When you read about successful riders, whether in dressage, jumping or eventing, the majority of them have their training barns centered on the East coast. Many of the premiere horse shows in the United States take place on the Eastern half of the country – the Rolex 3 Day in Lexington, KY, the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL and Dressage at Devon in Devon, PA. But tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, Rich Fellers of Wilsonville, OR has been quietly and consistently winning everything.
Born and raised in Oregon, Rich started riding at age 10 when his stepmother Cheryl started giving him riding lessons. His first horse was a two-year-old Appaloosa that he received for his birthday. The pair quickly grew close with the help of Fellers’ mother and local riding instructors. The short, stocky horse had a talent for jumping, and the pair eventually became winners from the West Coast U.S. Grand Prix circuit to Spruce Meadows in Canada. In 1983, Fellers turned professional and began training horses for other owners.
He met and married his wife, Shelley, in 1987 while operating a show jumping stable in southern California. In 1989, the couple moved north to Oregon to train privately for Harry and Mollie Chapman while the private job and quieter lifestyle of Oregon allowed the couple to start a family. Son Christopher was born in 1991 and daughter Savannah in 1994.
While northwest Oregon is not exactly known for its international grand prix riders, Rich champions the area. “Wilsonville, Oregon is a great place for training horses,” he says. “The weather is mild. The grass is plentiful and green year round. The terrain is soft rolling hills and valleys, which are helpful for developing fitness and balance. We put a lot of focus on flat work, jumping fundamentals and maintaining happy, fresh horses.” Still, Whip ‘n’ Spur Farm, the Wilsonville training facility owned by J.R. Swan, has easy highway access to major show venues like Spruce Meadows and Thunderbird in Canada, as well as those in California.
Rich’s rocket ride to the top of the sport started when long-time supporters, Harry and Mollie Chapman, purchased Flexible, a chestnut seven year old Irish Sport Horse stallion. It took awhile, but the now sixteen year old Flexible has “figured the sport out.” Rich says, “It’s getting to the point where it’s very unlikely that we’re going to make a mistake. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that confident with a horse in my career.”
Rich has always put his horses first. His “wonder-horse” Flexible is a survivor – twice returning from the brink after being written off due to accident and injury but both times fighting back to good health. In 2012, at sixteen years old, Flexible was the oldest horse at the Rolex FEI World Cup in The Netherlands, but showed great style and heart when he and Rich became the first World Cup winner from the United States in 25 years.
But being the World Cup winner was not a guarantee to be named to the US Olympic Equestrian team. Rich and Flexible still had to qualify at two of the four USET observation events. Not only did Rich and Flexible qualify, but they won all of the events in which they participated at both Del Mar, CA and Spruce Meadows in Canada.
Despite his age and the grueling schedule, Flexible has remained sound with minimal care. No chiropractors or special tack. Regular shoes, routine shots and vet checkups and a simple diet of hay/pasture, rolled oats and a few supplements. Says Rich,” the Irish Sport Horse breed is inherently hardy.” The key to maintaining soundness in an older horse is consistency. Riding Flexible five days a week, the vast majority of the time spent on flatwork, helps keep his joints moving and his body, well, flexible. Hmmm – think that’s how he got his name?
This entry was posted on Friday, August 3rd, 2012 at 7:50 am and is filed under Horse Health, Horse Sports, Olympics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.