by Pamela Saunders
Special to the Langley Advance
It was a perfect 10 for Rich Fellers and Flexible at the $126,000 Longines FEI World Cup Qualifier at Thunderbird Show Park.
The pair, partnered for a decade, bested a field of 26 competitors representing the U.S., Canada, Venezuela, and Mexico.
With just three competitors advancing to the jump-off, it was a heart pounding finish for the crowd as the 19-year-old Irish Sport Horse sailed over the final fence with just a second to spare.
Course designer Alan Wade set the sticks high at Thunderbird Show Park, giving international contenders and local favourites a good ride.
“I’m trying to find the best horse rider combination on the day,” Wade said. “You build to a certain level. You try to take care of some people who might be up to the level, have them get around, enjoy it, feel they had a good day even though they might have had a rail or two down and treat it as a learning experience. But at the end of the day, this is a world cup qualifier and the top combinations will rise.”
The first clear ride of the first round came just past the halfway point when Will Simpson and his nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding, The Dude, didn’t touch a rail, earning cheers from the crowd.
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Andrea Strain, riding Djakarta, were one of two rider-and-horse combinations from Langley taking part in the Longines Longines FEI World Cup Qualifier at Thunderbird Show Park.
Five rounds later, Fellers and Flexible guaranteed the jump off.
Canada’s Ben Asselin rounded out the trio, with Plume de la Roque, a 12-year-old mare.
Riding first in the jump off, Simpson made no mistakes. Fast and clear to set the pace, he crossed the final fence at 41.71 seconds.
“It’s great to be in the jump off when there’s only three, but that was the problem with these two guys. I’ve been watching Ben ride all week. He’s got an unbelievable quality ride going and it’s great to see a young guy work hard like that,” noted Simpson. “And Rich, he’s been haunting me my whole life. I love being in a jump off with him. He’s a great competitor and I don’t feel bad at all getting beat by a horse rider combination like that.”
The 2012 FEI World Cup champions, Fellers and Flexible, were next in and ready to leave it all on the field. After a little rub on the second fence, the pair picked up a gallop and finished clear, bumping Will from top spot with a time of 40.51 seconds.
“You always have an advantage when you can watch someone else go in and there’s no better rider in the world to watch in a jump off or speed class than Will Simpson – and that’s a pretty hot shot young horse he has there,” Fellers said. “I just stood at the back gate and watched every stride and every move he made. It gave me a feeling of where I needed to turn and how fast I needed to go to hopefully nip him. I got lucky.”
Ben Asselin was last to ride, looking strong despite a rail down mid-course.
“I was on a relatively new mount today and we wanted to use this competition as a builder for the rest of our career. We had a great result today and I’m thrilled with the way that my horse jumped. I think that this momentum is going to carry on in the future.”
For Fellers, the win aboard ‘Flexi’ is always sweet.
“It’s similar to any long-term relationship in life. You just have more knowledge, more experience, more details and you can anticipate the outcome better,” he explained. “I don’t really have to do anything differently than I did 10 years ago. He’s amazing, that’s all I can say.”
Thunderbird Show Park president Jane Tidball said it was the “best day ever” at the park.
“We’ve never seen show jumping this great here in Langley,” she said.
Langley’s Andrea Strain, riding Djakarta, was the top local rider. She said Thunderbird presents a quality event, from the crowds to the team atmosphere.
“It was a tough track out there, but the horses step up to the plate,” she said, adding, “I hadn’t done too many of these big tracks and it was big enough for me. A few of the early riders had some complications and for sure, there was a little bit of a doubt in my mind whether I should go. But the amazing thing about the horse that I have is that she gives me amazing confidence.”