. It was the first time that Madden had ever competed in Northern California.
Just three riders qualified for the jump-off after a challenging first round. A triple combination across the diagonal of the ring rode directly to a tall Land Rover vertical that kept many of the nine 4-faulters out of the jump-off. Another trouble spot came at the end of the course; a large triple bar out of a short corner that rode in a bending line to an airy double combination.
The line walked in 6½ strides, leaving riders with the choice to move up in six, or add a step for seven.
Nineteen-year-old Saer Coulter displayed the benefits gained from her time over the summer in Europe with coaches Markus Beerbaum and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum; giving the overflow crowd a riding lesson with a foot-perfect first round aboard Springtime, a 12 year old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Indorado—Jottie, Elmshorn).
“I was pretty confident in our plan, and Markus had a chance to watch a few riders go,” commented Coulter. “I felt good, we took it slow all week and did the 1.40-meter instead of the grand prix on Thursday, and we had a really nice warm-up, which is always key with that horse.”
Coulter, of San Francisco, rode second in the jump-off behind eventual third-placed finisher Michelle Spadone, and with Fellers behind her, she admitted to feeling the pressure to turn on the speed.
The jump-off included the A and B elements of the triple combination directly to the Land Rover vertical in six strides. Spadone suffered a refusal at the B element after jumping into the combination bigger than she had planned, and while Coulter made it through that combination, she admitted to getting a little rushed to the Land Rover vertical. Springtime jumped too flat, pulling a rail there.
“With Rich in the jump-off, you know you need to go fast, and I’m very happy to be second,” she added.
And so when Fellers, Wilsonville, Ore., entered the ring for the final round, he knew he only had to ride clean and under the time to win the class.
“I was confident but also just a little insecure because Flexible hasn’t shown for four months. His last class was the Queen’s Cup at Spruce Meadows,” said Fellers. “But he worked hard, and at this point in his career it’s a bit awkward for me to say I’m going to go slow in a jump-off, because it never works out that way.”
True to form, Fellers laid down a clean jump-off in 38.11 seconds, well ahead of Coulter’s 41.49. Their next stop is next week’s World Cup Qualifier at the Los Angeles National, and after a break for the holidays they’ll move on to the HITS Thermal Winter Circuit (Calif.).