Reed Kessler. If the name doesn’t ring any bells, you certainly haven’t paid attention to what happened in the world of showjumping in 2012. This was the year when Reed at 18 years old became the youngest show jumper ever to compete at the Olympic Games. Aboard Cylana and Mika she was no less than a sensation at the Selection Trials in the US, jumping from one triumph to another – including a tied win in the US National Championships, where she ended up on top of the podium together with veteran Margie Engel.
Reed is the stuff that dreams are made of, and embodies what every little show jumper wants to become when they grow older. But, Reed is also the stuff made from hard work – and a lot of riding without stirrups, something you will know if you follow her on Twitter like over 12 300 others do. Straight forward she is too, and very mature for an 18 year old - not to forget stunning with long, long dark hair, Hollywood white teeth and oh, so funny and sweet. After ending third in the Longines Speed Challenge in Paris, we congratulate Reed and tell her that we thought she had the most beautiful round of the class. “You say that just because you like me,” she jokes – and although we were honest, it’s also true – that yes, we definitely like Reed Kessler!
Reed literarily learned to ride before she could walk, and after talking to her for an hour or so her incredible success at such a young age makes sense. “I was six months old when I first rode. My parents had been riding for over thirty years for Katie Prudent – who’s my trainer and also my godmother – so my whole life has just been riding."
"Then I moved to Heritage Farm, which is a huge training facility for juniors, where I did pony hunters, junior hunters and equitation. I did three years of equitation; and learned a lot from it when it comes to riding, position and style. But when I was 12 I wanted to move up and do jumpers. I was one of the first juniors to leave the equitation before I was aged out. Normally you stay until you turn 18 and then go to college,” Reed explains about the system that’s very different from that in Europe. “Katie didn’t train me at the beginning, but she was my godmother so she’d always give me a little pointer. I started training with her at 13, and I always wanted to ride so there was not like a moment where I wanted anything else,” Reed explains of how it all started.
Having graduated in the spring of 2012, Reed is now free to do what she always wanted – ride fulltime. “I went to a special high school in New York called the Professional Children’s School, it’s like a school for kids with full time jobs – I would never have made it through without it. I really enjoyed going to school there, it was a cool group – ballerinas and models passing you in the corridors. Well, you didn’t get to go to prom – but neither did anybody else,” she laughs about her somewhat different education.
It’s impossible to talk with Reed without talking about her amazing Olympic-partner Cylana. First of all we want to know how she found this amazing horse in the autumn of 2011. “We went to the Etter’s [Daniel and Marie] to look for a speed horse actually. They had Cylana there, and told us that they thought she was really special – but that she was not really fit as they had had her for only a small amount of time. Marie had done a couple of shows with her, but nothing really big – but they thought she was right for the job and also really easy. She was a project, but she is the easiest horse to ride – she is actually the easiest horse I have ridden ever,” Reed says – repeating ever three times to underline that she really means what she is saying.
“Anyone could do it, I promise,” she says about riding Cylana. “She has so much heart and I think she doesn’t even know that what she is doing is difficult. When we got her she had only done 1.30 and 1.35 classes, and in a couple of months she was jumping Olympic size tracks in the Trials every single week – and it was like she didn’t even know that it was a lot harder than the tracks she was used to. It’s just so easy for her,” Reed explains. “Cylana is also a real show horse; when I give her a couple of weeks off at home she’s miserable! Every moment she’s not in the ring, she spends wanting to be there. She’s a real mare in the barn; with her ears backwards – but the minute you get on her – her ears go straight forward! It feels like she is smiling! And when she jumps she is so happy. And the minute you get off, the ears go back to the backwards position,” Reed laughs. “Whenever I’m on Cylana I feel like smiling; I’m just so happy to ride her! She makes me so happy. Cylana is smart as well; she wants to do exactly what you tell her – I never have to tell her things twice.”
Although Reed felt that she was on the most amazing horse in the world, she must have felt some pressure entering the arena at Greenwich Park? “When you’re on a horse like Cylana, you don’t really think about it. It sounds so cheesy, but it really felt like I could do anything. I got to the first jump and it was just another course. I was so focused that I didn’t think too much about it,” Reed explains. “I don’t know how I can have a horse like her again,” Reed smiles explaining that during Thanksgiving it was Cylana who was mentioned from her side of the table.
Reed’s team of horses looks strong for the 2013 season. With Cylana, Mika, Ligist, Onisha and Pacha de Nantuel all on board – in addition to the two latest arrivals Wolf and Soroya (who’s related to Cylana) – it looks like Miss Kessler will continue to conquer the world of showjumping. According to Reed all her horses are stars, and we ask her to tell us a little more about the team. “Mika I’ve had since I was fourteen, I got him at the end of his eight year. I’m really close with him! When we got him he was really, really nervous – and a little crazy. He’s a real character! We spoil him rotten, and he’s my little spoiled man. Now he’s 12 – and he’s jumped some big tracks now, but not really against the clock and because he was always a bit nervous I never really pushed him to go fast – so now after the Olympics I started to ask more of him. He has really stepped up well, and won a World Cup qualifier in Kentucky. Mika sort of came in the shadow of Cylana this year, but he has just as much ability and is consistently doing the big shows – he just needs to learn the atmosphere at the big shows,” Reed explains. “Ligist – or Goose as we call him – is really dopey and goofy; he’s one of those horses who will get stuck doing something dumb,” Reed laughs while mimicking the look on Goose’s face when he does something he shouldn’t have. “He’s so sweet, and will do anything that you ask. He’ll do the 1.45 class one day, and can then jump the big class the next day – and if there was a derby the following day he would do that as well. He’s a great part of the team! He’s the back-up player to all the horses. If I could have two more Gooses it would be perfect,” she smiles. “As for Onisha, she is a big winner and really good in the speed classes – although she can be a little mareish. Pacha is very cheeky and goes like a little bouncy ball,” Reed adds.
In 2013 Reed is aiming for the World Cup Final; “I hope I have enough points to make it there as I’m currently number two in my league. If I make it, it will be my first final. I’ve done the things in a little different order than most,” she laughs. “Usually you would do the World Cup Final before you do the Olympics!”
But before the World Cup Final in April, Reed will be showing in Florida. “In Florida you can never have too many horses,” she smiles of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the horse power needed. “It’s not like in Europe, where you take two horses to a show one week and alternate them the next. Over in the States you show for circuits; like at the WEF where it’s twelve weeks straight of showing. The schedule is so different as well; in Europe there are a couple of classes each day, and very relaxed – while in the States you show all day every day, and there is no limit as to how many horses you can bring. McLain and Beezie can be seen showing twenty horses every day! Like in Florida there are four different jumper rings; and you ride yourself in one and help a student in another,” Reed tells us.
At this point Reed does not have any students herself, and wants to establish her schedule before bringing someone along. “I would love to get into the top 30 – and do it a little bit the way that Laura does; she does Florida, then she goes to Europe and comes back to America for indoors. Until I know what shows I’m going to, it will be hard to have a student to go with you. I’d be like ‘I don’t know where we are going next month’,” Reed laughs. “But, we’ll see!”
Reed is now based in Kentucky, but most of her life is spend on the road travelling from show to show. “The place we have in Kentucky is beautiful and huge,” Reed says. “It’s a mile away from the horse show, which is great. I loved our old place in New York, but we were never there and at least in Kentucky we show the horses nearby and then it’s nice to sleep in your own bed! I’m almost always on the road, and never home more than 1 ½ months in total over the year. I love it though, and as everything is so new and I like travelling it doesn’t get much better,” she smiles. “We also have a small place with ten stalls in Florida; with a ring and paddocks. In Florida it’s like constantly living at a horse show for three months, but I don’t mind as its lots of different things to do and places to go,” Reed explains.
Although not much at home, her family stays close by – Reed’s mum and dad are obviously very important to her. “I’m really, really close with my family. My mum and dad both ride; my mum does 1.30 classes on one of my junior horses, and she loves riding. She’s my flat rider! My dad does 1.10 classes, and he’s a really good rider and actually has a really good eye. He’s really fast as well, no one can do a 1.10 faster than him,” she laughs. “My dad never practices; he just shows up and will win every single day. Everybody that competes against him is like ‘Move up! You have been doing the masters for ten years and win the classes every single day,’” she laughs of her dad’s competition skills. “The best thing would be if I could crack the Top 30 and then do the GCT shows, because then my mum and dad could come with me and do the one star classes there as well. It would be so much fun,” she smiles – truly appreciating having her parents with her. “They are certainly not clueless parents; they have been doing this for years! For example I can consult my dad about the course when I have walked it, and he understands – which is great.”
After ending our interview we get a guided photo tour on Reed’s phone. We start with Reed being a tiny tot on a pony, Reed with a small pony called Sha Sha in a lead, loading her pony on the truck, filling up a bucket – she being the same size as the bucket and that includes the helmet on her head. One thing is for sure; her parents and the horses have always been important in her life, and now maybe more than ever. As we look and laugh at how cute she was (and certainly still is), we comment on how strange it must be looking at these photos of herself as a child and then think of where she ended up – the youngest Olympic show jumper ever. With a big smile on her face, Reed simply replies “I just always loved riding!”
Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson and from private collection/Text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © worldofshowjumping.com 2013.
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