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['s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands] He may have been the oldest, and one of the smallest, and one of the most unassuming horses in the competition, but the 16-year-old Irish-bred stallion Flexible proved that he was also the best horse today by jumping three clear rounds to win the 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup Final with Rich Fellers of Wilsonville, Oregon.
They made it! Fellers and Flexible clear the final jump in the jumpoff, clinching their World Cup win for the U.S.A. Photo ©StockImageServices.com
For the United States, it was one for the history books; the last time an American won a World Cup Final was in 1987, a quarter of a century ago.
“We were due,” Fellers joked at the press conference as he sat in the shadow of the FEI World Cup trophy.
That we were. Today’s competition of two full rounds and a jump off followed two previous rounds (on Thursday and Friday) in which the initial field of 37 was narrowed to 25. Course designer Louis Knocxk of The Netherlands set courses to maximum height, with some spreads stretching to 2.10m and at heights that topped 1.60m.
Before the competition, Fellers discussed the final rounds with Charlie Jayne (left) and incoming U.S. show jumping chef d'equipe Robert Ridland.
Technical, Tall, and Wide
Round 3 featured a difficult triple combination pointed at the ingate as its final three obstacles, as well as an intimidating oxer 1.80m wide at fence 5 that rode in a forward four from 4, to a short 3 at fence 6.
And in Round 4, the final fence was a 1.65m wide oxer, also going towards the ingate, set on a difficult bending line a quick four strides after a tall 1.61m vertical.
Technical questions such as those plagued the majority of the field, including German favorite Phillip Weishaupt, who won Round 2 on Friday and jumped a stellar Round 3 with Monte Bellini until the final fence at 12c, where 4 faults dropped them out of the top three.
This World Cup Final was not built for the faint of heart.
The visually challenging skinny vertical from Round 1 made another appearance in today's Round 3. Photo ©Dezyrae Choi
American riders had trouble keeping fences in the cups as well; Beezie Madden’s Cortes C came down hard on the opening fence in Round 4’s triple combination, shattering two of the poles with his hind leg. Madden had to pull up at the c element of the triple; and after replacement poles were found she re-jumped the combination and the rest of the course clear, but ended the round with 15 faults.
Richard Spooner and Cristallo were the second best-placed American pair, landing in 16th overall after picking up 4, and 8 faults today. Madden followed in 17th, and Kent Farrington followed them in 18th place, after jumping Round 3 with just the last fence down, and acquiring 8 faults in Round 4.
This was Farrington's first World Cup Final with Uceko. Photo ©Dezraye Choi
But Fellers and Flexible just kept getting better. With points carried over throughout all four rounds, Flexible, who stands barely 16.0 hands tall, had just one rail down, and thus just the one penalty point, throughout the entire competition.
“It’s difficult to describe, it’s a unique, very special feeling,” Fellers said about winning. This year was Fellers’ fifth consecutive World Cup Final with Flexible, which is an achievement in itself, and the two came 2nd in Geneva in 2008. But now, “I know him better, he knows me better now,” Fellers said. “He was fresh this week, fresher after the journey here than he’d been in the past during any other World Cup.”
A Thrilling Jump Off
Jump offs at World Cups are rare, as it’s not often that two or more riders accumulate the same number of penalty points over four rounds of jumping. But today a jump off of two surfaced after Fellers and Steve Guerdat (SUI) ended up with just one penalty point each after Round 4.
The jumpoff of seven fences provided the opportunity for riders to cut corners and save time if they chose to do so, but clearing all the fences fault free was especially critical today.
Guerdat laid down the gauntlet with Nino Des Buissonnets, an 11 year old Belgian warmblood by Darco, jumping clean in 26.61 seconds. The massive triple bar appeared again in the jumpoff, this time riding from a tight left rollbact turn, followed by 6 or 7 strides to the final fence at 7, a 1.62m Rolex vertical.
Guerdat flew over the final oxer in Round 3 with Nino Des Buissonnets. Photo ©StockImageServices
“Steve was very fast,” added Fellers. “I hopped off Flexible and got through the curtains (outside the arena) so I could watch him go.”
“I thought I was going to take risks, but of course it stays somewhat in your head that you also want to go clear because it was really tough jumping, and the chances that the other two horses have clear rounds is low,” explained Guerdat. “My horse is also very fast, and I thought maybe without taking the risk it would be enough.”
But Guerdat’s last minute decision to hold for seven strides to the final vertical, instead of galloping all out in six, may have been the moment that relegated him to second place.
Confidence in His Horse
After Fellers watched Guerdat’s round, he walked back behind the ingate curtain to the warmup area and mounted up on Flexible. With a nearly ten year relationship with the 16-year-old Irish stallion, he knew that this week, Flexible had been peaking, and he was confident that he could ride the identical track as Guerdat – but faster.
“I know Flexible very well, he’s quick across the ground and I just trusted I could do the same numbers on a very very similar track,” he enthused.
Fellers and Flexible proceeded to do just that – from the first fence they were off, and they didn’t let off the gas pedal until they’d crossed the finish timers. The clocked stopped at 25.97 seconds, 0.64 seconds faster than Guerdat.
Overnight overall leader Pius Schwizer (SUI) was relegated from the jumpoff when his mare Carlina’s hooves knocked a single rail to the ground in Round 4. He finished third overall.
Schwizer and Carlina came tantalizingly close to a World Cup win, but finished the week in 3rd place overall. Photo ©StockImageServices.com
Celebrating From Afar
Flexible’s longtime owners, Harry and Mollie Chapman of Wilsonville, OR, couldn’t make it to watch the Final in person due to health issues. But Fellers, who has been texting and talking with them all week, is thrilled to bring the title of World Cup Champion home to them, as well as a new Rolex.
For Flexible, he’ll have a short break before marching on to the first 2012 Olympic Observation Event in Del Mar, CA ten days from now. The stallion qualified to the Olympic Long List just one month ago after strong rounds at the U.S. Selection Trials in Wellington, FL and Fellers believes that they helped get Flexible going again after a lengthy winter break.
“We take a fairly long break, being from the Northwest,” he said. “Our whole idea with a horse of his age is that he has been spared. He’s not shown and shown and shown, if he had he’d be out in a field right now breeding like most 16-year-old horses. We have a system of not showing too much, and when you do that, most good show jumpers just keep getting better.”
In that vein, Fellers isn’t yet sure where retirement is in Flexible’s future, as he stated that the stallion feels like he might as well be 12. One thing is certain though, an Olympic medal is certainly their goal for 2012.
"He’s kind of a wild character, but he’s gradually mellowed as he’s matured," said Rich. "He’s like a pet, I love him and he loves me."
Photos ©ProEquest except where otherwise noted
Top Ten Final Standings Over Four Rounds – 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup Final
Rider | Horse | Country | Day 1 Rank | Day 2 Rank | Day 3 Penalty | Day 4 Penalty
- Rich Fellers | Flexible | USA | 1 | 8 | 0 | 0
- Steve Guerdat | Nino Des Buissonnets | SUI | 2 | 2 | 0 | 0
- Pius Schwizer | Carlina | SUI | 4 | 2 | 1 | 4
- Phillip Weishaupt | Monte Bellini | GER | 14 | 1 | 5 | 1
- Kevin Staut | Silvana •HDC | FRA | 5 | 7 | 0 | 8
- Rolf-Goran Bengtsson | Casall La Silla | SWE | 6 | 17 | 0 | 4
- Maikel van der Vleuten | VDL Groep Verdi | NED | 18 | 11 | 0 | 4
- Marcus Ehning | Copin Van de Broy | GER | 9 | 18 | 5 | 0
- Rik Hemeryck | Quarco de Klapscheut | BEL | 3 | 12 | 8 | 4
- Harrie Smolders | Regina Z | NED | 7 | 16 | 5 | 4
For full results visit Indoor Brabant