Future Flexibles
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Wednesday, 08 November 2017 00:21

Rich Fellers and Flexible. Photo: Wendy Gleason/Malibu5starnaturals.com

Rich Fellers’ retired star poised to fly high as a sporthorse sire.

by Kim F Miller

There was not a dry eye in the Del Mar Arena when Flexible retired during the Del Mar National Horse Show this past May. The 21 year old Irish Sporthorse stallion was fit as ever and in fine form, but it was time for his one and only rider, Rich Fellers, to gallop him in front of a full house of adoring fans for the last time. If all goes according to plan, however, Flexible’s legacy will live through his offspring for many generations to come.

Although he has a few descendants competing in the States and his native Ireland, the Cruising son has never been actively marketed. That’s about to change.     Earlier this year, Rich and Shelley Fellers purchased Flexible from owners Harry and Mollie Chapman. Rich’s partner in the 2012 World Cup Champion title and as the top-ranked American in the 2012 Olympic Games would not compete anymore, but the Fellers wanted him to have a chance to influence the sport through his offspring. Toward that end, they are working with top international agent Ken Rehill of The Stallion Company in France, who will market Flexible’s semen throughout the world. There, the “little horse that could, and could and could” will be in the good company of World Sport Horse Breeding Federation top 100 sires and rising stars of the sporthorse world.

Rich and Shelley aren’t going into the breeding business themselves, and will instead be handing Flexible’s semen over to The Stallion Company. “He’s one of the largest breeders throughout Europe,” Rich explains. “He has a huge network all around the world and is able to market Flexible in a very professional manner. That gives him the chance of being bred to some of the top mares in the world.”

Sending semen from an American horse to be marketed in Europe is unusual, and sending it from a West Coast-based stallion is even more so. As such, it was difficult to find a reproduction facility equipped to handle the semen in compliance with various health requirements for shipments to Europe, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere. After considerable research, Rich found Pioneer Equine Hospital in Northern California’s Oakdale, which was both highly recommended and capable of meeting requirements that include virtual quarantine and extensive testing to ensure disease-free semen shipments. Pioneer Equine’s reproductive division is a part of the Select Breeders Affiliate network and USDA approved for having semen frozen and exported to foreign countries.

Three hundred of a requested 400 doses have been collected successfully in the few months that Flexible has been at Pioneer. Rich hopes that by mid-December, he’ll have gotten the job done and get to come back to Rich Fellers Stables in the Portland area, Oregon City, OR and “continue his life as a retired show jumper.”

Flexible Flyer in the 6-Year-Old Maplebrook Championship at Thunderbird in August by Johanna Siefert of Lionheart Training. Photo: Kaela Lee

What is that?

After his May retirement and before going off to Pioneer, Flexible enjoyed a “little jump school” once a week. “He’s always so excited and especially when he hadn’t jumped in a while. Otherwise, he’s in normal work and he looks super.”

“Blood” In Every Category

The Stallion Company’s Ken Rehill has been talking to Rich about representing Flexible for about four years, but it wasn’t an option until the Fellers owned him.
Because of Flexible’s age, he’s not likely to be the firm’s most prolific or profitable sire over the long haul and he’s also one of the few Ken will represent but not own. “Flexible will be the first Irish Sport Horse in my catalog and I like to have something for everybody,” Ken explains of his interest. Plus, Flexible has the breeding buzzword, “blood,” in every category: the actual Thoroughbred blood, 50.17 percent, to be exact; the physical blood of his modern sporthorse type; and the mental blood in “his desire to get the job done.”

The appeal of his mental blood will be an especially strong selling point, Ken predicts. “All of those World Cup Finals rounds were difficult arenas with difficult tracks, and he made it look easy and was clearly having fun doing it.” The horse’s obvious bond with his rider, Rich, enhances the special story that is part of Flexible’s legacy.

With his remarkable performance record, viable semen and what Ken describes as “good conditions” offered by The Stallion Company, Flexible is set to make the most of his late-in-life entry into the sporthorse stallion marketplace. The Stallion Company’s global exclusivity arrangement includes representation in the United States by Judy Yancey of Yancey Farms.

Audra Fleck-Snijders & Rainland Flurry on their way the Reserve Champion in the Maplebrook Young Horse Series for 4-year-olds at Thunderbird Show Park.

Ken estimates that Flexible will be most popular in his native Ireland, the United States and, surprisingly, Tasmania, where there are three large Irish Sport Horse studs. “He’s the best living Irish Sport Horse stallion and, at $1,000 Euros, about 500 Euros lower in price than comparable stallions.” In Europe and elsewhere, Flexible’s semen will be sold with a live foal guarantee, which is unusual.

Per what Ken describes as American preferences, Flexible’s semen will be sold per-dose in the United States at a price that he and Judy Yancey had not yet determined at press time. Breeder preferences vary around the world, he notes. In France, for example, buyers typically don’t pay for semen until it has produced a live foal.

“Nobody is going to get rich off of Flexible,” Ken admits, citing his late start on producing enough babies to affect wide-scale influence on the sport. But a late start is better than no start. “Everybody is very excited. If he had been available all along, he would have been a very popular sire.”

Little Flexibles

Will there be a Flexible baby for the Fellers? “I don’t see ourselves becoming breeders,” Rich laughs. “I don’t know if I’m wealthy enough.” They also have their hands full having bought their own training facility in 2015 and shifting their business model to more time spent coaching students and less developing and campaigning horses for owners. Plus, their Timberline Meadows Farm is set up for training, not breeding.

Rich doesn’t totally rule out getting his own Flexible baby some day.  “I’ll certainly be looking for Flexible’s babies in five, six, seven years,” he adds. His time with Flexible included the highest of highs – eight World Cup Finals and the Olympics – and the lowest of lows – three potentially career-ending injuries. With patience, faith and top care, Flexible came back from all three in remarkable form before ending his career sound and healthy. “I know a lot about him and I enjoyed the two of his offspring that I had the chance to ride. They were great young horses.”

Rainland Flurry with Patrick Snijders and son in the leadline class

Those two horses, Flexible Flyer and Reflex, are campaigning in Young Jumper divisions. Along with another, Rainland Flurry, they tease of things to come.     Six-year-old Flexible Flyer is out of an eventing mare and was bred by Lisa Metcalf, DVM. Oregon-based professional Johanna Siefert, who works with Rich, recommended the young mare for her student, Sarah Martin. “I’d watched Rich bring the mare along for a year and when I needed a petite but very competitive horse for Sarah I decided it was fate: we might as well try her.

“It was magic, a match made in heaven,” Johanna continues. Sarah has campaigned the mare at the 1M and 1.10M divisions and Johanna moved her up to the 1.2M Maplebrook Farms 6-year-old Championships at Thunderbird this summer. Like her sire, she’s neither tall nor small. Maybe 15.2 or 15.3 hands, Johanna guesses, but she’s filling out. “If you ever stood next to Flexible, you know he is a big horse, kind of chunky. She’s getting like that.” Most important, she exhibits his athletic ability, competitive spirit and intelligence. “She has the most amazing, flexible back. She flips up her hind end and there’s no end to her scope,” Johanna reports. “She’s a ‘ring’ horse and she gets better every time she goes in.”

The other Flexible youngster Rich rode was Reflex, a 5-year-old out of an Abdullah mare who is now for sale through its owner.

Rich wasn’t involved with Rainland Flurry, a 4-year-old out of a Calvaro Z mare and bred by Robert Fleck, DVM. The dam was “a little on the big side and needed refinement,” explains trainer Audra Fleck-Snijders of Emerald Equestrian near Seattle. Entering competition this year, the mare sometimes called “Fireball” is “one of the smartest horses I’ve ever had a chance to train. She has a great jump and an incredible front end. We hear her hit her belly guard over every jump.” So far, she’s been clear, fast and in the ribbons often. “It’s hard to tell at this age, but my goal and hope for her is to be a top Grand Prix horse.”

As hot as she is in the ring, Flurry is a teddy bear everywhere else. “If she could live in your house, she would,” reports Audra. After competing in the 4-year-old Maplebrook Championship at Thunderbird, Flurry turned around and toted Audra and her husband’s Patrick’s 6-year-old son to a blue in the leadline class on Grand Prix day. “When she was born we saw her two white eyes, and she’s a chestnut mare and thought, ‘God help us!’ But she’s darling. We love her and she already has a big fan club.”

Breeding, of course, is a long game and only time will tell how Flexible’s track record as a sire stacks up against his remarkable resume as an international jumper. He is enjoying his new lifestyle, says Kathryn Hegedus, DVM, of Pioneer Equine.  “When he came to us he was extremely fit, but he’s fallen into his new lifestyle. He’s put on a little ‘dad flab’ and he’s enjoying himself.”

The early indicators are good and hopes are high that his legacy will live on through many high-flying, huge-hearted progeny in the years to come.