By: Siobhan English

It is said that great things come in small packages. At just 16 hands high, the Irish Sport Horse stallion Flexible ticks that box to be sure, but little did Edward Doyle realize in 1996 that he had bred a future champion.

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Arnd Bronkhorst photo

It All Began in Ireland

During the mid-1990s Edward Doyle was at the top of his game, winning Grand Prix competitions all over Ireland. He had many horses in his yard, near Punchestown, in County Kildare, but none as special as Flexible’s dam, Flex.

In 1989 he was fortunate to discover the then seven-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare during a competition in Cavan. She was jumping, and winning, for Simon Trent, but Edward was keen to take her further, and made the shrewd purchase.

Flex, by the Thoroughbred stallion Safari, proved to be the real deal. As well as winning 15 national Grand Prix classes, she also became the National Champion in 1995.

It was a fortuitous competition in every respect. The national championship is one of the most coveted titles in Irish show jumping to this day, and 17 years ago it brought together the best Ireland had to offer. In the jump-off, Edward found himself up against the hot combination of Trevor Coyle and the stallion Cruising. At this time, the pair was four years away from winning the Aachen Grand Prix and finishing runners-up in the World Cup Final. Edward and Flex beat them in the championship by fractions of a second. It was one of the most exciting competitions of the year.

Really Something

It was no coincidence that Flex had just been scanned in-foal to the Irish Sport Horse stallion, Cruising by Seacrest. On paper, the gray was believed to be the best choice for Flex as she neared the end of her career. Cruising’s dam, Mullacrew, a successful show jumper in her own right, was by Nordlys xx, sire of Graziano Mancinelli’s 1972 Olympic gold medallist, Ambassador. Mullacrew’s dam sire was the great Water Serpent xx who sired Piero D’Inzeo’s The Rock, winner of team bronze and individual silver at the Rome Olympics in 1960.

‘”The fact that she was carrying a foal to Cruising when she beat him was special,” recalls Edward, “but when that foal turned out to be Flexible – that was really something!”

The following spring, as Flex neared her foaling date, Cruising stormed onto the international scene with Grand Prix wins in San Marino, Italy and Wolfsburg in Germany. During a remarkable 18 months representing Ireland, Cruising also appeared on Nations Cup teams in Dublin, Aachen, San Marino, Calgary and Rotterdam.

Just days before Flex was due to foal Edward sent her to the Irish National Stud, where she would receive top-class care and attention. “They did me a favor as they had all the facilities that I didn’t have at the time,” Edward says.

On April 15th 1996 Flex delivered her first foal, a smashing chestnut colt sporting a stark white blaze, a feature which has become iconic as Flexible gained worldwide recognition.

A Deal Was Struck

While Flex returned to the show jumping scene for a further two years before being retired, Flexible was being slowly produced by Paddy O’Donnell. With Edward in the saddle he jumped as a five-year-old, and the following year placed second in the six and seven-year-old championship at Cavan – the very same venue where his dam was “discovered” all those years earlier.

On this latter occasion, however, watching closely from the sidelines was American rider Rich Fellers alongside his agent Dermot Forde. Rich was on the lookout for a new horse, and Flexible had impressed him.

After some negotiation, a deal was struck, and the newcomer was on his way to America to begin his phenomenal career with the man who was to become his long-time partner.

Nine years later, not long before his dam passed away, Flexible returned to the Swedish venue in a bid to better the result of his sire, only to be defeated by Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly. True to his name though, Flexible bounced back, and, after a further two attempts, finally won the coveted crown in April last year.

Proud Day

There were few people more proud that day than Edward Doyle and his wife Catherine. As the breeders of Flexible they received congratulatory calls from all over the world, with many asking about other Flex progeny. “The phone never stopped ringing; it was such a proud day,” Edward recalls. He must have been a wee bit rueful that only four months earlier he had accepted an offer for Flexing.

She spent her first year in the USA on the west coast under the saddle of Claudia Thorsrud’s trainer Damian Gardiner but is now being ridden by another Irishman, Darragh Kerins, for Dutch K Ranch.

While in Ireland, Flexing only ever produced one foal. Dilligaf is her promising eight-year-old stallion son by Vechta. Imported to the USA last year, and owned by Kathleen McNulty (the cloning expert at Replica Farms), he is competing with Mark Watring at 1.35m – 1.45m level. Mark says they looked at a number of horses before settling on the 16.1 dark bay stallion. He was feisty like Flexible but “surprisingly, it took him about a year to get acclimated to the California weather,” says Mark. Dilligaf lacked stamina and was lazy for quite a while but “we’re all good now” and heading to Thermal, according to Mark. “He’s now back to the more feisty variety I had expected and wanted.”

Another Flexible?

Interest has also bloomed in Flexible’s half-brother Samgemgee, a stallion by another of Edward’s former mounts, the Belgian Warmblood, Ramiro B.

“Since Flexible’s win we have received a lot of enquiries from breeders about Samgemgee,” Edward commented. “He won at the Dublin Horse Show as a seven-year-old and has been winning Grand Prix competitions since, so the results are there too.”

This past summer Edward’s stable yard was full of impressive stock. The six-year-old home-bred mare Cushions is one of several resident progeny by Flexible. She was in great form when winning the six and seven-year-old national championship, along with the six-year-old championship at Kilmeague International Show.

Cushions, whose dam, Ard Flo, is by an Irish Draught sire, is currently one of over 15 progeny by Flexible in Ireland, with many of these two-year-olds still out on grass.

“We also have several two-year-olds by Samgemgee so it will be nice to see how they turn out too,” said Edward who is justifiably optimistic that, somewhere, there may be another Flexible in the making