Richard Fellers (USA) and Flexible win the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League, at Thunderbird Show Park, in Langley B.C. Canada, August 16, 2015. (FEI/ Rebecca Berry)
Longtime partners, and perennial crowd favorites, Rich Fellers (USA) and Flexible topped a field of 25 on Sunday afternoon to claim the victory of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League class at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, British Columbia.
Sunny skies and warm temperatures greeted a record-breaking number of spectators to the beautiful, green show grounds, where the sport’s top athletes attempted to clear the first round of 13 obstacles with 16 jumping attempts. A variety of rails dropped throughout the 1.60-meter track, indicating a well designed course. And multiple riders accrued faults at the triple combination that followed the sliced turns from the jump-eight oxer.
The questions asked by course designer Alan Wade (IRL) proved difficult for the inexperienced and the experienced pairs alike.Alan Wade (IRL). Every year, he designs at least three to four FEI World Cup™ qualifier events. Wade is confirmed to design the courses at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League classes at the American Gold Cup and at the Sacramento International in September.
Just a few months after appearing at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Las Vegas, Vinton Karrasch (USA) and Coral Reef Follow Me II were eliminated after two refusals. Two additional horse-and-rider teams did not finish the round. Hannah von Heidegger (USA) was the youngest competitor, having just turned 18 in May. She finished in ninth place aboard Geledimar with four faults.
Sixteen pairs unsuccessfully attempted clears before the first clear round came from America’s Will Simpson and The Dude. Following a record-breaking HITS Thermal winter circuit earlier in the year, the 2008 Olympian efficiently maneuvered the sprawling course without a single fault.
“When you’re riding The Dude, anything can happen,” Simpson said about the nine-year-old gelding.
A few rounds later, 2012 Olympian Fellers and his 19-year-old chestnut stallion added a second clear round to make for 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.
“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. (Rich Fellers and Flexible have a combined age of 74.) “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.”
So in his plan of attack, he shaved tighter turns, almost hitting his knee on a ditch 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.” “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.”
“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.”
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 (SWE), 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).” “This guy right here, (Fellers), I’m sick of looking at this guy! He’s been hounding me my whole life.”
“This guy right here, (Fellers), I’m sick of looking at this guy! He’s been hounding me my whole life.”
“It’s great to be in a jump off when there’s only three, but that was the problem with these two guys,” Simpson commented. “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. I knew he was going to be tough. And this guy right here, (Fellers), I’m sick of looking at this guy! 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.”
Thunderbird Show Park
Thunderbird Show Park is one of North America’s premier equestrian facilities. Situated on 85 acres, it is located just 35 minutes from Vancouver, in beautiful Langley, British Columbia. It is the largest venue of its kind on Canada’s West Coast, and it features seven competition arenas with award-winning footing.
“The first priority is footing, next is great sponsors, like Longines and Noel Asmar, and the final touch is a welcoming attitude,” said Jane Tidball, co-owner of Thunderbird and the President and Tournament Director.
Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League
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 23-28 March 2016.
The top seven athletes from the East Coast US, top three from West Coast US 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 faults/40.51 seconds (JO);
2. The Dude (Will Simpson), USA, 0 faults/41.71 (JO);
3. Plume de la Roque (Ben Asselin), CAN, 4 faults/43.01 (JO);
4. Agrostar (Ashlee Bond), USA, 4 faults/79.90;
5. S F Ariantha (Andres Rodriguez), VEN, 4 faults/82.56;
6. Tembla (Karl Cook), USA, 4 faults/83.29;
7. New York (Jack Towell), USA, 4 faults/84.11;
8. Calero (Allyssa Hecht), USA, 4 faults/84.76.
See full results: http://bit.ly/1PuvkPN
-Source: Esther Hahn/FEI