Three horses are in the running for the USEF International Horse of the Year: Rich Fellers’ Flexible, Sinead Halpin’s Manoir de Carneville and NTEC Richter Scale ridden by the late Jonathan Wentz. We asked three HJU bloggers and fans of each horse to tell us why they thought Flexible, Manoir de Carneville (Tate) and Richter Scale should win. We start with Flexible.

Why I Think Flexible Should Win USEF Horse of the Year

Rich Fellers and Flexible. -Photo by Keara

Okay, so I might be a little biased since my favourite equestrian sport is show jumping, and I did watch Rich and Flexible go all summer at Spruce Meadows, but I truly do believe that Flexible deserves the 2012 USEF International Horse of the Year title, and here is my reasoning why:

When I look back on the 2012 show jumping scene, there was a lot going on: Teenage phenoms, doping scandals, Fostergate, and the list certainly goes on…but, standing out from everything else, 2012 was the year of Flexible.

Unmistakeable in the ring with their unique style of going, Rich Fellers and his veteran partner were in a class of their own. Rich would stay out of Flexible’s way, gently guiding him along the correct path, but allowing him to settle into the course and attack it, making the trickiest line look like a simple grid and the biggest oxer appear insignificant. Where other combinations faltered, Rich and Flexible soared.

If you even if you are unfamiliar with, or are just a passing observer of the sport, you likely have an idea of what the typical show jumping horse looks like. Big, tall, sleek, powerful…about 17 hands of raw power, right? Well, lets just say that if Flexible were to be grazing in a field, you would probably walk right by him. At a mere 15.3hh, at first glance Flexible does not look like an elite athlete. It is not until you get closer, and see the ripple of muscle under his brilliant copper coat and the fire gleaming in his eyes, that you know he is something special. And once he enters the ring? He might as well be 17 hands, because he towers over the competition.

Rich Fellers and Flexible. -Photo by Keara

Now, one of the most amazing things about Flexible isn’t his competition record, and that is hard to beat (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it is the hurdles he has had to face on his way to the top of an already gruelling sport. For the entire story, here is a great article from Equisearch, but in summary:

In 2004, Flexible began suffering from a mysterious lameness that would pop up shorting after starting work. At first it would resolve itself after a couple minutes rest, but soon it became a persistent problem. A long and frustrating year later, full of diagnostic tests and stall rest, a diagnosis was finally made – Flexible had a blocked vein in his right front leg. Extremely uncommon, the condition left him with only 30% of normal blood flow, and required angioplasty to try and fix it. Luckily, the procedure was a success.

Just getting back on track in 2006, Flexible suffered a pasture accident that left him with a fractured scapula and alarming muscle atrophy due to damaged nerves in the shoulder area. Thankfully, Flexible would prove to have luck in his horseshoes once again, as his scapula healed and the nerve damage appeared to work itself out. Once again, Flexible was on track and he soon worked his way from a third string horse in Rich’s barn, all the way to one of the top horses in the world.

Rich Fellers and Flexible. -Photo by Keara

Okay, lets get down to the nitty gritty – why was 2012 the year of Flexible? And, going back to the matter at hand, why does he deserved the 2012 USEF International Horse of the Year title?

  • Flexible is your 2012 World Cup Champion, a title earned in a thrilling jump-off against Steve Guerdat. Not only did they win, but they ended a 25 year drought for the United States in the World Cup.
  • Rich and Flexible were named first to the American Olympic squad after winning four observation events, including both of them at Spruce Meadows in star studded International fields.
  • They were the top placing American pair at the London 2012 Olympics, finishing a very respectable 8th.
  • Numerous other wins in grand prix classes – one or two big wins in a season is generally considered really good.

So, those are the stats, but to watch the pair go puts in on another level. When I say they won at Spruce Meadows, I mean they won. Some of the turns that they took in the jump-offs would have been suicidal for any other combinantion. A standout is actually in the QEII Cup, where they *only* placed second (to Beezie Madden on Simon). Rich had a planned to make a S-curve line in the jump-off to save time, but when the jump crew adjusted the course, a fence was placed in his way. Coming into the ring, Rich did not realize this and, wow, I think everyone gasped. Only Flexible could have made it out of that predicament, he rocked right back and gave a big pop over the 1.60m fence from nearly a standstill. A tremendous display of athleticism by a tremendous horse. Also, I should mention, this was all done at the more advanced age of 16.

Rich Fellers and Flexible win FEI World Cup

Do I think that the other horses nominated are undeserving of the title? Absolutely not! But, and this is a big but, Flexible was an absolute standout in the sport of show jumping and, by far, was the best show jumping horse in North America in 2012 – this certainly cannot go unrecognized.

But, if you need one more reason to vote for him, here it is:

He is seriously cute! -Photo by Keara

To vote visit, and type in your email address to access the voting portal. Voting will end at Midnight [ET] on Monday, January 7, 2013.