In this series, the Chronicle follows seven riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in London in 2012.
I think no matter what you walk into, you have to say, “I’m trying to win this,” or else you stand no chance. I want to be an international rider, and I want to make it to the Olympics in the future. But since I’m just 17 and this was my first time going through the selection trials process, I didn’t have any expectations.
I was hoping to execute every day to the best of my ability and make it to the end and put forth a decent performance for my first time so I could get my name out there and get some experience. I couldn’t have dreamed that it would go this well. [Kessler won the selection trials for the U.S. show jumping team for the London Olympic Games on Cylana and placed third on Mika. She’s ranked first and fifth on the U.S. Equestrian Federation team long list for the Games.]
[Kessler’s trainer] Katie [Prudent] said, “I knew this was going to happen,” and I told her, “Well, that makes one of us!”
There’s still a long way to go. I have barely any experience at this level. So far it’s been unbelievable, and I’m not taking anything away from myself; I understand the gravity of winning the trials. But I can’t realistically say “I’m going to London!” I would give my left arm to, but if someone with the experience and talent of Margie Engle or McLain Ward takes my place, that would be OK.
I think it helped me going into the trials that I had no real expectations of making the team. I think it’s a lot harder to be someone like Beezie Madden or Margie Engle or Mario Deslauriers, who easily and very realistically could be on the team in London, whereas I just wanted to do the best that I could.
I kept saying, every day during thetrials, how happy and excited I was because I was exceeding my own expectations. I said to everyone, “Even if I fall off in the next round, I’ll be happy.” I’ve come so much farther than I thought I would have, and I’ve learned so much in the process.
It was so much fun. It was funny to see everyone so tense and so nervous, meanwhile our whole team just had a blast the whole week. We were having so much fun.
Practice Makes Perfect, No Matter The Height
It was very difficult to prepare for the trials, because only as of January have I been old enough to jump anything above a [CSIO**], which is 1.45 to 1.50 meters. It’s not like I could go to huge shows and get mileage jumping big jumps. It’s kind of like the blind leading the blind with me and my horses at this level.
So we showed at a lot of different venues, trying to prepare me to be able to walk in and execute no matter where we were. It was like doing the equitation all over again. I couldn’t jump bigger than 1.50 meters, but I was going to keep doing 1.50-meter courses until they were perfect, so when it came time to move up in January of this year, I’d be ready.
[Kessler jumped in her first FEI World Cup qualifier on Feb. 11 on Mika and had just one rail.]
[Katie], is one of the greatest talents that this country has ever seen. She just has so much feel. Some people have all that talent but can’t put it into words and help other people. But she has an amazing gift for teaching. She has a great way of describing exactly how she would ride something or fix something. She can almost telepathically communicate the idea to you, until you know exactly what it should feel like.
I was basically just moving up to the low juniors when I started riding with her four years ago. She’s brought me up from there to winning the trials. It’s shocking, because a few years ago she’d joke about me going to the Olympics, and I’d roll my eyes and laugh.
Last year, when we planned for the trials, I planned to ride Mika, since he’s so experienced. We jumped some smaller classes the first week of [the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival], but didn’t really start showing in the grand prix classes until halfway through circuit.
He’s a pretty nervous horse in general. But the more he goes, the more confidence he gets. It was a fine line of not wanting to over-use him before the trials, but since we’d never jumped that high, we figured we should probably get in there and do it a bit. We started around Week 4 in a two-star CSI here under the lights. He hadn’t gone under the lights in a year, and I had four rails.
But we kept doing more and building him up; he got better and better. The week before the trials, we just did two 1.40-meter classes, going very slowly and schooling. I think he was very confident for this week.
The Story Of Cylana
We got Cylana last summer during the USEF Young Rider European tour. We’d been looking for a speed horse for a long time, because Flight had been serving as my speed horse, and he’s 18 this year.
We went to look at the Etters’, which is a big sales barn in Switzerland. We had to decide between two horses—there was one who was really fast, but 1.45 meters was a stretch, and then there was Cylana. She had a lot of jump, but she was very overweight and had no muscle tone.
She’s so easy to ride that we thought that even if she didn’t work out for me, she’d for sure be sellable as a great junior horse.