After catching up with the Feller family at the HITS Desert Circuit (Thermal, CA) this past season, EquestriSol checked in on how they keep their personal lives and professional careers balanced and thriving.
A Bold Balance
Going on 25 years of marriage, Rich and Shelley both spoke of the other as being an inspiration and supporter. “Rich is a super good dad,” said Shelley. “He’s a great husband, great partner – he hates being away from his kids and the family.”
“Shelley’s been an inspiration to me ever since I met her,” said Rich. “She keeps my life and our whole family’s life very balanced.”
Juggling Olympic Trials and a family vacation isn’t the ordinary family calendar, but for Rich, Shelley, Christopher (21) and Savannah (18) its par for the course. By sharing parental duties, realizing each other’s strengths, and keeping family time a priority this couple has created a recipe for success. “We split the duties; he’s the better rider, so he goes all the time and I go back and forth, or skip a show.” said Shelley, “It’s difficult organizing taking care of kids, staying home and feeling guilty about leaving/staying, but we’ll never look back and say, ‘I wish that I would’ve not spent more time with my kids’ – you’ve got to think about their lives, and so we do and make it work.”
Rich and Shelley have managed to achieve a unique parental balance in Oregon while competing on the road. Meanwhile both continue to progress in their own riding careers. As is often true for equestrian professionals, the path to making a living and career in the show jumping world is typically paved with sale horses, which often means selling one you would love to keep and take to the top. Shelley’s experience is primarily with bringing up young horses through the 1.4m division and along the way they sell. At the 2012 HITS Desert Circuit she achieved a personal goal when competing at the grand prix level. Her mount Revenge (“Reggie”) stepped up to compete in five top level classes including the $53,000 HITS Grand Prix CSIW-2*/World Cup Qualifier (Week III) and the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix (Week VI). “I’ve brought him along from the 1.2m division to the Grand Prix ring,” she explained. “He’s definitely the nicest horse that I’ve ever had, he’s really a dream.”
When it comes to personal goals and living the dream, Rich continues to make strides with the amazing little Irish stallion known as Flexible (Harry and Mollie Chapman, owners). Post the HITS Desert Circuit, Rich and his longtime partner put in a strong performance at the Olympic Trials held in Wellington, FL. “He’s quite experienced,” said Rich, “His performances have improved every year. He’s a veteran and has walked into a number of different venues. He has good Irish instincts and I think we’ve got a shot.” Being 16 years young, ‘Flexi’ proved that age was simply an advantage. They successfully ended the trials placing 7th on the USEF long list and it didn’t stop there.
In s’Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, Flexible and Rich went on to bring a 2012 FEI World Cup Final victory back to the US after 25 years. On a roll, just two weeks after arriving back on American soil, Flexible and Rich won not one but both of the Olympic Observation classes at the 2012 Del Mar National. As the dynamic duo exited the ring post these two California victories, the crowd chanted: “Put him on! Put him on!” (the Olympic Team). They are undoubtedly a formidable force and will be competing at the last Olympic Observation event at Spruce Meadows in June.
Raising a family while bringing up horses to compete in the international rings doesn’t seem to faze this incredible couple. After 25+ years of training together, “We know each other fairly well at this stage,” said Rich, “so, we work well with each other. We do get little signals, and we know when to back off. But overall, we really do well – and very rarely do we get in arguments. Sure we disagree with each other about stuff, but we respect each other enough to not let it cause a problem.”
As per Shelley, “We do work really well together. We’re basically on the same page, but we may do it differently. Some of my strengths are his weaknesses, and vice versa. Rich gets pretty amped up at horse shows, and especially intense about a big class. We laugh about it. But he’s my biggest supporter and I’m his.”
With London as a possibility later this summer, Shelley competing in the Grand Prix classes, their kids also have crazy schedules to juggle. Chris is completing his sophomore year at Linfield College and will be competing this summer on his two mounts Zidane L and Cascade. Savannah finished her senior year and will be heading to Linfield as a freshman with hopes to play collegiate tennis. Shelley and Rich both enjoy playing tennis with their daughter, although Rich reluctantly admits defeat – it’s still one of his favorite things to do when not in the saddle.
Balance, respect, humor and understanding keep the Fellers successful both in and out of the arena. Not only did I enjoy spending time with both Rich and Shelley, I respect their approach. We wish them all the best in continuing to pursue their dreams. We will be rooting for you.
Fun Facts About Rich and Shelley:
If you could ride any horse, who would it be and why?
Rich: “I’ve always been intrigued with Cristallo (Richard Spooner, rider) because he’s such a tough horse and he’s a fighter – he’s a horse that will fight to leave the jumps up and when the pressure’s on he’ll come through. And Richard’s that way as well and the horse reflects Richard’s personality.
Shelley: “My horse (Revenge), because part of it for me, especially over the big jumps, is having a rapport with my horse. That’s huge, when you build up a rapport and you trust them, it makes it that much more fun and easy. I might also say Milton. He’s a big favorite of mine from way back when. He looked like a lot of fun, and a horse that I could ride.
Favorite part about the desert:
Rich: “I’d have to say the weather is quite nice!”
Shelley: “Sun! It’s a nice place to get started again after the holidays. Definitely my favorite part is the sun.”
Rich: “It’s a great place to let the horses have a fresh go; it’s maturing a bunch with the trees and the berms. It’s very open and spacious.”
Shelley: “I love the vegetation that they’ve planted. The facility is growing up and it’s become more visually appealing. I like the layout with the stabling, the rings and routes.”
Rich: “Don Diego (Mexican Restaurant in Indian Wells) and we always like the Cliff House.”
Shelley: “Cliff House”
Favorite thing to do aside from riding?
Rich: “I love playing tennis with Savannah. She beats me and it’s tough because I hate to lose, but I hope someday I’ll beat her.”
Shelley: “I like to ski. Savannah plays tennis and I like playing with her. I’m not very good, but it’s fun. I also like to read especially when travelling on the airplane. I like to be outside: camping, fishing, outdoors.”