The 2020 FEI Dressage and Show Jumping World Cup Finals were scheduled to take place this week in Las Vegas. They were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe. In honor of the event, we’ll be hosting a variety of articles on coth.com highlighting special moments and horses from previous World Cup Finals.
Walk down the aisle at Rich Fellers Stables, and you might do a double-take. There’s Flexible, Fellers’ 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup Final-winning mount, and right next to him is a horse that looks remarkably similar. He’s the same shade of chestnut, with a similar blaze, and he stands right around 16 hands, just like Flexible. It’s no surprise that the two look so similar when the latter, Dawsons Gold, is Flexible’s offspring.
That’s not where the similarities end.
“Once you get on [Dawsons Gold] he is just electric sensitive,” said Christopher Fellers, Rich’s 28-year-old son. “If you adjust your reins, he shoots out from under you. Adjust your stirrups, he shoots one way. He’s so in tune with every little movement you’re making on top of him. Flexible, when he was young, was the same way. He’s got a big heart, and he’s kind of almost a little bit cocky—very confident in himself. He doesn’t know that he’s a small horse out there. Thinks he’s as big and tough and fast as everyone else. He’s very confident in himself, and that’s definitely a Flexible characteristic.”
Like Flexible, Dawsons Gold is tricky to mount, dumping Rich once at Desert Circuit in Thermal, California, when he got on too quickly.
His jumping style is similar too. When Rich first saw videos of Dawsons Gold jumping with Ger O’Neill in Ireland, he worried that he jumped a little too flat, but when he took a turn riding him he felt him jumping nice and round, just like his sire.
So it’s no surprise Dawsons Gold dominated the 6-year-old division at the Desert Circuit, held Jan. 14-March 8 with Christopher up, earning the circuit championship.
Rich has long kept his eyes peeled for special Flexible babies. Dawsons Gold is out of an Irish Draught Horse that never jumped (Carnalway Gold by Kildalton Gold), and Rich was able to try him as he was competing in the Barnadown Show Jumping Irish Breeders Classic. He watched the final jump-off from his computer back in Oregon City, Oregon. After the gelding put in a spectacular performance—he won the class by a solid 8 seconds—Rich texted O’Neill to confirm that he wanted the horse. Rich watched on his computer screen as the rider texted back during the awards ceremony to confirm the sale.
Christopher took over the ride when he came Stateside, competing in a few 1.10- and 1.15-meter classes to finish out 2019.
“Dad has just gotten to the point in his career where he doesn’t have such a desire to do the young horses anymore,” said Christopher. “They can be a little more unpredictable, and they can be a little dangerous at times. He found this nice young horse, and he was happy to let me have him, which is really cool. It was the right point in both our careers for me to take over on that one.
“I love to have the young horses, I really do,” Christopher continued. “It’s so much fun because you see so much improvement day to day, week to week. Every day is a new day with the young horses. They come out with a lot of excitement and full of life.”
As for Flexible, he’s still king of the barn at Rich Fellers Stables, and the neck sash from his 2012 championship still hangs in Rich’s office over a poster of Flexible and him. Rich recalls that while the win was exhilarating, he always had faith in his partner.
“I always go in believing I can win; that’s just kind of me,” he said. “It became more and more clear throughout the week [that we had a shot]. When it came down to the final round and then the actual tie and the jump-off, I had no question in my mind that I was going to win.
“It was the highlight of my career, and I’m not anticipating exceeding that,” he said. “I would love to, but I don’t think I will. That was the dream of all dreams; it’ll be with me forever and ever.”
Watch Flexible’s winning jump-off round at the 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup Final.
With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Rich has been taking advantage of some downtime to reunite with Flexible, riding him five times a week and even giving him an occasional jump school.
“At 24 years old he’s still better than any horse I’ve ever sat on,” said Rich. “He’s so quick and so powerful, so athletic and so smart. No wonder he won like he did. He’s just a machine.
“It’s still a really special relationship,” he continued. “He’s a very special horse. I’ve never met another horse like him in my life, and I don’t think I ever will.”