By now, you all know the story of Reed Kessler and her amazing run to the Olympic Games. She was named to the 2012 U.S. London Olympic Team yesterday at Spruce Meadows. Let's get right to the interview.
Hi Reed, thank you for taking some time to chat with us today. Every time I think about you and your performances over the past few months, the single word that keeps coming up is wow. Simply wow. What an incredible, incredible run of success. So, ok, you’ve had a little more than twenty-four hours to have this all sink in. Tell me how you’re feeling right now, a day later.
This whole thing has just been so overwhelming. I have been overwhelmed with media requests, and the congratulations haven’t stopped since yesterday. In fact, at one point, I just had to turn my phone off (laughs). It’s all starting to sink in now. I’m excited, especially now that the selection process is over, and I think we’ll ever have a LITTLE time to relax and the horses will get a chance to take it a little bit easier. I’m feeling ‘mission accomplished’ and now on to the next thing.
You said you’ve been doing a bunch of interviews. How many have you done since the team was announced yesterday?
I don’t know, it’s been a lot. I think the big main track media ones are still coming in the next few days. So far, it’s been mainly horse show type media. Today, I’ve done ten interviews already.
Wow. There’s that word again (laughs). And you’re just getting started, take my word for it. How many interviews have you done since the trials in Florida? I’ll bet you’ve done a ton, huh?
I think I’ve done at least a hundred. I did both media summits in New York and in Dallas for the Olympic hopefuls. That was sort of like speed dating (laughs). They have a photo shoot or a journalist in each room or a TV crew in each room and you just go room to room to room to room for about twelve hours. Seriously, it was like speed dating for interviews. I can’t even begin to tell you how many I racked up just at those two summits.
Of course, I’ve know you forever and have watched you so much over the years, but it seems to me that you are just so poised, so friendly and so willing to talk with anyone. Tell me though, do you really enjoy the media and the interviews, or does it just get really tedious and boring?
Well, this level of media attention is all new to me, so it’s really been great. Now that it’s all over, I’m hoping it can settle down a bit. Everyone wants to know about the process and everything and I’m more than happy to give interviews and deal with that. But, I’m hoping in a few days, it will die down and I’ll be able to have a little bit of normal time (laughs).
I don’t think that’s gonna happen (laughs)….
No, and I understand that. I’m more than happy to do it. The media and the interviews have been a very important part of my journey. A lot of people have been able to or felt like they could connect with me and with the sport, a lot of young people in the sport. It’s something that very important to the sport and more than happy to do my part in helping to promote it.
You do realize that this is huge. This is no little story. This is a really big deal.
I know. Sometimes though, you’re like, ‘oh my God, another interview?’ But, I know it’s so important for the sport. And I know it’s more than just me, it’s about the sport.
Talk to me about what went on at the in-gate following your clean round on Cylana during the final Observation Event at Spruce. What was said? What did Katie say to you? Did you think or say to yourself, ‘Damn, I think we nailed this. I made the team!’
For some reason, I think Saturday was not as much pressure as the Thursday event was. I think that after the performances on Thursday, people began speculating as to what the team was going to be. Saturday, for me, was just kind of a happy day. Especially after I had gone clean on Mika. I wasn’t feeling any pressure at all. We were all just happy. We were excited. We knew I could do it, the horses were in form and just to come out and have the ecstasy of knowing that I finished this process as strong as I started it was a great, great feeling. I was just very happy with myself at that point. It’s been a long road, a lot of hard work, so it was great to finish off so strong.
A real long road. I’m guessing on Saturday you had a chance to exhale for the first time? (laughs)
Yeah, exactly. I mean, you never know until they call you with the short list and then call you with the final team later, but to have all of those great performances in the books and over with, it’s a huge relief.
Katie must have been over the moon. Because she, from the beginning, and I talked with her about this, she felt that this was going to happen, that this would be the outcome. She told me early on in the process that you had a very, very good shot of making the Olympic team.
Yeah, Katie’s amazing like that. She can see into her students and to most riders in general, exactly what they’re capable of, way before they know.
At the end of the trials, you kind of said what was supposed to be said, the politically correct thing. You said, “I’m young, I know I don’t have the experience, I’m just thrilled to be where I am today and I understand that I might not make the team.” Now that it’s all over and you’ve made the squad, tell me the truth, back then, were you thinking, yeah, I can do this?
“Yep. I was a little bit hesitant because I was like, ‘now everybody expects me to do it, now I need to do it every time.’ Once I finished out Kentucky especially, I was like, ‘yeah, I can really do this. I can do this every time, I really do have it in me.’ So now, I really need to do it (laughs).
You make it seem so easy. Is it that inner confidence that makes it so easy for you? Is an Olympic Observation Event, where your future is on the line, just another class to you? Is that how you approach an event? What’s in your head as you walk in for such an important event?
That’s kind of my calling card. It what Katie attributes as my best quality, that I’m pretty good under pressure. Through my experience at Young Riders, at Prix de States, in general, I’m pretty good when the pressure’s on. That’s actually when I’m at my best. When you start cantering to that first jump, yes, it’s just another round, another 12 or 13 jumps, just another round.
Have you had a chance to talk with you Olympic teammates Rich or McLain or Beezie?
It’s all so crazy. When the announcements were made, the show was still going on (laughs). Everyone was still showing on Sunday. It was hard though to take my focus off of that and focus on the fact that I still had to show on Sunday (laughs), I had the Derby to do and another class. But, we all saw each other for the official team picture once they announced it. Everybody’s been really encouraging and really, really nice.
I don’t know what your relationship is with Rich or McLain or Beezie, and obviously, you have Katie leading the way on your team, but do you plan to spend any additional time with your teammates, with those three, and maybe draw from their experience and knowledge?
Well, yeah, I mean, we’re all here so I’m sure we’ll be spending some level of time together over the next few weeks. I’ve known Beezie and McLain a real long time, Beezie being a former student of Katie’s. I’ve been doing the senior division for a few years now, so I’ve been showing against them. Rich, I’ve known since doing Spruce Meadows. I think I’m really lucky to be on a team with such a….not just a great group of riders but a great group of people. They are really kind and really encouraging and welcoming. I know I’m the newbie, but they’ve been really welcoming.
Did they give you some words of encouragement or congratulations?
Oh yeah. Rich threw his arms around me and told me, ‘I knew you’d be on!’ I was the last one into that photo session and McLain was doing an interview and I heard him say, ‘she’s setting the world on fire.’ So that made me feel wonderful. But, they’ve all been great and I think it’s going to be a really good team in London.
I mentioned in my Buzz commentary today that there are so many compelling stories in the makeup of this year’s team. From Flexible’s incredible run to McLain’s comeback to your meteoric rise. What are your thoughts about the other stories?
I always say in my interviews that Beezie and McLain are my two big, big heroes. What I really admire about McLain is, he really puts his mind to something and then he does it. So, I wasn’t surprised at all (laughs), I wouldn’t have expected it to go any other way. He’s such a determined person and he’s such a hard worker. Even if odds are physically against him, I just knew he would make it back. Technically, it’s a surprise story, but I had the feeling I could count on him being on the team. And then there’s Rich. He’s absolutely unbeatable right now. He has an amazing partnership with that horse. They’re unbelievable.
Changing gears for a minute, as the trials came out of Florida, it seemed to me, that for the powers that be, it might have been easier on them had you not done so well. The reason I say that is, because of the experience factor, or lack of experience factor. I just wonder how worried they were about naming someone to the team that has never done an international Nations Cup, for example. Again, this was just in my mind, none of those in power ever said that to me, although ringside it was said to me more than once. Did you ever get the feeling that they might be worried about you going so well that they had to choose you for the team?
I never got that feeling. George has always been incredibly supportive and encouraging, especially because of his relationship with Katie. But, I tried not to think about that too much to be honest. I just tried to lay down the best performance I could, and then if I wasn’t chosen, that was out of my hands. I got the feeling that everyone was cheering me on, especially from the sidelines because of the Young Riders relationship and that type of thing. I think the selectors were looking for the best four horses and riders. I just knew the selection was out of my hands, the only thing I could do was give rock solid performances and then let the chips fall.
And like I said, I never heard that from anyone officially, but, I was just taking into account the lack of experience thing…….
No, no…..for sure, you're exactly right, that’s completely legitimate and reasonable to think that.
So, let’s take that up. What about that? What about the lack of international experience? And the fact that your first international Nations Cup will be the team competition at the Olympic Games. Will that just be another 13 fences for you?
Well, it’s going to be a challenge obviously, but I do have a lot of international experience, really. Not on senior Nations Cup teams, but I’ve been showing over in Europe since I was thirteen and I’ve done the U.S. Young Riders tour, the North American Young Riders Championship, the Young Rider teams there a number of time. But, like you said, I’ve never done a senior Nations Cup. But I’ve done a combination of both (laughs). I’ve done Junior Nations Cups and I’ve done a lot of European tours, I just haven’t done them both together (laughs). But you know, everybody has a first Nations Cup team that they do and they make it there because they deserve to make it there.
So, I’ve done some research on young Olympians. Skater Tara Lipinski was 15 years old when she won for ice skating, becoming the youngest gold medal winner at that time. Michael Phelps was the youngest American male athlete to compete when he was 15. Back in history, the legendary Sonja Heni, from Norway, was 11 years old in the 1924 Winter Olympics in figure skating. And now, you’re going to become the youngest show jumper in history at the Olympic Games. What do you think about that?
I don’t use my age as an excuse about anything. It’s always been about riding. It’s really exciting to be the youngest, but I plan to go as any senior rider would. I’m planning to go there and bring back the Gold medal.
Can you tell me what George said to you when he called you to tell you that you were on the team?
He said, ‘Reeeeed’ (laughs). I said, ‘Hi.’ I kinda knew when he called that it was going to be THE call. I had been waiting all day for the call and when the phone started ringing I was like ‘oh God, it’s the call!’ (laughs). He said, ‘I’m so proud of you. You’re in for third Reed, third on the team, Reed.’ Then I was like,’Oh My God!!!’ I was screaming and crying. It was so exciting. When I started out, I was such a long shot, but then with the performances I had, people were saying to me, you were so good all week, it couldn’t have been that surprising when you got the call. But, no, until you really get the call and you hear it officially, you never really know for sure. It was a great phone call, that’s for sure.
So what are your plans now?
The original plan that was proposed for the team was that everyone would go to Geesteren, which is the week after here. Everyone would start leaving right after Spruce, but that was when they were planning that one of the team members might be based over there in Europe and another rider might be based on the East coast. But, it just so happened that the whole team is all here, based in Spruce Meadows. So, there was a meeting here yesterday and everyone voted on staying here to finish out Spruce Meadows. So, everybody is going to stay here. For me, Cylana is going to take it easy now, she’s been jumping so many big rounds. So, she is probably going to 1.45m or 1.50m the last week. I think Mika will keep doing the big classes. Then we’ll fly over. We’re going to Chante, a 2*, with some other horses and then we’ll all go over and meet at Johan Heinz’ stables and train with George for the week and then go to London to the Games.
So no actual competition for the team before the Games, other than what’s left here at Spruce?
There is like an exhibition show that they were discussing doing. But, I think pretty much everyone is using the last week here as the last big prep. And I think that’s great. Here, they’re really building to spec, they don’t build it light here, they use big heavy rails, they have the really impressive atmosphere, fantastic footing, so it’s a great place to finish up before going to London. Then go over have a little bit of down time and then go to the Games.
What kind of advantage was it to have Olympic Course Designer Bob Ellis doing the courses last week, if any?
It’s a huge advantage. You get a feel for what his courses are going to be like. I’ve always liked him as a course designer. His courses have sort of a natural feel to them. As a rider, his courses, to me, always make sense. Really interesting striding. Yes, a great opportunity to jump his courses just a few weeks before the Games.
You’re big time into the social media. In fact, I, along with nearly two thousand others, follow you on Twitter. I’m wondering, do you want to give out your Twitter handle so that others can follow you?
Sure! It’s @ReedCat5000. I think it’s great. People can follow along and be a part of the journey, part of my career and part of my horses’ lives. I think it’s a lot of fun.
How are your Mom and Dad holding up?
After I made the team, I told Dad, ‘Happy Fathers Day!’ He asked what I was going to get him next year. I told him, socks (laughs).
Alright, I’ll let you go on this. Give me one more description of how you’re feeling right now.
I just so happy. It’s been such a long road. Of course, once the adrenaline wore off, I slept for like 14 hours (laughs), I was so tired. It’s been such a long road and I think, whether you’re a veteran or a rookie, the whole thing of constantly being watched, constantly having to perform, it’s a lot of pressure. Which I like as a rider, but I’m really glad it’s over. Mission accomplished is the best way I can put it. Now, we have plenty of work to do to get ready for the Games.
Well, I wish you the best of luck of course. You’re a fantastic role model for the young riders in our sport, and I wish you continued great success. Maybe we’ll get to talk with you before the Olympics, but if not, we’ll get in touch right after you win the Gold Medal, ok?
Thank you so much for all of your encouragement and your support over the years. It really means a lot to me and to the family.
Reed Kessler is 17 years old and a student of the Professional Childrens School. Here are just a few selected accomplishments over the last 3 years :
Named to the US Olympic Team (youngest rider in history)
Third in the $200,000 CN Grand Prix and Olympic Observation Event at Spruce
Third in the $35,000 Husky Energy Cup (olympic observation)
Winner of the Alta Gas Cup in Spruce Meadows
Winner of the Spectra Energy Cup in Spruce Meadows
Second in the Hagyard Grand Prix of Kentucky on Cylana
Third in the Olympic Observation Trial in Kentucky
US Olympic Committee Female Athlete of the Month - March 2012
Co-Winner of the USEF National Show Jumping Championships aboard Cylana
Winner of the US Olympic Selection Trials aboard Cylana
First in the 1.45M G&C $32,000 Speed week 8 of WEF on Onisha
First, third and fourth in the WEF 6 $32,000 Challenge Cup Grand Prix
Winner of the $6,000 1.40M at WEF 5 on Onisha
Member of the winning ladies team in the $55,000 Nespresso Battle of the Sexes
First in the $25,000 1.50M Suncast Classic on Pacha
Winner of the $31,000 1.50M Speed at the Washington International Horse Show
USEF Team Gold Medalist - Jr. Jumper National Championships
Winner of the USEF Jr Jpr Championships Welcome Stake
Winner of the La Bagnaia Derby on Flight
Winner of the Fiat 500 Series in La Bagnaia on Onisha (and a new car!)
Winner of the Ladies Cup in Arezzo, Italy aboard Onisha
Winner of three Speed classes in Arezzo, Italy
Winner of the CSI 2* Speed in Auvers, France aboard Ligist
Winner of the $20,000 Clark Builders Jr/AO Grand Prix in Spruce Meadows aboard Pacha
Winner of the Young Riders Grand Prix on Ligist in Lamprechthausen Austria
Winner of the Young Riders Nations Cup (Team member) on Onisha in Austria
Winner of the Novotel Speed Grand Prix in Reims aboard Ligist
Second in the Young Riders Nations cup (Team event) on Onisha in both Belgium and France
Winner of the Young Riders Welcome Stake in Bonheiden, Belgium on Onisha
Selected to the US European Young Riders Team
Winner of the Artisan Farm Young Riders Series
Winner of numerous 1.40 Speed WEF 10 and 11 with Flight
Winner of $10,000 G&C 1.45 M Speed - WEF 8
Winner of 1.40M Speed - WEF 8
Winner of Four Junior Jumper Classics at WEF (1.45M)
Circuit Champion High Junior Jumper Jumper WEF
Champion Kentucky Spring High Junior Jumper
Champion, Reserve Champion and Leading Jr. Jpr Rider at Devon
Winner of CN Fast Track Derby at Spruce Meadows
Winner of $15,000 Ridell Family Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows
Winner of $21,000 Atco Gas Cup at Spruce Meadows
Winner of Atco Barrage, Par Cour des Chasse, Ashcor Barage and 14 others at Spruce Meadows
Winner of the $25,000 Hagyard Classic Grand Prix of Kentucky
USEF Team Gold Medalist at the Jr. Jumper Championships at Penn National
First and Third in the $10,000 Senator's Cup at the Washington International HS
First and Second in Show Jumping Hall of Fame 2010 Series
Winner of the 30,000 Euro Land Rover Grand Prix (CSI 2*) at Gucci Masters in Paris
Junior Jumper Classic Winner (1.45M) – Four times at WEF
Junior Jumper Champion and leading rider at Devon (1.45M)
Winner of 1.40M Junior Jumper Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows
Winner of the 1.45M Pro 2 Grand Prix in St Lo, France
Winner of the 1.40M Junior CSI A Grand Prix in Nieupoort, Belgium
USEF Individual Gold Medalist at the Junior Jumper National Championships in Harrisburg. (1.45M)
Champion Junior Jumper at the Washington International