Langley, British Columbia—Aug. 16
He’s competed in six FEI World Cup Finals, winning it in 2012 and placing seventh last year in Las Vegas. He’s 19 this year. And at the Thunderbird Show Park this past weekend, Flexible showed he just might be ready to do it all over again as he and Rich Fellers topped a field of 25 to claim the victory of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League class.
Flexible and Rich Fellers flew to the top of the first West Coast FEI World Cup Qualifier of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League at Thunderbird.
Photo by FEI/Rebecca Berry
The questions asked by course designer Alan Wade of Ireland proved difficult for the inexperienced and the experienced pairs alike. Just a few months after appearing at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Las Vegas, Vinton Karrasch and Coral Reef Follow Me II were eliminated after two refusals. Two additional horse-and-rider teams did not finish the round.
Sixteen pairs unsuccessfully attempted clears before the first clear round came from Will Simpson and The Dude. Following a record-breaking HITS Thermal winter circuit earlier in the year, the 2008 team gold medalist efficiently maneuvered the sprawling course without a single fault.
“When you’re riding The Dude, anything can happen,” Simpson said about the 9-year-old gelding.
A few rounds later, 2012 Olympian Fellers and his 19-year-old chestnut stallion added a second clear round to assure spectators of a jump-off. Canada’s Ben Asselin, aboard Plume de la Roque, was the third and final clear as the 24th in the order of go.
“I was on a relatively new mount today, Plume de la Roque, and we wanted to use this competition as a builder for the rest of her career,” Asselin said. “We had a great result today, and I think that that momentum is just going to carry on to the future to bigger things.
“The best advice that I ever got was perseverance. These guys have been doing it for a very long time,” Asselin continued. “I was talking to Will Simpson earlier in the week, and he said it takes a long time to get to the top and to stay at the top; it’s a game of perseverance. People lose a lot more than they win.”
“We’re probably the most experienced pair in the world, if you add our two ages together,” Fellers, 55, commented, as he and Flexible exited the arena after their first round. “He’s just a dream. He keeps getting smarter and better.”
Fellers drew on this experience in the jump off, shaving just over a second off of Simpson’s clear round. Asselin attempted to improve on Fellers’ score, but a pulled rail in the seven-obstacle course forced him to settle for third place.
“I have so much experience with that horse that there’s not too many things that I see anymore that we haven’t seen before,” Fellers explained. “I really thought it was a difficult course when I walked it, but I rode just like I walked it, and he rode just like I wanted him to ride.”
But Fellers knew he would have to push hard to beat Simpson. He and Flexible entered the ring for the jump-off after only jumping one, small vertical as a warm-up. The first round had taken a lot out of the horse, and Fellers wanted to allow for Flexible’s breathing to return to normal before asking for another big effort.
“I watched Will [ride the jump-off], and I’ve seen him ride for years,” Fellers said. “I think he’s a phenomenal and fast jump-off rider, perhaps the fastest in the world. I watched him win and win at Thermal this year. He laid down a brilliant round, and the horse jumped super all the way around and was quite fast. I knew I couldn’t take it easy.”
Will Simpson on The Dude on the way to second place. Photo by FEI/Rebecca Berry
So in his plan of attack, he shaved tighter turns, almost hitting his knee on a jump in the ring. He also opted to take out a stride in his approach to the double combination.
“It went great,” he said. “It was one of those rounds that everything came up sweet, so there wasn’t a lot of stress on Flexible, which is one of my goals at this state in his career. He’s never been better. I know that doesn’t make any sense with his age—that he could be as good as he ever was—but he feels as good as ever.”
Simpson finished up in second on The Dude just under a second slower, with Asselin in third with a rail in the jump-off. “I’ve been watching Ben ride all week. He’s been working hard, he’s got an unbelievable, quality ride going, and it’s great to see a young guy work hard like that,” Simpson said. “I knew he was going to be tough. And this guy right here, [Fellers], he’s been hounding me my whole life. I love being in a jump-off with him. He’s a great competitor, and I don’t feel bad at all by being beat by a horse-and-rider combination like that. I had a great day.”
Regardless of winning the first West Coast event for the North American League, Fellers’ goals for Flexible aren’t set on the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Gothenburg (Sweden) just yet.
“He’s never sharp coming out of the winter, and I think it might have something to do with his testosterone and that he’s a stallion,” Fellers explained. “I know the Finals are in March so that makes it a little more unlikely [in terms of timing].”
Flexible is scheduled to remain at Thunderbird for another week to compete in an upcoming three-star class on Sunday. Then he’ll return home to Oregon for a couple of weeks to rest before traveling to the Spruce Meadows Masters and to the next North American League event on the West Coast at the Sacramento International Horse Show.
“At this stage, he’s feeling great, super sound and loving the sport and craving competitions,” Fellers explained. “As long as that’s the same, I’ll keep carefully picking and choosing where he competes. I’m into ‘simple.’ That’s how I evaluate everything [for Flexible].”
A total of 14 athletes from the new North American League will qualify for next year’s prestigious Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final, which will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden on March 23-28.
The top seven athletes from the East Coast United States, the top three from the West Coast United States and the two best-placed athletes from Canada and Mexico will qualify for the Final, alongside winners of the 13 other leagues from around the world.
1. Flexible (Richard Fellers), USA, 0-0/40.51
2. The Dude (Will Simpson), USA, 0-0 /41.71
3. Plume de la Roque (Ben Asselin), CAN, 0-4 /43.01
4. Agrostar (Ashlee Bond), USA, 4/79.90
5. S F Ariantha (Andres Rodriguez), VEN, 4/82.56
6. Tembla (Karl Cook), USA, 4/83.29
7. New York (Jack Towell), USA, 4/84.11
8. Calero (Allyssa Hecht), USA, 4/84.76