Flexible- The Horse Who Became A World Cup Institution

Flexible, World Cup winner in 2012 & most ever appearances
Credit : Scoopdyga

Monday 02 April - 08h24 | Lulu Kyriacou

Flexible- The Horse Who Became A World Cup Institution

The 2018 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Finals are less than two weeks away and today we look at the horse who has made the most ever Final's appearances in the history of the competition, the 2012 winner from the USA, Flexible. Scroll all the way down to read our exclusive interview and watch some video.

 - Flexible- The Horse Who Became A World Cup Institution

22 Years Young, last month
Credit : Rich Fellers

Winning a World Cup Final in either dressage or jumping takes a particularly special kind of horse.  It is not just the Final itself, each season requires new qualification unless you happen to be the winner and automatically get to defend your title.  Over the years, some horses have excelled in this contest because of their consistency in the process and none more so than diminutive 16.hh stallion Flexible, whose eight appearances is the most of any horse.

Flexible and his rider Rich Fellers were no back number either,  they won in 2012,  but by then they had already made five Final appearances.  In 2008, the pair had made their World Cup debut where they were beaten in the very last round by Meredith Michaels Beerbaum and Shutterfly, who went on to collect two more titles in the next five years.   Flexible though, is particularly remarkable as he had twice defied  career threatening injury. First a blocked artery  that had kept him on and off competing for three years and, then, once recovered from that, he escaped from a stable when staying away one night and galloped into a fence, breaking a shoulder.  The stallion therefore had to wait until the considerable age of 12 before making his first Final.

Added to that, his rider was a 49 year old  family man from Oregon,  who  had managed to qualify his other horse in 2007, but said he  preferred to live a quiet life with his family in the US rather than travelling the international circuit. Fellers, was surprised himself by the result. "You don't know what they can do until you ask them, and when I asked him this week to jump higher and go wider he just kept saying OK" the rider pointed out.  Fellers had bought the horse aged six from Cavan in Ireland and taken him back to Oregon where they became one of the USA's most enduring and best loved partnerships. 

In 2012,  they went to the Netherlands and took the World Cup title and this earned them a place at the London Olympic Games, where they finished eighth individually and best of the American team (main image below).  The World Cup was an amazing result after the horse's journey had taken almost five days because of a series of delays with flights.  Worried his horse might be overly tired after the prolonged travel, Fellers did not even jump Flexible before the jump off, preferring a quieter warm up to save his horse. The performances of that year later earned them the United States Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year .

The 2012 World Cup win was also the first USA victory in the Finals for 25 years.  Fellers had to beat another multiple winner, Steve Guerdat, riding his subsequent Olympic gold medalllist Nino des Buissonnetes,   to claim top spot on the podium  and reflected that he had to get on and do it as he might not have many more chances, although his horse still felt like a "12 year old" !! Commenting on their partnership he said, “Flexible was, as a younger horse, extremely excitable. He’s very quick and twitchy. He’s kind of a wild character, but he’s gradually mellowed as he’s matured. He’s like a pet, I love him and he loves me, we have a great relationship and we know each other very well,”

Flexible and Fellers were not done with the World Cup either,  getting to the Finals a further three more times including finishing seventh in 2015 when the horse was 19.  He was saved for the competition in 2016, where he completed in 22nd place and was then honourably retired from the ring in May 2017 aged 21.  

Fellers on Flexible

Fellers on Flexible - Flexible- The Horse Who Became A World Cup Institution

2012 Lap of honour
Credit : Sccopdyga

Here is our exclusive interview with Rich Fellers about his amazing horse.
"The World Cup is important to me as it is still the only contest in our sport that is a cummulative championship. You carry every fault from first day to last. I thought it would suit Flexible as he had a pattern of getting better and better through a show, he is energetic and talented and full of fight. But to be honest, when I tried him I didn't think he would scale quite the heights he did.  At the time there were some really valuable  1.40/1.45 speed classes in places like Spruce Meadows  and as he was smaller and had that feisty attitude, I was thinking more about those. I did not anticipate where we would end up at all!"

"He got his chance in a World Cup qualifier  in 2007 after I had a run of bad luck with my two 1.60 horses and they were both off competing so Flexible was next in line! I had no idea if he was up for the rise in class but when it came down to it, he just shifted up a gear, like he always does, gave it is best shot and he won! So then I did  some more qualifiers  and he won them all so I took him to Gothenburg in Sweden for his first Final attempt."

"I have to say the Final seemed a lot bigger than the qualifiers, compared to the current  difference and I remember in 2008 Rolf Ludi was the course designer and he was well known for building big wide fences to test a horse's scope.  When I walked the second round course with my wife,  we looked at each other and I said, I don't know if Flexible can jump this, it is massive, the triple combination  was right by the end gate, I just didn't know if he could do it.  But as usual he rose to the occasion.  I was shocked by how well he jumped  those enormous fences. "
"Now that he has retired and I don't have a horse anywhere near as good, i can see even better just how special he was. The talent, the fight, the enduring durability,  the will to win. When he 19 and we went to Las Vegas,  he had had colic a few days before.  That was the third time he has come close  to the end but when we got there, you wouldn't have known and he jumped really well. It showed how tough he is.  I  was not really planning on his last Final aged 20 but his owner  wanted to go back to Gothenburg and so we went there instead of staying in Thermal (California)."
"I still ride him in retirement,  I am going there right after this  (interview) as we have been away competing so I haven't sat on him myself for six weeks.  He looks and feels half his age (22 now) loves to jump still and gets very excited about it. I have only had two of his youngsters to ride so far and although  both have gone to other riders now, they both had their fathers attitude and his looks!  Flexible  is my horse of a lifetime, I can't imagine ever having another horse like him. "   

Fellers on Flexible - Flexible- The Horse Who Became A World Cup Institution

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