Longtime partners, and perennial crowd favorites, Rich Fellers (USA) and Flexible, claimed victory at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League qualifier at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, British Columbia, yesterday. (FEI/Rebecca Berry)
Lausanne (SUI), 17 August 2015 – Longtime partners, and perennial crowd favorites, Rich Fellers (USA) and Flexible yesterday topped a field of 25 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. 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.
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. “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.”
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).”
See full results: http://bit.ly/1PuvkPN.
Facts & Figures
The course designer was Alan Wade (IRL). Every year, he designs at least three to four FEI World Cup™ qualifier events. He 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.
Three riders, out of a starting field of 25, jumped clear in the first round to advance into the jump off.
In the first round, there were six horse-and-rider pairs with four faults, two pairs with five faults, two pairs with eight faults, three pairs with nine faults, a pair with ten faults, a pair with 12 faults, a pair with 13 faults, a pair with 22 faults and two pairs with 24 faults. Three pairs were eliminated.
Hannah von Heidegger (USA) was the youngest competitor, having just turned 18 in May. She finished in ninth place aboard Geledimar with four faults.
Rich Fellers and Flexible have a combined age of 74.
Alan Wade (IRE): “I’m sure most of the four faulters, if they had a second chance, they would jump clear.”
“I prefer grass for footing. When you have proper footing, it takes a lot of pressure off me as a course designer. I liked that the footing (at Thunderbird) was the same from start to finish.”
Jane Tidball (CAN): “Our partnerships with Longines and with Asmar Equestrian, as a presenting sponsor, are raising the level of show jumping in North America. We’ve never seen show jumping this great here in Langley, B.C.”
Ben Asselin (CAN): “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. We had a great result today, and I think that that momentum is just going to carry on to the future to bigger things.”
Advice for aspiring riders in university: “The best advice that I ever got was perseverance. These guys have been doing it for a very long time. I was even 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.”
Will Simpson (USA): “It’s great to be in a jump off when there’s only three, but that was the problem with these two guys. 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. (Laughs.) 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.
Rich Fellers (USA): “I think (the long-term partnership with Flexible) is similar to any long-term relationship in life – you just have more knowledge, more experience, more details and you can anticipate the outcome better.”
Andrea Strain (CAN): “I haven’t done too many of these big tracks, and it was big enough for me. A few of the early riders had some complications, and for sure there was a little bit of doubt in my mind whether I should go. But the amazing thing about my horse that I have, she gives me amazing confidence, and the course was great and it was built well. It was a learning track. I made a couple of mistakes later on, but it was a confidence-building round.”
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.
Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League
The new North American league was launched by Beezie Madden, the most decorated US female equestrian athlete of all time, American Gold Cup winner and FEI Solidarity Ambassador Jessica Springsteen, and Hannah Selleck, team and individual gold medallist at young rider level and one of the sport’s up-and-coming stars. The full launch release is available here: https://goo.gl/kCIsyW.
The North American League boasts a minimum of US $2.4 million prize money across the series, and offers the best Jumping athletes from North America and around the world the chance to qualify for the jackpot of more than US $1.4 million (€1.3 million) on offer annually at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final.
By Esther Hahn
FEI Media Contacts:
Director Media Relations
+41 78 750 61 42
Manager Press Relations
Tel: +41 787 506 145