Conversations With Equestrians: Reed Kessler

By Jackie McFarland & Ally Mentilik

Reed Kessler
Back at WEF this winter we had the chance to meet the Kesslers, a true equestrian family. All three love horses, the sport and are keen competitors. We spoke to Murray about his involvement with NARG, visited their Wellington barn and interviewed Reed about her horse life.

After a multitude of wins in the Junior Jumper ranks, then fifteen-year-old Reed began to make her mark by earning ribbons against the big boys and girls in the Grand Prix arena at WEF. On the Kentucky Circuit she not only placed in the 1.50m classes but won the 1.45m Open Classic. She defended her Junior Jumper Championship title at Devon by earning both Champion and Reserve plus was first and second in the $15,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior Jumper Classic on Flight and Ligist.

She celebrated a very sweet sixteen at Spruce Meadows, as she returned after several weeks not only a year older but with seventeen victories, including wins in the $15,000 Riddell Family Grand Prix on Flight and the $21,000 ATCO Gas Cup aboard her new horse Onisha.

Back to Kentucky in late July, Reed won her first career grand prix, the $25,000 Hagyard Classic on Onisha. She was also Junior Jumper Champion, with victories on Ice and Flight. Also participating at the North American Young Riders Championships, Reed finished 4th overall and was part of the Bronze Medal earning Zone 2 Team on Mika. She’s logged quite a momentous year to date…

A force to be reckoned with, Reed was not only born into a horsey family, but she is clearly fiercely competitive. However, she is also a real sweetheart. When the question came up about her horses during our interview, she promptly took us through the barn and introduced us to each one. We didn’t just get their names, but as Facebook fans would appreciate we ‘friended’ each one.

EQSOL: Where are you from? How did you start riding?
 My parents have been riding for thirty years. At 6 months old I was on a horse. Then I rode ponies for a few years until I was old enough to move up to horses. I did do the Junior Hunters for a bit but hunters aren’t my passion. I also did the Equitation for three years and may eventually go back, but for now I’m focused on the jumpers.

We have lived in Armonk, NY for the past six years. I trained with Heritage Farm and Andre Dignelli for a long time and now I train with Katie Prudent. My dad was actually Katie’s first student thirty years ago!

EQSOL: Since hunters weren’t your passion, tell us about your time in the Eq ring.
 Equitation teaches you how to ride the jumpers. A strong position is very important, all great riders have impeccable positions and most did Eq at some point. It’s a great way to gain mileage, work on accuracy, and it teaches you how to ride under pressure. I was lucky to have great horses so it was fun for me, but it was always my goal to be a better jumper rider. Equitation did definitely build my foundation.

EQSOL: When did your jumper passion begin? You have become one to watch in this arena.
I started about 3 years ago at WEF. I rode a horse of Andre’s in the children’s jumpers and I was hooked! I couldn’t stop after that and I only wanted to ride jumpers. I am now doing the highs, some WEF Grand Prix classes and the 1.50m classics. My goals are to go as far as I can in the sport. I would love to ride on a team and compete at the highest levels.

I am committed – I want to do this for the rest of my life.

EQSOL: Tell us about participating in the George Morris mastership program earlier this year.
It was such an amazing experience. I cannot say enough about it. You have no idea how little you actually know about horses until you participate in an intensive program like this. We learned from every aspect of the show jumping world including ASPCA, Adequan, Tim Ober, the Olympic vet who gave a clinic, and of course everything that George did. We were all sad it only lasted a week. The one thing that really sticks in my mind is that there is always more to learn, you never know all there is to know about horses.

EQSOL: Now that you are riding in the ‘big’ classes, how does it feel to walk a course next to some of the best riders in the world? Tell us about your routine from course walk to warm up to walking into the ring.
I always walk the course a few times. Usually with Katie twice and by myself once or twice; they essentially kick me out of the ring. I always want a strong feel of the course before I go in. We watch as many as we can without getting overwhelmed. I do try to watch some of the great ones. My routine also varies from horse to horse. I’m sometimes nervous but only when it’s something new. After I walk the course I talk to Katie to review it. We go over the whole plan. One day at WEF we were in the same class, I went 34th and Katie went 36th – it was a lot of fun to compete against my trainer. I went in before her in the jump off and she went right after, we exchanged words at the in gate as she was entering and I was leaving, ‘that was good, that was too deep, etc,’ and then she went in. I ended up 6th and Katie was 2nd, she was proud to bump me down.

EQSOL: Who are your idols in the equestrian world?
 Obviously Katie and Henri Prudent. They are absolutely fantastic. My parents are also great. I have to say McLain Ward and Beezie Madden as well. They are amazing at developing young horses and are never out of horses since they bring so many along. Nick Skelton is also incredible to watch. He could go clear on anything; his style is so wonderful and soft.

EQSOL: It’s a family affair with the Kesslers. Everyone rides. Tell us about your family.
 My family is very supportive of my riding, which is so important. I’m really lucky. The only thing we ever fight about is when they try to train me. When I’m bad I hear it from Katie, Henri, Mom and Dad. Still they are always there for me. My mom asks me for jumper advice, she was a hunter rider for years but we are all moving towards the jumpers now. It’s fun to set jumps for each other. Ideally we’ll go to the Sunshine Tour in Europe one year so we can all compete.

EQSOL: What about school? How do you work it into your show schedule?
 When I’m in NY I go to the Professional Children’s School ( in New York City. I am able to design my own hours and the school works around the students’ professional schedules. I started high school there and the school is amazing. When in Florida I’ve been lucky to have the Wellington Private Tutoring Services since about 6th grade. It’s a beautiful facility and the tutors are great.

I choose my own schedule and then I’m matched with tutors that work with my school’s requirements and with me. We get a complete outline and syllabus from my school. I love it and am usually able to stay ahead.

EQSOL: Can you tell us more about your horses?
 Mika – 16.1h bay Selle Francais gelding. “He’s our big worry wart and a huge thinker. He basically hangs out in his stall and thinks about everything. We did the 1.40m at WEF and the 1.30m at Spruce last year. He is insanely careful and scopey with so much potential. My dad and I loved him when we looked at him but Katie wasn’t sure, luckily he’s been amazing so far. Neither of us have miles in the Grand Prix ring so we are getting used to the 1.50m level together. He has so much talent but he gets nervous. When competing on him I try to get in the arena as early as I can so he can calm down a bit before we start.” 

Ligist – 16.2h bay Swedish WB gelding. “Goose (his barn name) is our little love, always sweet and happy. We got him during WEF last year and he’s from Emil Hendrix in Holland. Also really scopey, he’s a great derby horse. We won a small Grand Prix in Neuiwpoort, Belgium.”

Ice D’Ancoeur – 16h chestnut Selle Francais mare. “Ice is our moneymaker. She’s cool, has her own style, really fiery. She’s very fast and definitely a real Katie horse. She loves to win and is always so competitive. She won four high junior classics at WEF, was champion at Devon, and won a 1.45m class in France that had 115 riders who were all professionals. She also won individual gold at Prix de States in 2009 and the speed at Syracuse.”

Flight – 16h bay Swedish WB gelding. “Flight is probably the most well known horse that I have. He was Addison Phillips’ high junior that she won a lot on. I’ve had him for three years and I’m only his second owner. We call him my boyfriend since he’s only one month older than I am. He’s the smartest horse I know; he could be a hunter, jumper, or an eq horse. In 2008 after winning Prix de States my eq horse was hurt. We braided Flight and I took him in the medal finals. I ended up just out of the ribbons but he was great.”

Onisha – 16.2h gray Holsteiner mare. Since our interview, the Kesslers bought Onisha from Niall Talbot. With Talbot aboard, the mare won four Grand Prix events in Europe. She continued her winning ways once Reed stepped in the irons; the pair won five classes at Spruce Meadows including the first one they entered together.

A strong combination of good family, fabulous horses, skill, talent, hard work and a keen competitive nature has served Reed well. She has taken her riding career a long way in a short time. Seems such opportunity in the show ring hasn’t changed Reed one bit; she is a down to earth girl who has a true passion for horses.

My Horse Tustin

By Laura Ware

Growing up around horses, I could handle watching them get sold. I could even handle watching them get hurt, and could usually keep a stiff upper lip when the vet would say that this particular horse was not going to be able to do its job anymore, but watching them die was something I had never had to deal with. None of the horses at my mother’s barn had ever encountered any life-threatening injuries, and even the school horses were sent off to an old friend’s stable when their time loomed near. This, however, all changed on March 17th.

Laura Ware and Tustin at HITS Indio 2006. Photo © Flying Horse Photography

My horse died. My horse Tustin, whom I purchased from Europe as a five year old, who took me from borderline terrifying rounds in the Modified Junior Jumpers to wins in the High Junior Jumpers, who tolerated my mistakes like an old school master even though he was barely eight years old, who would stand stock still as four-year-old riding school students (and myself, of course!) fawned over him, who would leave the ground from any distance at any jump without question, shattered his pastern bone in the turn-out.

This simply was not supposed to happen. This is my last junior year; we were supposed to qualify for Junior Young Riders together, and Prix Des States at Harrisburg, and maybe even Washington or Devon, and then, when this beloved, amazing horse could no longer do what I asked of him, he was going to be some lucky kid’s children’s jumper until he was at least 20 years old. All I’ve ever wanted was to become a Grand Prix rider, and after finally hitting the High Junior Jumper mark, I felt so incredibly close. I had so many dreams for myself and my little horse, and, in the time it takes to pull the plunger on a syringe, watching them all float away was unbelievably hard to deal with. Unfortunately, these things happen, and I’m glad I had the pleasure of owning and riding this very special horse. We grew by leaps and bounds together, and he was, and will probably always remain, my absolute favorite.

I don’t know how to say this without sounding cheesy, but receiving everyone’s condolences was wonderfully heartwarming. Hearing all these trainers and competitors and parents say how sorry they were gave me a great sense of belonging; people really do care. I look up to these trainers, and when the ones to whom I’d never really spoken (yet always admired from afar) came over and let me know how sorry they were, it made me feel good, like I wasn’t the only one who thought my little horse was great. I really wanted to be able to keep my feet in the jumper ring (hunters and equitation are fun, but nothing compares to going fast and jumping big!), so Archie Cox was kind enough to arrange for me to ride Marnix G, a horse who used to be in training with him, but is now at Joie Gatlin and Morley Abey’s barn. I got to show Marnix in the Low Junior Jumpers at the first two Oaks horse shows, and had a blast. Tustin was the only jumper I had ever ridden over anything bigger than 3’9”, so it was nice to be able to prove to myself that I am capable of successfully piloting a different horse over a decent-sized course.

I’m young and impatient and hate having to accept the fact that my goals are being delayed, but my parents have been generous enough to purchase another young jumper prospect. Hopefully this horse will eventually be able to take me back up to where I was, and will be able to stand the inevitable comparisons to his flawless predecessor. As the wise adults have been telling me, life goes on!

Laura Listens is brought to you by Laura Ware. Winner of the 2007 LAHSA Junior Medal Finals and a recipient of the 2008 WCAR Jumper Rider Grant, Laura rides with First Field Farm and often trains with Archie Cox. She is very successful in the all three disciplines on her own mounts as well as catch riding other horses.