NAME: Rich Fellers
SPORT: Horse Jumping
HORSE’S NAME: Flexible
ACCOLADES: FEI World Cup Champion 2012, U.S. Olympic Team member
When did you start riding / competing?
I started riding as a 10-year-old. I started competing when I was 12. My stepmom owned a horse and competed with Arabian open jumpers. That caught my eye. If you’re going to ride horses, jumping them is the thing to do.
When did you get your first horse?
My parents weren’t very wealthy. My dad found a horse for sale in the paper. We traded a Chrysler Desoto with a hemi engine for it. The horse was kind of a mutt—a little stocky horse and not a natural jumper.
When did you realize you had a talent for show jumping?
There were many moments that I felt as though I didn’t have any talent. I remember that I never completed a course when I started competing. I either fell off, or my horse wouldn’t jump. But I’ll never forget winning my first trophy in Tacoma. At the year-end banquet, I won the junior sportsmanship award. They gave it to me because I was a good sport and a glutton for abuse.
What do you feel when you’re competing?
It’s not that different from a lot of sports where you’re defying gravity and trying to get up into the air—hurdling, high jumping, pole vaulting. We try to put as much animation into the horses’ strides on the flats as possible. That’s a big part of what we do as trainers. We get them into synch with our touch, and we load their bodies into a spring to place them at the optimum takeoff spot. My horse, Flexible, completely understands the objective of the sport. He likes to win. There are a lot of horses who never quite figure that out.
Flexible is hands shorter than most competing jumpers. Do you prefer shorter horses?
I haven’t had that many small horses, but the ones that I have had, have been very good. It goes back to Sure Chic, that first little stupid Appaloosa I had. He was a real serious winner. The biggest thing is that I give smaller horses a chance. Many people won’t even consider buying one.
In May, you brought the FEI World Cup back to America for the first time in twenty-five years. What were your expectations going into the competition?
I always feel like I have a shot to win. I felt that this year was the year for Flexible. He just keeps getting better.
What goals do you have for the Olympics?
I just want to keep doing what I’ve been doing. No new tricks. If Flexible feels fresh, healthy and confident, he will be super competitive.
Note: Fellers and Flexible finished 8th overall in the individual jumping at the 2012 London Olympics.