Reed Kessler: Equestrian Teen Phenom Jumps into Olympic Limelight
GREENWICH, England -- At an age when many female gymnasts are thinking about retirement, rider Reed Kessler considers getting older no obstacle to competing in many more Olympic Games.
Kessler, who celebrated her 18th birthday last month, was the youngest competitor in the London Olympic equestrian field as well as the youngest U.S. Equestrian Team member in history to take part in the Games.
She and her teammates, Beezie Madden (age 48), Rich Fellers (52) and McLain Ward (36), tied for sixth in team show jumping Monday, falling short in their bid for a third consecutive U.S. gold medal in the event.
“It just drives my hunger up to get ready for the next one,” Kessler said.
Great Britain, which had not won the team show jumping title – also called the Nations Cup -- since 1952, defeated the Netherlands in a jump-off, delighting the crowd of 20,000 at Greenwich Park. Saudi Arabia, which had been leading after the first of two rounds of team competition, won its first team equestrian medal, a bronze. The country earned an individual bronze in Sydney.
Kessler, an Armonk, N.Y., native who recently moved to Kentucky, won the Olympic Trials and had been consistent since becoming the 2012 U.S. national show jumping champion in March. On Monday, she had 12 faults aboard Cylana – at the water, the fence after the water and the final jump.
Only eight of the 51 starters managed clear rounds as they navigated fences that looked like London landmarks, such as the Tower Bridge, Big Ben and a red double-decker London bus, or were adorned with Olympic imagery.
“I’m really happy to take a step back and see that I’m 18 years old and it’s my first major championships,” Kessler said.
She added that she was pleased to have three solid performances under a great deal of pressure. “I’m excited to be here with these amazing riders and see how much I have to look forward to,” she said. “Hopefully, God willing, I’ll do a lot of these.”
Kessler has already made a name for herself. She said when her father, Murray, arrived at the airport in London and gave his name at security, “A woman with her little girl told him, ‘We came all the way here to watch your daughter ride!’ ”
But she also recognizes that with fame comes responsibility. “A lot of young people, we like to do stupid things,” she said, “and I have to remind myself all the time that I’m more or less of a role model now. I never really thought of that as being part of this. Now that it is part of my life, it makes it so great.
“I never expected that I could be a role model for young riders and for young people. That’s a great feeling.”
The United States entered the second round of the Nations Cup tied for seventh. Ward and Madden, who both were part of the winning efforts in 2004 and 2008, were aboard different horses than in Athens and Beijing.
Madden, of Cazenova, N.Y., who also earned the individual bronze in 2008, did not advance to the individual final, although she had the best outing for Team USA. She came back from a rough start to the Olympic Games on Coral Reef Ranch’s Via Volo and had her only fault at the third to last fence, a massive oxer.
“The course was difficult for sure,” Madden said, noting that it is very technical and the fences are closer together. “The last three jumps are plain old big.”
Fellers, of Wilsonville, Ore., the reigning Rolex/FEI World Cup champion on Flexible; and Ward, of Brewster, N.Y., on Antares F, will both compete in the individual final on Wednesday even though each had eight-fault performances Monday.
Ward was the first Team USA rider.
“You wish he did better, but it’s easy to rack up the faults out there,” said Madden, who went next. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘We’re out of it.’ You still have to fight. Always think you still have a chance because you never know in these classes.”
Kessler, who entered the arena third for the U.S., said Cylana did not jump the water as well as she did Sunday.
The teenager said when she saw the new layout Monday morning, she thought, “It’s bigger and harder each day. That’s the way the Games work.”
Fellers, riding last for his team, had a “cheap rail” at fence six. He then overrode Flexible at the front rail of the oxer at fence eight.
“It was quite a wide fence, probably the widest on the course,” Fellers said, “and I stepped on the gas pedal a little hard off the ground, thinking about the back rail and disregarding the front rail and ran him into it a little bit. I felt like he finished up great.”
He added, “It will be nice to have a day of rest and then come back really good on Wednesday.”
Kessler will be watching the individual event form the sidelines. The best part of competing in her first Olympic Games, she said, was learning from her fellow riders.
“It’s just amazing to be around these people and see like robots how they can just perform and perform and perform,” she said. “And it’s really inspiring. It shows for a young person like me how far I have to go to become a Nick (Skelton of Great Britain) or a Rich or a Beezie or a McLain.”Karen Rosen is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.