By Dani Mortiz, Sidelines Staff Writer
Reed Kessler was sitting in a golf cart watching fellow competitors when she got the phone call that would change her life. The caller? George Morris. Right then she knew she had made the team. She would represent her country in the London Olympics. Tears streamed from Reed’s eyes as the shock settled in and she called her parents and trainer, international show jumper Katie Monahan-Prudent, to share the news.
That series of events would set off headlines everywhere as Reed became the (unofficial) youngest show jumper to ever ride in Olympic history.
But Reed’s story starts much earlier than that. In fact, Reed was born with a passion for horses and even as a little girl in leadline her dedication was evident. Her parents, Teri and Murray Reed, are equestrians themselves. They have both been riding for more than 30 years – Teri as a hunter-turned-jumper and Murray as a lifelong jumper.
Reed followed her parents’ footsteps. At six months old, Reed’s riding career began and her parents bought Reed her very first pony – Shasha. “She was a sweetheart,” Reed said. “She didn’t really have any teeth left she was so old. She was very kind and gentle – the perfect first pony.”
For Reed, riding came naturally. “Reed was always a natural,” Murray said. “She was competitive from the very beginning. Her mother used to tie stuffed animals in trees when she was little and tell her to steer and kick to get to Winnie The Pooh. As Reed started riding ponies, it was obvious she was special.”
Murray adds that Reed had completely dedicated herself to the sport early on. When most girls her age were worried about sleepovers with friends and getting a hold of their mothers’ makeup, Reed concerned herself with practicing riding until she reached perfection. “Reed was always dedicated to the sport,” Murray said. “From when she was very young, she said she wanted to be a professional rider.”
Murray realized just how possible that was when Reed was 11. “The year she won her first national championship on Cardiff Mardi Gras, I knew she was immensely talented. She was 11 years old; but when she switched to jumpers and training with Katie Prudent then I could see her talent was special. She went on to win four national junior jumper championships (three team, one individual) and win all over the world. It was remarkable and only grew from there.”
In her parents eyes, the young girl Murray describes as having been “a great kid and never a trouble maker” as well as “independent and opinioned from an early age” was well on her way to a very successful professional career. They were right.
Because of the amount of time Reed spent riding and showing, she went to Professional Children’s School in New York City. The school provides an education to students already working in or studying for careers in performing and visual arts, athletics and other careers requiring extensive time outside of school.
That made balancing school and equestrian commitments much easier. “It was challenging; but luckily I went to a school for kids with jobs,” Reed said. “They let you build your schedule around your work commitments whether it was singing, dancing, athletics, etc.”
Going to a school with peers in a similar situation to hers also made the social scene smoother. “Everyone understood each other and their commitments. It was normal not to be able to go to prom, etc. So…I didn’t get to do a lot of normal kid things; but I have never regretted it.”
Reed’s typical schedule includes waking up at 7 a.m., starting to ride an hour later, riding between seven and 10 horses, hitting the gym and heading to bed by 9 p.m. Reed jokes that she’s like a grandma.
But even with a busy schedule, she does manage to spend some time doing more normal teenage activities. She loves to shop, enjoys “chocolaty” desserts, watch comedies and talk with friends. She also enjoys spending time with her three dogs, Mouse, Rudy and, the newest addition to the family, Carly – a puppy she rescued who was scheduled to be put down the morning after she adopted it.
Murray adds, “Believe it or not, our favorite thing to do as a family is ride together. At our farm in Kentucky we gallop in the fields together. It’s a blast. On quiet nights, the family does puzzles. Reed and her mom go crazy for complicated puzzles. We go out to eat a lot, as everyone is exhausted after riding (and me at work). We also like to root for the University of Kentucky Wildcat Basketball team.”
Reed makes sure to spend plenty of time with her family – who have been huge supporters of her throughout her career. Her mom has always traveled to shows with Reed and she actually switched from hunters to jumpers so she could compete at the same shows Reed went to. “My parents are everything to me,” Reed said. “We are incredibly close.”
And her parents couldn’t be prouder. “She has a strong character,” Murray said. “She’s so forthright. Reed tells you exactly how she feels. She is a very loyal person and she expects those around her to be loyal. It comes from her confidence. I think this confidence is a big factor in her riding.”
So you can imagine what it felt like for her parents to learn she made the Olympic team. Reed says that when she called her parents they both started crying. “She really earned it against all odds,” Murray said. “Teri and I were so proud.”
But learning that their daughter earned a place among the world’s top riders and watching her actually compete in the Olympics were two different things.
Watching Reed make history in London took their excitement to a whole new level. “It was so exciting and nerve wracking at the same time,” Murray said. “I remember before getting there watching a parent of a gymnast on TV that the commentator was making fun of for being so excited. I thought that looks normal… Everyone teases me that when I watch Reed it looks like I am jumping the jump myself from the stands. I can’t help it. It’s so exciting.”
Reed doesn’t plan on this past Olympics being her last. She has her sights set for future championships and Olympic teams. And being so young, she has her whole life ahead of her to make every one of her equestrian dreams happen.
Reed, an 18 year old Olympian, has gotten where she is today through extreme dedication. She has sacrificed a lot of things that normal kids get to do in exchange for living her dreams – a trade off Reed knows is well worth it.
Reed leaves us with this bit of advice for other young riders with big dreams like herself: “Push yourself to move up. Don’t stay in the same division just to ride. Equitation is a foundation, not the end all. Push up and challenge yourself to struggle and become the best rider you can be.”
Rocking It – Reed Style!
By Dani Moritz
Reed Kessler quickly became one of the equestrian world’s biggest superstars after making the Olympic team at only 18 years old. In the past year, she’s become every little girl’s role model – not only for her riding achievements but also for her style. Here’s what Reed had to say about the Reed Kessler look.
What kind of sunglasses do you wear?
Ralph Lauren – they have a great vintage feel I love.
You ride with a GPA helmet. What do you like about it?
I love the GPA First Lady. It fits perfectly, never moves and is comfy. GPA sponsors me.
What do you like about your hair long? Do you plan on cutting it?
I change it once in a while; but I always prefer it long. I’m pretending to be Naomi Campbell!
You have a very distinct expression on your face over almost every jump. How would you describe it?
I’ve always had it! I don’t think about it very much; but I guess I’m just concentrating.
What’s your fashion style when you’re not in riding clothes?
I guess my style is very New York when I went to school on the upper West side. Ray Bans, a band shirt, jeans and boots! When I dress up I try to channel Kate Middleton!
What’s your fashion style inside the ring?
I’m sponsored by Alessandro Albanese. The clothes are beautiful and classic.
Any tips for achieving the “Reed” look?
I guess the First Lady GPA and an Alessandro coat is the way to do it!