For Reed Kessler, there’s no such thing as resting on her laurels. The 19-year-old might have made her Olympic debut last year, jumping for the United States in London, but she isn’t taking it easy.
“I’m in a real learning phase in my career,” said Kessler. “I’m trying to really push myself to go where it’s the hardest to compete.” And while showing at the Stuttgart German Masters CSI***** (Germany) on Nov. 13-17, Kessler held her own against the best in Europe.
On Nov. 15, she won a 1.45-meter speed class with Soroya de l’Obstination and a 1.50-meter grand prix qualifier on Cylana. On the next day, she was fifth in another competitive 1.45-meter speed class with Soroya de l’Obstination. Then she finished the show with 12th place in the Longines FEI Grand Prix of Stuttgart CSI-W aboard Cylana. The results earned her the leading lady rider title.
In late September, Kessler made some changes and decided to start riding with German star Marcus Ehning. She moved to Germany and started training with Ehning out of his stable in Borken.
She’s not only competing successfully, but also thoroughly enjoying German culture and learning to speak the language. She’s used to spending time in Europe since when she rode with Katie Prudent, they competed out of the Prudent’s French farm during the summer. “I’ve been living in Europe half the year for a few years now, so it’s not so different. There are some aspects of it that feel really American,” she said.
She lives in an apartment in the center of Borken, a short distance from Ehning’s facility on the outskirts of town, and her horses live at Ehning’s. “The town is small, but it has everything you would want,” said Kessler. She enjoys having a nice gym nearby, so she can stick to her every-other-day work out regiment.
Kessler has learned a lot so far training with Ehning. “He’s an incredible rider, but he’s a really great teacher, too,” she said.
Ehning is quite busy training his own horses and only has a limited group of students. He teaches Bertram Allen, a 20-minute drive away from his own farm, regularly in addition to Kessler. “He’ll give me a couple pointers, but he’s not the kind of person who’s saying a million things to you at every waking moment,” said Kessler.
What Ehning does say, however, holds a lot of value. “He doesn’t flood you with information,” she said. “It’s sort of like osmosis, just getting to be around such a genius all the time.” Ehning has an Olympic team gold from 2000 and a team gold from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.), and is a three-time FEI World Cup Final winner.
Kessler started off going a bit solo, going to German shows at Munich CSI*** and Oldenburg CSI** by herself while Ehning and his wife, Nadia, were getting ready to have their third baby. “Those were actually the first two shows I’d ever been to by myself,” she said.
Ehning has been back on his normal schedule now that his son, Nael, is a bit older. “He makes his family a really important part of his schedule,” said Kessler. “He spends three or four days with them before he heads to the show each week, and he’s pretty centrally located so he can get home easily.”
Ehning has been strengthening Kessler’s flatwork. She has a stronger connection with the horse’s mouth now, and a much more forward pace on the flat. “Marcus is really a master of bits and bridles,” she said. “He’s played around a bit with most of my bridles. Soraya was going in a hackamore all summer, and she switched to a double bridle and really loves it.”
“I don’t have so much experience at German shows, but they’re super,” Kessler went on. “They’re very well-organized and run, and it’s just really about the horses.”
Kessler currently has five competitive mounts in Germany. In addition to her Stuttgart success, she also won a 1.50-meter class at Munich on Cylana and a 1.45-meter class at Oldenburg on Ligist.
She has yet to develop a strong partnership with her newest, Cos I Can, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse. “I haven’t done much with him yet because I’ve been in a totally new program,” she said. “It’s been an adjustment for me, so I haven’t really settled in with the new one yet."
She’s put in strong rides on Cos I Can at Hannover and Munich so far, picking up a couple of clean rounds, and plans to compete him at the Global Champions Tour Finals in Doha this weekend.
Her favorite show so far has been Stuttgart. “It was immaculately run,” she said. “The footing in the main arena I think we all agreed was the best footing we had jumped on in a really long time. The schedule was fantastic—there were plenty of night classes and no early morning classes—and it had a great, knowledgeable crowd. But that’s just how it is when you’re showing in Germany.”
Kessler is still uncertain about her plans moving forward. She would like to continue competing in Europe, but she may send a few horses home to Wellington, Fla., so she can compete a few weeks of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in 2014. “I might go back and forth a bit at the end of the circuit but really enjoy showing at the indoor shows here,” she said. “I think I'll enjoy the show in Wellington a bit more by just doing a few weeks instead of all 12.”