Thermal, Calif.—Feb. 28
It was a test that the legendary Flexible passed with flying colors.
After winning Friday’s $25,000 Smartpak Grand Prix, rider Rich Fellers and owners Harry and Mollie Chapman targeted him for the $50,000 Osphos Grand Prix on Sunday. They wanted to see how the 20-year-old veteran handled the bigger challenge.
And Flexible won again. “This [class] was a big test for me and for the owners,” said Fellers. They had decided that if Flexible struggled in the second class then they would not go to the Longines FEI World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, at the end of March.
“But the fact is that he jumped these two classes outdoors in 85-plus degree temperatures, in a big ring with long courses,” said Fellers. He added that that if Flexible seemed healthy and chipper on Monday, they’ll plan to ship to Sweden.
Fellers finished in the second place slot in the Longines FEI World Cup North America West Coast League standings, behind Karl Cook. The top three riders in the league are invited to compete in the FEI World Cup Finals.
Fellers and Flexible won the 2012 FEI World Cup Final (the Netherlands) and were seventh in the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas last year. They were also the highest-placed U.S. pair in the 2012 London Olympic Games, finishing eighth.
In Thermal, Fellers and Flexible easily bested the field of 36 competitors in the $50,000 Osphos Grand Prix. The 13-obstacle, 16-effort course by Anderson Lima of Brazil proved daunting, with jumping faults spread all over the course and no less than a dozen horses incurring time faults. In the end, only six horse-and-rider combinations went clear to advance to the nine-effort jump off.
First in the short course was Enrique Gonzalez of Mexico, aboard his own 8-year-old Hanoverian mare, Chacna, who was fast and tidy but had one rail down.
Next entered Susie Hutchison, who put in a beautiful, smooth round on Barbara Phillips’ 8-year old NRPS mare, Brisbane, but also had one unfortunate rail.
Edesa’s Basantos and Chris Pratt were third to go. Pratt and the 9-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding, owned by Edesa Horse Promotions Inc., have proven themselves to be formidable competitors during the circuit, winning the $350,000 HITS Thermal Grand Prix and placing third in the $100,000 Purina Nutrition Grand Prix during Week 3, and riding to fourth in this Friday’s $25,000 Smartpak Grand Prix. The pair did not disappoint, putting in the first double clear result of the afternoon.
Kristin Hardin rode next, on Nicole Teague’s feisty 11-year-old bay Dutch Warmblood gelding, Firestone. They also went double clear but crossed the timers a few seconds slower than leader Pratt.
Canadian Olympian John Anderson was fifth in the jump-off order aboard his own 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood, Terrific. They were the third to go double clear and looked like they might beat Pratt and Basantos, but ultimately came in 1 second slower.
The large crowd cheered as the final pair entered the ring. Fellers and Flexible effortlessly flew across the short course, beating Pratt and Edesa’s Basantos by almost 3 seconds.
“It was a good jump-off,” said Fellers. “I saw part of Chris’s round. He’s a fast rider, and that’s an awful nice horse. That’s probably been the best horse here on the circuit.”
When asked how he was able to beat Pratt, Fellers gave Flexible all the credit. “I always kind of know, if I give him a shot, he can win with just his ground speed and his natural quickness in the air. He’s just that kind of horse—I can’t really explain it,” he said.
Fellers has been piloting Flexible for longer than some of the grand prix horses they compete with have been alive–for 12 years. “Experience makes so much difference,” said Fellers. “You just keep learning year after year. All of the little details become clear. You just know so many more details about how your horse rides around the course that you have an advantage. I’m still learning how to be better with him.”
Fellers said that he and Flexible may compete in one more grand prix at HITS Thermal, but then will be resting up for the World Cup Finals.
Want to know more about Flexible? We went Behind The Stall Door with him last year!