Written by: Pamela Young
Behind the scenes with a dynamic young American show jumper.
Fame came early to Reed Kessler. In 2012, at the age of 18, she became the youngest show jumper ever to compete in an Olympic Games as part of the US team in London with her sensational partner Cylana. A prodigious talent, the horse-mad teen was groomed for success by the indomitable Katie Prudent before moving to Germany for her secondary education with Marcus Ehning. At just 21, the New York native set up her own business on a 26-acre farm in central Holland.
In the fall of 2016, Reed sold Cylana to American amateur Cloe Hymowitz (although the mare will return to her on retirement) and retired her long-time partner Ligist. She used 2017 to build up a new string of horses while her remarkably mature commitment and positive influence on the equestrian world was recognized last May when she was presented with the Longines Ladies Award at the Pan American Conference in Washington, DC.
Describe a typical day and work week.
It depends really on what day of the week it is, what time of year, and what we are building towards. I show most weeks of the year, so Monday to Wednesday I’m home riding and then the weekends I’m away at shows. It can be a lot to fit into those three precious days at home. I typically ride five to six horses a day. I don’t like to do more than that or else I start to rush a bit in my mind. I can really take my time with five or six. When I’m finished up in the stable, I’m at the gym or maybe running errands, then mostly just enjoying being home before hitting the road again.
What’s it like living and working in a foreign country?
To be honest, Limburg doesn’t feel that foreign. Because of the two universities in Maastricht and Eindhoven, nearly everyone speaks English, almost before they speak Dutch! It is definitely my favourite place I have lived in Europe. Some things are definitely different, but for the most part I prefer it. The best part is living in a hub for the sport. I can stay in my own home for some of the many shows, which makes my life a lot easier. Constantly traveling can get tiring – it’s not always to glamorous places like Paris. Also for the horses, they can have a true home and not be constantly flying back and forth from the States and laying over in random places.
How did you get your start?
Both my parents ride as amateurs, so I started because of them.
Can you identify a turning point in your career?
I had success as a junior early on, so I always had the feedback from others that I could make a career out of it if I wanted to. I suppose winning the 2012 Olympic trials was the exact moment.
Were sacrifices made along the way?
Of course. I didn’t go to school dances, trips, camps, etc. Even now, if I was working a nine-to-five job and I could choose anywhere to live, I’d probably be in New York with the friends I grew up with. But the sport is my focus and I can work towards my goals best from here.
Tell us something that would surprise people about you.
I’m a real introvert. There’s who I am at shows, for press, etc., but when I’m not working I’m really an introvert.
If you could relive six months of your life, when would that be?
I guess that would be the buildup to the London Olympics. I had an incredible string of horses that were all at the peak of their careers in that moment.
To reach the top you must be ultra-competitive by nature, but is there another ingredient that gives you an edge?
I think being able to play the long game and take a loss. Inevitably in this sport, we lose more than we win, and success comes in waves. You have to be able to enjoy the times when you and your horse are at your peak and also stay patient and positive when you are in a rebuilding phase.
How would you describe yourself?
That’s hard to say. I think we all perhaps look at ourselves differently than unbiased outside perspectives. I think one quality of mine is both a positive and a negative. I’m very hard on myself. It enables me to keep pushing, working harder and improving. But sometimes also I need to be gentle with myself. A friend of mine recently gave me the best advice: you’re so busy climbing the mountain, don’t forget to stop, turn around, and enjoy the view.
If life hadn’t taken you where it has, is there another profession that would have enticed you?
I don’t think so; from the time I was a baby it was always horses. My other great passion is to travel, though. I want to see all of the world.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
My favourite places would be Bali, Ibiza, NYC, and Capetown.
Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been?
I’m dying to go on safari in the Serengeti, and to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Tulum, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina … everywhere!
When and where did you last go on vacation?
I took a week off before Christmas to relax and be with friends in California.
Do you have a fitness regimen?
Yes, I’m a gym junkie. I don’t feel good if I haven’t gotten a workout in. I alternate between high-intensity workouts, running, kickboxing, and yoga.
Can you recommend a book or movie from the last year?
I love all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, especially Outliers and David and Goliath. Also What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate. And wine. But I recently watched That Sugar Film and I’m attempting to cut out sugar from my diet as much as possible.
If you had a life lesson to share with us, what would it be?
Be kind to yourself. Learn who you are as a person, not who the people around you tell you you are. Feel your emotions; you don’t get a medal for being the most stoic. When you numb out certain emotions, you lose all of the rest of them. And that’s not a life worth living.
If a genie were to give you three wishes,what would you wish for?
I’d wish for the best horse in the world! I’d wish for true love; I haven’t found that yet. And I’d wish for peace – as corny as that is – in my life and in the world.
If you were having a dinner party and could choose four celebrity guests, living or dead, who would you invite and why?
I’d invite Serena Williams, because she’s the greatest female athlete of our time. Malala Yousafzai, because she’s an inspiration and fearless. Dave Chapelle, for the laughs of course, and my younger self, to impart the slight bit of knowledge I’ve acquired since then to make the journey a little easier.
Money or medals, what’s more important to you?
That’s hard. I don’t think money is everything in life. But I also have a part of me that has had significant financial privilege, and it’s a good feeling to make money on my own. I really aspire to win some medals in my career!
What’s on the horizon for you in 2018?
I’m excited for the year ahead. Last year was a rebuilding year after the sale of my best horse, Cylana. I have some great young talent in my stable that I have slowly built up this past year. I hope we are ready to step back into the bigger shows this year with them.
Do you have a burning ambition?
My burning ambition is to achieve as much as I can as a rider in the purest way. I hope to work, learn, and improve while always putting my horses first. It would be great to win Olympic gold, too!
Date of Birth: July 9, 1994
Family: Terri and Murray Kessler (Murray was elected USEF president in 2016)
Domicile: Guttecoven, The Netherlands
Social Media Followers: 27.5k Twitter; 108,642 FB; 65.6k Instagram
2012 National Champion
Won 2012 Olympic Trials
2013 – 1st Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows
2013 USET Foundation’s Lionel Guerrand-Hermes Award (presented to a young rider in one of the Olympic disciplines who exemplifies both sportsmanship and horsemanship)
2013 FEI Longines Rising Star Award
2014 – 2nd $1.5m CP International, Spruce Meadows Masters
String: Cos I Can, 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding; Contagious, 8-year-old DSP-bred gelding; Tradition de la Roque, 10-year-old Selle Francais mare; Christy 3, 11-year-old Westphalian mare