By Lauren R. Giannini
When asked what advice he gives to young riders gung-ho to pursue equestrian glory, Olympic show jumper Rich Fellers said, “I focus on horsemanship and horse care. My biggest thing is kind of simple, but I think it really works — if you always always always do what’s best for the horse, you’re going to come out ahead in the long run. If you do what you want to do, what you think is best for your career or for the owner or for whatever, I think you end up losing. Because the horse is vital to success, it matters what you’re doing.”
Rich, a member of the 2012 U.S. London Olympic Show Jumping Team, isn’t into talking about his achievements. His priorities are his family and the horses. He limits how much time he spends on the road and enjoys staying at home, training and teaching and riding. His focus is on doing his best, but even he admits that 2012 was a very special year, one he’ll always remember. That was the year Rich and Flexible, the smallish (16-hand) stallion, already long-listed for London, went to The Netherlands in late April where they became the first American duo in 25 years to win the Rolex/FEI World Cup Final.
Back in the U.S.A., Rich and Flexible proceeded to win all four of the designated observation classes that were part of the Olympic selection process. These classes included the $100,000 Hermes Grand Prix of Del Mar in May and, the following month at Spruce Meadows, the $200,000 CN Performance Grand Prix. Two days later, when the USEF announced the show jumping team for London, Rich and Flexible were on the list. They finished in eighth place overall, the best of the Americans.
Special Time In London
When asked if riding in the Olympics was a dream come true or just another competition, Rich said, “I have a common-sense perspective on competition. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a schooling show in the training jumper ring or in the Olympic Games and you’re the last one to go and need a clear round to qualify for the final — it’s all the same. It’s all about execution, and good execution yields good results. I don’t get too excited about where the competition is, who’s there, how big it is or how much prestige and so on. I just do my best to execute. But it was a little of both — just another competition and also a little bit of a dream come true, to qualify, to represent the country at the Olympic Games.”
It was a memorable time for him as a horseman, but also as a family man. “My wife, Shelley, was there, and both my children. We did all kinds of fun stuff all over London,” said Rich. “I don’t think any of us will ever forget what a really special time it was. Some friends we hadn’t seen in years flew over to watch and support us. London was pumped up for the Olympics and the atmosphere was very special.”
The USEF named Rich 2012 Equestrian of the Year and Flexible, owned by Harry and Mollie Chapman, was honored as International Show Jumping Horse of the Year.
One Course At A Time
Rich first competed on the international stage in 1991 when he contributed to the U.S. winning the bronze medal at the Pan Am Games in Cuba. Although he limits how much he shows, he remains one of the most successful riders on the West Coast. Rich and Flexible are still competing and adding to their career highlights.
“Flexible is a very, very special little horse — that’s all I can say — and I’m learning along with all of his fans as we proceed how very special he really is,” said Rich. “Because he’s doing things now that are just unheard of.”
On June 15 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Rich and Flexible competed in the $500,000 Rolex/FEI five-star Grand Prix that was also a Canadian team selection trial for Rio. Flexible jumped two clear rounds and finished third. He also jumped clear in the Thursday evening $215,000 qualifier for the Grand Prix.
“Twenty-year-old horses don’t do that in our sport — he didn’t have a pole down all that week and was fresh as a daisy,” said Rich. “He just loves this new facility. We bought our own farm and moved in last December. The barn’s up on a rise and he has a stall with access to his own paddock and thinks he’s the king now. He’s so enthusiastic, I laugh. I’m learning from that horse every day.”
Rich likes to give his horses variety, and the new farm is perfect with different places for under-saddle work. “Every day, Flexible gets ridden out on the trails, in the grass field, in the covered arena and finishes in the really big outdoor ring for his gallop work,” said Rich. “In the afternoon, he gets a walk-trot ride, same thing with lots of variety. I’m just taking it one day at a time. I’m in a never-ending dream and I have this horse. He’s enthusiastic, strong, capable, still jumping really well. He tries his heart when he competes. He’s still competitive with the best in the world. He’s one in a million.”