's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands–April 19
Age and wisdom can trump youth and vigor. Flexible proved that cliché more than true today in the speed leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final.
The oldest horse in the 31-horse field at the age of 16, Flexible still has springs in his legs. “He’s a tough horse, which is lucky for me because he also continues to learn and improve every year,” said Rich Fellers. In fact, Fellers thinks the cheeky chestnut stallion is even better this year than in 2008, when he placed second overall in the World Cup Final.
It’s even more gratifying that Flexible trumped the field today, since it seemed that nothing went right for Fellers in the month before the Final. On March 26, his trunks—full of saddles, equipment, and paperwork (including Flexible’s passport)—were stolen from Wellington, Fla. Luckily, his sponsors came through with replacements. “Antares and Veredus and all of our sponsors were great. They were so quick about getting everything shipped to us. It was very stressful at the time, but when all the boxes started coming in it was like Christmas,” Fellers said. “Replacing the passports was difficult and stressful. We had to work quickly, and my vet was super about it. We had to get new ones; Flexible’s owners [Harry and Mollie Chapman] had to pay extra money to get everything expedited.”
Then, Flexible’s booked flight from Seattle, Wash.—just a three-hour drive from Fellers’ Wilsonville, Ore., farm—was canceled just two days before he was due to depart. So Flexible, an Irish Sporthorse (Cruising—Flex, Safari), had to ship 19 hours south to Los Angeles to fly to Europe. “He feels good, though, and I think he’ll be fine. He’s fresh,” Fellers said.
Not Going To Beat Him
Fellers and Flexible’s time of 60.26 seconds was almost 2 seconds faster than that of Steve Guerdat on Nino des Buissonnets, even though Flexible tripped a bit on one turn. “I made a little mistake in the turn back to the double verticals. I let him gallop a little too long and when I went to slow him down, he was a little out of balance. I had to add another stride and come very close to the first vertical. Fortunately my horse was clever enough and has enough experience that it didn’t seem to bother him; he was fine with it,” Fellers said.
Watch Fellers and Flexible's round...
“I think it’s good I didn’t try to beat Rich because he was unbeatable today,” Guerdat said. He stated that he planned to just try and jump clean and let his horse’s natural foot speed carry him. “I was also thinking about tomorrow and the final on Sunday. I didn’t want to burn my horse up and make him crazy. I feel like my horse didn’t have to use himself too much today, so it’s positive for the rest of the week I hope,” he continued.
Coming in third was Belgian rider Rik Hemeryck on Quarco de Kerambas. Hemeryck was just the third into the ring, and set the pace at 62.66 seconds. “I did everything to go really fast. I was a little bit lucky at the wall; he was a little bit spooky there, but I had a good time anyway,” Hemeryck said.
Canadian rider Eric Lamaze had the fastest time of the night, stopping the clock at just 57.97 seconds, but he had 8 seconds added to that score for his two rails down with Coriana van Klapscheut. “There were some speedsters near the end there,” said Fellers, who had gone 16th in the class and had to sit and watch the remaining riders try and beat him. “Eric was all over it. He was so fast, and I knew he could be fast because that horse is a bit like Flexible, smaller and quick across the ground. And Eric is the best.” Lamaze’s round put him into 10th place.
Fellers struck a good note on Day 1 of the Final, but there's a lot of grueling jumping yet to be done. Tomorrow, Round 2 takes place in a grand prix-type format, with clean rounds jumping off. Then, World Cup horses have a rest day on Saturday and return on Sunday for two more rounds of big jumping to decide the winner.
U.S. Riders In The Middle Of The Pack
Dutch course designer Louis Konickx set a challenging but fair speed track. Two main spots caused trouble. A one-stride double of verticals led in a bending four or five strides to another one-stride combination at 6AB, this time an oxer to a vertical. Quite a few horses, including Richard Spooner on Cristallo and Margie Engle on Indigo, had 6A down. A Liverpool oxer (Fence 9) set just a few strides out of the corner, and then three strides to a uniquely shaped narrow wall, also caused problems. The wall was T-shaped and brightly painted, but only one horse refused it and it didn’t come down more than a few times.
Fellers leads the U.S. charge at the Final, but Kirsten Coe, in just her second World Cup Final appearance, jumped her way into the top 10 in the speed leg, placing eighth on Baronez. Coe stated that Baronez, 11, is a greener horse. “We’ve found with her that every time we move her up a level, she has one class where she has to figure it out and then she raises her sights,” Coe said.
“It feels like that’s what she did during the [U.S. Equestrian Federation selection trials for the U.S. team for the London Olympic Games]. I’m going to switch horses [to Combina] for tomorrow. He’s a different ride than her, much slower going and a lot of scope," said Coe. "This round didn’t suit him as an individual. I’ve had a year to plan this out since last year’s finals, so I really made a plan for how to get here and do it better. So far the plan is going in the right direction.”
Richard Spooner is the next U.S. rider, in 14th place on Cristallo after a quick round but with a rail at the in of a combination. “I feel good about it, but I’m disappointed. It was a pretty light rub. I’d say for everybody else [the distance to that combination] was forward, but he has an enormous stride and in the end I got there too close,” Spooner said. “I’m not in a bad spot. I can do some catching up. The key is just going clear. If I can get some clear rounds, I can only improve my place.”
Beezie Madden is right behind him in 15th, after one rail on Cortes C. “I thought it was a good solid round. I had a plan and I stuck to it and everything worked; he just had a light rub. It’s a little bit blind off that turn [to fence 9 where she had the rail], they don’t see that liverpool until you’re a stride and a half out. I think it just surprised him a little. There’s a long road and hopefully I can finish in the top third at least,” Madden said.
Charlie Jayne is in 20th with 8 seconds added to his time on Uraya. Kent Farrington also had two rails on Ucecko to take 22nd. “It wasn’t quite the start I was looking for,” Farrington said. Uceko had a rail at a Liverpool oxer and another at the last jump. “At an oxer like the Liverpool, it’s easy for a horse to misjudge that. The last fence [down]. I thought was just cheap. He maybe just cut down on it a bit early."
Margie Engle is in 25th on Indigo, having two rails down. “I think I overrode a little bit. I tried to make up the time across the end and I got galloping so he was thinking forward instead of thinking about the jump. Once I slowed up he was great,” Engle said.
Francie Steinwedell-Carvin and Michelle Spadone round out the American effort in 29th and 32nd respectively.