It’s hard to come up with adjectives adequate to describe Rich Fellers and Flexible’s performances this spring. Words like “phenomenal,” “incredible” and “unbelievable” are trite and cliché, and honestly don’t convey the true magnitude of his accomplishments.
When the U.S. team for the London Olympic Games was announced on June 17, Fellers’ name led the list, crowning a remarkable season for him and the dynamic little stallion Flexible. (The U.S. Equestrian Federation announced a list of 14 nominated entries in ranked order and will name the four team members and alternate on July 6 when definite entries are due to the International Olympic Committee. Barring replacements for veterinary or other reasons, the top four horse/rider combinations will be the team, with the fifth horse and rider as the traveling alternate.)
Veteran Beezie Madden will join him on the team with Coral Reef Via Volo, as will Reed Kessler, the teenage superstar who has performed beyond her wildest dreams and joins the list on her Cylana. Their teammate will be veteran McLain Ward, whose Olympic plans were seemingly shattered along with his kneecap in January, but who has battled back remarkably to make the team with Antares F. Each of them has a compelling story of their road to London, and Madden and Ward have team gold medals to their names from 2004 and ’08.
“I think it’s a strong team,” Fellers said. “I think Reed was so impressive from the very start in Florida. She’s stayed so consistent with both those horses. I have no concerns about her age or lack of experience. She’s a calm, cool competitor who can deliver. And Beezie and McLain are obviously proven goods; they’ve been there and done that. I think it’s a great team. I’m optimistic that we’ll be right there in the thick of things.”
Flexible On Form
Even before the final Olympic observation events, voices were clamoring to have Fellers and Flexible lead the U.S. team to the London Olympic Games. They’d conquered the world once already this year, winning the Rolex FEI World Cup Final (the Netherlands) in April. Then, they’d flown right home and promptly won both the Olympic observation events at the Del Mar National (Calif.) in May. Even though the pair was named seventh on the USEF long list for the Olympic Games after tying for third in the selection trials, their World Cup and observation event results made them the front-runners in the race to London.
But as Fellers stated in the Chronicle’s Del Mar coverage in the May 21 issue, he had no plans to stop jumping. “I’ve never gotten anything quick or easy my whole life,” he said. “I’m 52, and everything I’ve ever earned has taken time and patience and perseverance. So I’m in no rush whatsoever.”
So at Spruce Meadows (Alberta) on June 14 and 16, Fellers and Flexible went out and proved themselves yet again, putting an emphatic exclamation point on their dominating results. They won both USEF Olympic observation events at the Spruce Meadows Continental tournament, the Husky Energy Classic and the CN Performance CSI-W. Their adoring fans include Charlie Jayne, who was named the alternate to the U.S. team on Pony Lane Farm’s Chill R Z. “He won both classes hands down, doing incredible things. It’s really great to watch,” Jayne said.
“They’re in the zone and so focused and determined. When a horse and rider have that understanding and chemistry, it’s really inspirational. Everyone strives to have that perfect ride, and when we see someone who’s on a roll like this, it makes you realize just what can be done when it happens,” Jayne continued.
Fellers showed just what he and Flexible were capable of at Spruce Meadows. Not only did they gallop just a bit faster than Madden on Via Volo in the $34,235 husky Energy Cup on June 14, but they also spun around an inside turn no one else attempted in a seven-horse jump-off in the $195,606 CN Performance CSI-W. That turn brought them their fourth consecutive victory in an Olympic observation event—four clear first rounds and four fast, clean jump-off rounds.
“It really couldn’t have gone any better. I’m so thrilled with how he performed both first rounds and both jump-offs,” Fellers said. “He was nothing short of amazing. I put a lot of pressure on him, and I don’t like to do that very often with any horse, but he’s at a stage in his career where’s he’s very confident, so he can handle it.”
A Dream Come True
Kessler, who turns 18 on July 9, will be half the age of the next youngest U.S. team member, McLain Ward, 36, at the Games. Kessler will be 35 years younger than Fellers, but it will be the first Olympic appearance for both of them. Kessler turned the show jumping world on its ear in March, winning the USEF Selection Trials for the U.S. team at the London Olympic Games in Florida aboard her Cylana, and placing third on her Mika. She chose to compete at the Lexington, Ky., observation events in May, where Mika had a double-clear performance in the $75,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix and just 1 time fault in the $50,000 Lexington Hagyard Classic. Cylana had 4 faults in each class, which Kessler chalked up to rider error.