Ph. Bret St. Clair
With the close of the final leg of the inaugural Longines FEI World Cup Jumping North American League’s West Coast sub-league at HITS Thermal CSI3*-W on February 13 also comes the finalization of the region’s standings. With a total of 14 events in the new League, equally split between the continent’s two coasts, the top four results count toward each rider’s overall qualification score.
Three U.S. riders from the West Coast have qualified to compete in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, to be held March 23 to 26.
Ahead of the final event, United States’ Karl Cook, Will Simpson, and Richard Spooner held the top positions in the West Coast standings. But Thermal’s challenging course, designed by Germany’s Martin Otto, unexpectedly forced Simpson to retire the 10-year-old, Oldenburg gelding The Dude (Carry Gold x Argentinus), leaving the door open for U.S. rider Rich Fellers and 20-year-old, Irish Sporthorse stallion Flexible (Cruising x Safari XX) to take the third qualifying position.
Although earlier in the season, Fellers indicated that he wouldn’t take Flexible to the World Cup Final, he has since changed his original plans given that he and his horse feel at their best.
“I don’t have any explanation for it, but he just feels as good as ever.”
“I just have a simple rule with what I do with my show jumpers, which is I just let them tell me how they feel and I go with that, and he feels really good,” Fellers said. “I don’t have any explanation for it, but he just feels as good as ever. He jumped really well in that World Cup Qualifier in Thermal, with just a light rub on that back pole on an oxer there. For this stage in the season, which is quite early, he’s as good as ever.
“He never starts out his season sharp – he’s a little anxious, a little excited, a little difficult to ride. He usually takes five or six weeks of showing before he gets really consistent and jumping clear rounds. I’m just going to let him continue to dictate what we do moving forward. At this stage, it looks pretty good. There are four more weeks before we leave, and I’ll jump him in more classes in Thermal. If he indicates any differently then I’ll go with what he’s telling me.”
Spooner, who is currently based in Wellington, Fla., for the winter season, will have one more opportunity to gain World Cup Qualifier points at the final East Coast sub-league event, Live Oak International CSI3*-W, on February 28. But as the leader in the West Coast standings, it’s unlikely that his top status will change, nor will his plans to use the World Cup Final as a top, international venue to show off his new horse, 10-year-old, warmblood gelding Big Red (Ludwig Von Bayern x Lisa).
“I would like to do the World Cup Final with the horse because I really need to get to know the horse,” Spooner said. “I really want to feel confident on the horse and I want to feel 100% if Rio were to be in his future that I would feel 100% confident in our ability to do that and I have a short time to do it.”
To round out the three West Coast riders traveling to Sweden is Cook and his 12-year-old, Zangersheide mare Tembla (Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve x Cavalier). The pair also had one rail down in the final event, finishing in 5th behind Fellers and Flexible.