Class debut by teenage Olympic showjumper

Reed Kessler and Cylana.
Reed Kessler and Cylana. © London 2012

US teenager Reed Kessler has had a successful Olympic debut, and has paid tribute to London 2012 course designer Bob Ellis for his jumping course at Greenwich Park.

Kessler, 18, is the youngest rider to represent the USA in Olympic showjumping, but she produced a mature performance with Cylana around British designer Ellis’s track, collecting just one time fault to qualify comfortably among the top 60 riders.

“It’s a long championship, and you don’t want the horses to be tired on the first day,” Kessler said.

“I think Bob Ellis is a real horseman and he doesn’t tire the horses with huge jumping every single day.

“You are going to see huge jumping here, but the first day is to introduce everyone. It was technical enough and the time was tight enough, but it will be much bigger as we go on.

“This was more of a warm-up for me, rather than the horse. I am the green one coming into this kind of championship,” Kessler said.

“But it is also so much fun. This is like a big vacation for me. Some people go to a resort, others go travelling, but this is what I do.”

Kessler frequently refers to Cylana as an overscoped equitation horse and she looked the part today with an immaculate jumping effort.

“I was excited,” said Kessler. “I was just excited to go in the stadium, it has been a long six months leading up to this moment.”

McLain Ward and Antares F.
McLain Ward and Antares F. © Shannon Brinkman/USEF

Kessler won the USEF National Show Jumping Championship in March, which also served as the USEF Selection Trial for these Games. It was that effort which brought Kessler into the national spotlight – and she hasn’t let the level of her intensity waver.

“When there’s tens of thousands of people here and I’m wearing this red coat there is no room for error,” said Kessler

“She’s brilliant all the time, she’s always brilliant,” said Kessler of her ultra-consistent 10-year-old Belgian warmblood mare.

The showjumping team competition starts on Sunday, which will offer 2008 individual bronze medalist Beezie Madden and Germany’s Christian Ahlmann a chance to recover from disappointing performances on Saturday.

USA’s Madden was eliminated on Via Volo, while 2011 World Cup winner Ahlmann collected 15 faults with Codex One and also saw his individual medal hopes disappear.

The USA’s Chef d’Equipe George Morris commandeered another solid effort out of his squad, he retires from this role at the end of the year.

McLain Ward proved he is back on form after shattering his kneecap in January. He rode Antares F to a textbook clear over the track to start the US’s effort off right. The 12-year-old Baden Wurtenburger gelding made light work of the track. Always stylish, the nearly white gelding remained beautifully rideable between the fences for Ward. Ward won Team Gold twice with the mighty Sapphire (at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games) jumping in the first spot on the team.

It has been a team effort to get Ward back to the top of his game since the injury, and he takes his responsibility to his support crew seriously.

“We want to do well for our country and for all the people behind us,” said Ward. “There is always a lot of pressure.”

Ward also feels the added sense of occasion with Morris’ retirement.

“Especially for Beezie (Madden) and I, we’ve had a great decade with George and I think we’d like to finish with a medal for him,” he said.

Rich Fellers and Flexible
Rich Fellers and Flexible. © Shannon Brinkman/USEF

The team’s second clear was jumped by the diminutive Irish Sport Horse stallion Flexible with Rich Fellers  on board. Unorthodox in his approach, Flexible attacked the course with the same enthusiasm with which he claimed the 2012 Rolex/FEI World Cup Final title in April. Never in danger of having a rail, Flexible has a radar for the fences.

“It was great,” said Fellers. “It was a nice feeling to just get going because we’ve been preparing for this for a long time. Everything is just absolutely first class.”

The 16-year-old veteran has been on an incredible winning streak. Fellers said he still feels as good as he did when that streak started in April.

“He felt good, he was a little bit on the fresh side but I prefer that for a long week,” said Fellers.

The surprise of the day came in the form of Via Volo who was jumping so big and so hard that she jumped herself into a significant amount of trouble at 9a, the first part of the second of three double combinations.  The 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare stopped twice with Madden cutting their time in the ring short.

“She was jumping amazing and I planned to do the steady eight (strides) there,” said Madden. “In hindsight, the way she was going I could have done seven. We just jumped one out there (in the warm-up) and she was fine. Tomorrow I think she’ll be fine. She just went so far left and landed so dead I was heading for the standards.”

Madden said that sometimes she loses Via Volo’s rideablity, but that this was a unique circumstance for little mare.

“She hasn’t shown a lot this year, we schooled her a little to come here but she was very impressed with the place,” said Madden. “She’s never done anything like that before.”


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