The USA’s youngest Olympic showjumper has returned home from her base in The Netherlands in a bid to make the country’s Olympic team for Rio 2016.
Reed Kessler, now 21, was just 18 when she was on the US team at the 2012 London Olympic Games, and has began her state-side campaign for Olympic selection with a win in the fifth round of the $130,000 Ruby et Violette Challenge Cup at Florida’s Wellington Equestrian Festival.
Competing in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, Kessler and her Olympic mare Cylana topped the 55-strong class, beating Canadian riders Elizabeth Gingras (Coup de Chance) and Yann Candele (First Choice 15) into second and third place respectively.
Kessler did not compete at WEF last season, opting to remain in Europe for the winter, but in an Olympic year the young rider chose to compete on home turf early in the season, and has her sights set on once again securing a coveted spot on the team. She hopes to make that dream come true once more with Cylana, her now 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Skippy II x Darco), owned by Kessler Show Stables.
“My horse has been jumping so well. She is really feeling well,” Kessler said after her victory on Thursday. “She had a great fall in Stuttgart and Geneva, and she jumped beautifully last week, so I could not be happier with her.”
“It is an Olympic year, and it is my number one goal to try to make the team again,” Kessler said. “The first step is to make the short list, and I had a long talk with my Chef d’Equipe and he suggested that for the selectors to see everybody, it would be good to do a few weeks here. I did last week and this week. Now I go back to Holland for two weeks to jump some other horses, and then I come back and [compete] another two weeks here.”
Since competing in the 2012 Olympic Games, Kessler has had made a lot of changes in her program and her riding. One big difference is her flat work, as the rider explained that she has been working with close friend, Spanish dressage rider Morgan Barbançon Mestre.
“I was only just turning 18 this last cycle of Olympics, so a lot has changed for me,” Kessler said. “I am a young rider. I went out on my own this year.”
She said Barbançon Mestre, who represented Spain in dressage at London 2012, started helping her at the end of the summer.
“That has made the biggest difference for sure in my riding,” Kessler said. “I think my flat work is night and day and my horses are much better for it. They have all put on muscle in places that they have never had muscle. I can easily leave out one, maybe two strides in every jump-off I do now because I have such a better connection with all of them turning.”
The extra work combined with her longtime partnership with Cylana was an advantage for Kessler in Thursday’s jump-off.
“She is an amazing horse. I have had her so long, and I know her like the back of my hand,” Kessler said. “I am really blessed because she is a horse that is really easy on herself physically, knock on wood. She is very sensible, she is brave, and she is experienced now. She goes her best with a lot of blood, so I can save her. I did not jump a class this week. I just put her straight in the qualifier, so I think in that way I am really lucky because she is easy on herself and it is easier for her to stay sound.”
Kessler will now jump Cylana in Saturday night’s $380,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI 5* and hopes for a good result.
“I would love to win the grand prix with her. That’s why I am here, is to show her off,” Kessler said. “She is in great form. She is in great condition, and she is jumping beautifully, so as long as I ride her well she is going to keep jumping well.”
In addition to the winning prize money, Kessler picked up a $3000 bonus for wearing SSG ‘Digital’ style riding gloves as part of the SSG Gloves ‘Go Clean for the Green’ promotion.
“The first thing I did when I got here was go to the tack store to get some new SSG gloves. Now I’m really glad I did!” Kessler said.
“It’s a great promotion, and a big thank you to SSG Gloves for their continued support of the WEF Challenge Series.”
Kessler was a past winner in the SSG Gloves “Go Clean for the Green” promotion aboard Cylana in 2012, back when they were Olympic hopefuls.