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June 28, 2012

Road To The Olympics: Reed Kessler, Part 2

Reed Kessler has shifted her focus in the selection process from getting experience to being a contender. Photo by Meghan Blackburn.

I definitely felt that I had something to prove at the first two observation events during the Kentucky Spring Horse Show.

My performance at the selection trials in March was unbelievable, but I have to keep showing that it wasn’t just a lucky week, that I have the ability to perform that way all the time. I have to keep impressing the selectors.

After the Florida circuit was over, Mika, Cylana and all my horses had about a week and a half without being ridden, just turning out and longing a bit. Our veterinarian came and re-evaluated everybody and did any maintenance that anyone needed.

While they were on vacation, I took one week for myself, and I went to visit my boyfriend, Tim Gredley, in England. Even when I was there, I was still riding. I’m one of those people who has to ride every single day, so I was riding his horses.

Tim is a British grand prix rider who has ridden for their team on Nations Cups. He was very successful, but his best horse got hurt [in 2010], so he quit riding for two years to work for his family’s [real estate] business. Now, he’s starting back up showing again. He came to [the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.)] to show, and we met there. He just bought Chamberlain Z, David McPherson’s horse, and he just bought a farm in Florida.

By the time I got back from England, the horses were in light work. My mom [Teri] was trail riding them, and Jen Markee came over to help ride them. When I got back, they got back to work on the flat. The timing worked out nicely.

Boot Camp

We were in Florida for a week, and then we went to Katie [Prudent’s farm] in Virginia for a week to train. Going all the way to New York to go home and then back down to Kentucky didn’t make sense, so we decided to stop in Virginia for the week.

There’s always torture involved with Katie! Katie has a beautiful farm with big grass fields, so we did a little hill work with them all out there. Then I had lessons every day, and I jumped two or three horses a day without stirrups. The great thing about Katie is that you don’t have to jump huge to have a really hard lesson. She’ll just put rails on the ground and things like that, and it will still be one of the hardest lessons you’ve ever had.

Heading to Kentucky for the observation events, I definitely felt prepared. Katie doesn’t take any shortcuts when we’re preparing for a competition. We went through every day of each week and tracked the horses’ progress and mine, and I went to the gym every day, so I was feeling very ready. I think that’s a great thing about having Katie as your trainer. Whenever you go in the ring, it might not go exactly as you hoped, but you know that you’ve done everything that you could to prepare. There’s no stone unturned. It’s a good feeling.

In the weeks after the trials and before Kentucky, I also went to two Olympic media events, the 100-day countdown to the Games in New York’s Times Square on April 18, and an Olympic media summit in Texas on May 15. It was to publicize people who are trying to make it to the Games and getting people excited about following them.  The U.S. Equestrian Federation sent some riders to the events.

We got to meet Michelle Obama in Texas, and that was very cool. We did lots of photo shoots and interviews and broadcasting. It was very busy.

Still A Learning Process

The horses headed to Kentucky on May 5 so they could get acclimated. Neither Mika nor Cylana had shown since April.

I did a small 1.30-meter class the first morning of the show with Mika. He was really fresh when we first got to Kentucky, and when he went in the ring to school, he really lit up, so I did a smaller class with him to get him calmer.

Cylana can be fresh, but in general it doesn’t affect her performance in the ring. But when Mika is fresh, it makes him lit up and anxious in the ring. The first day we were in Kentucky, I let him longe and buck a little. Mika can be like a rodeo horse sometimes. In fact, he bucked me off on a trail ride right before the selection trials. When he bucks, he’s like a Lipizzaner doing airs above the ground. He’ll be trotting along very calmly, and then all of a sudden, you feel like you’re 20 feet in the air. It’s impressive. He’s an athlete.

Both Mika and Cylana did the 1.45-meter welcome class two days before the first observation event. I think it’s important to go in every once in a while and not have to jump a mountainous course, to go in and do something easier. They both jumped clean in that and were great.

In the first observation class, on Friday, May 11, Mika was great and had 1 time fault. Cylana had a rail, which was my fault. I didn’t get her back enough for a plank vertical.

A lot of people complained that the first course was too small, but when you look at the results, there were only two clean. Everyone knew Sunday would be huge, so there’s no reason Friday needed to be enormous, too.  It might not have been big, but it was still a difficult enough track.

I think Mario [Deslauriers] said it best in his interview, that the [second observation event course] looked like the [Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.)] again. It was a huge scope test.

Both horses went fantastic. [Mika jumped clean in the first round and finished second in the class, the $75,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix.]

I had to go second on Cylana, and when we walked the course, we were originally thinking five strides from the water jump to the double of verticals; it was five or six strides. We talked it over a lot.

My partnership with Cylana is still relatively new; it’s really only been about nine months, and I don’t know her inside and out. I decided on the six strides, but as soon as I was in the line, doing it, I knew I’d been wrong. And we had a rail at the first vertical.

After I made that mistake, trust me, I’ve been practicing and practicing that kind of question with Katie. I won’t make that mistake again, I hope. In this process of the selection trials and the observation events, I’ve just learned so much about myself as a rider and about my horses. Normally, we wouldn’t get to do this many big tracks, and jumping these big tracks is how you learn to ride them.

A New Way Of Thinking

My mindset has definitely changed from what it was before the trials. I’ve really started to look at things more from a seasoned rider’s perspective. I’ve shown everyone I can do it; I’ve shown myself I can do it. So now, I expect myself to perform at that level every time.

With the way I was thinking before the trials, I would have come out of the ring with one down over that huge course on Sunday with Cylana, and I would have been like “Wow! That was huge and so much fun!” Now I came out and kind of kicked myself for making that mistake and having the rail.

Everyone keeps asking me what I think my chances are to make the team, but I can’t say. It’s kind of an unprecedented situation. I’m just going to try and do my part to the best of my ability and let the chips fall where they may.

I’ll be happy no matter whether I’m on the team, or an alternate, or I go just to watch. When we finished the trials, there was a U.S. Olympic Committee meeting the Monday after, and they gave a really inspiring speech about the mind frame you have to have as an Olympic candidate.

They stressed that no matter who the four on the team are, whether that includes you or not, you have to truly believe that the four are the best four and fully support them. Whether I’m part of that four or I’m not, I will be rooting for them, and I completely understand that those will be the best four.

I think it would be fantastic if I were at least the alternate, because I think it would be such a great experience to be there and learn it. I can’t even express how badly I want to be on the team, but I can’t worry about things that are out of my hands. I can’t change how old I am. All I can do is keep putting in good performances, do my best, do all my homework at home and deliver. If I’m not chosen because of something that’s beyond my control, then so be it.

Katie’s whole mantra for the next few months is to keep going as if it’s just our normal show schedule. I don’t want to get caught up and overdo or underdo. Mika and Cylana and the other horses showed at the Kentucky Spring Classic the week after the observation events.

Then, they went to their new home (see sidebar) to enjoy some nice turnout and go for some gallops in the huge fields. We head to Calgary [Alberta] in mid-June for the final observation event [June 13-17 at Spruce Meadows].

Fast Facts About Reed Kessler

Hometown: Kessler’s family owns a farm in Armonk, N.Y., but just bought a farm in Lexington, Ky., and will be moving their base there. They spend the winter at a farm in Wellington, Fla., and most of the summer showing in Europe. When in Europe, Reed is based out of Katie Prudent’s farm in Rosières aux Salines, France.

Age: 17, but she turns 18 on July 9.

Olympic Contenders: Cylana (birth name Cylana van de Ruitershoeve), a 10-year-old, chestnut Belgian Warmblood mare (Skippy II—Verona van de Ruiterhoeve, Darco), owned by Reed Kessler.

Mika, a 12-year-old, bay French-bred Selle Français gelding (Nidor Platiere—Faeva de Villiers, Rubis Rouge), owned by Reed Kessler.

“Cylana doesn’t have that much of a personality in the barn; she’s not a lovely and delicate little thing. But she’s all business in the ring,” Kessler said. “Mika is in general pretty nervous. We spoil the daylights out of him in order to get him cheeky and confident.”

Her Secret Weapon: Her parents, Murray and Teri Kessler. “My parents have been my biggest supporters forever. They have everything to do with the success I’ve had,” Reed said.

“Before my dad’s business took off, my mom and I had one or two ponies at home, and we’d take care of them ourselves. So, up until I was about 13, my mom and I did all the work ourselves.

“Things have changed a lot. Now, we have amazing grooms who take care of them, but it’s not Kessler to walk past a hook of dirty tack, or if the girls are struggling with the stalls, we’ll for sure pitch in. My mom is the superstar; every Monday morning she’s up first thing in the morning doing stalls,” Reed continued.

2012 Results

1T – USEF Selection Trials for the Show Jumping Team for the London Olympic Games, Cylana

3T – USEF Selection Trials for the Show Jumping Team for the London Olympic Games, Mika

2nd - $75,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix (Ky.) (USEF Olympic observation event), Mika

5th - $50,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic (Ky.) (USEF Olympic observation event), Mika

1st - $30,000 WEF Challenge Round VI (Fla.), Cylana

2nd - $32,000 Hagyard Classic (Ky.), Cylana

5th - $32,000 Hagyard Classic (Ky.), Mika

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "Reed Kessler Has A New Approach To Her Road To The Olympics" ran in the June 4, 2012, issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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