Well if you know of Miss Reed Kessler then you will know of her trusty steed; the lovely Cylana. Cylana was the mare who joined the young New York native at the London Olympics this summer. Naturally, everyone was incredibly intrigued about the young Kessler, considering the 18 year old only turned the minimum eligible age mere weeks before the commencement of the Games. With so much attention on the 18 year old talent, plenty of the spotlight did spill over to the horse in which she chose for the incredible task. Cylana was chosen by Reed as well as the team that reside with this young jockey, including the well-known Katie Monahan-Prudent, Henri Prudent and her parents, to help Reed make history.
With Cylana’s help, Miss Kessler became the youngest rider to ever compete for the United States Equestrian Team at the Olympic Games. But like Reed will tell you, this accomplishment could not have occurred without the exceptional contributions of this mare. She is the ultimate cool-cat in the ring and you can frequently see this Belgian-bred beauty taking a quick snooze before her turn in the International ring.
While many horses might get excited, nervous or even agitated by the ring, the memorable Cylana seems quite at home amongst all the fuss. This fall at the Masters, I couldn’t believe my eyes, the lovely chestnut was actually catching a cat-nap by the gate just before the BMO Nations Cup. I couldn’t help but smile as I realized what a big year this horse has had. How much both their lives have changed since they came across eachother in Switzerland last July.
If you can imagine, the pair have only been together since last summer. It is an incredibly short union for such swift accomplishments. When Reed brought Cylana to Florida for the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington late last year, I don’t think either could fathom the grand events that would follow their union. “That’s the magic in this story, that the two of them would come together like that” says Teri Kessler; Reed’s mother. It was a wonderful collaboration which resulted in almost a fairy tale climb to the very heights of international show jumping.
“It was difficult because I had TWO fantastic horses that could have done it but I guess I knew during Calgary. She was just saying every class ‘pick me, it’s me!!” says Kessler. When I watched Cylana and Reed enter the ring for the first time in London, I thought to myself, what a whirlwind path they followed to achieve that moment.
If we go back a year, to before Reed and Cylana had ever met, one truly recognizes how swift their succession to the top was. “My best horse at the time, Mika, was off for a little bit and so I really needed another horse while I was over in Europe for the summer. We were hoping to get a good speed horse and we went to the Etters’ to try a few. Cylana definitely wasn’t a speed horse but she was clearly special. At the time she was not so fit and a bit fat! But we knew she had a lot of jump and she was so easy to ride” says Reed.
Reed found the mare in Switzerland and made her debut in St. Lo before hopping over to Italy for Arezzo. After that it was a plane ride to Wellington and clearly this was where the magic began. Things got better and better between the two girls, as they got to know each other better through the months. Katie Prudent, both Reed’s long-time coach and godmother, remarked about the winter in Wellington “… It (was) remarkable. But the horse also (was) remarkable. We were lucky to find the horse, and as she got into better and better physical shape, she became an Olympic mount that has the rare quality of being extremely easy to ride. Most Olympic horses have character and are strong in the mouth, different qualities that make them a little difficult to ride. This horse has not all the Olympic great qualities, but she’s as easy to ride as a small pony.”
“She is an unbelievable animal, I promise she is the easiest horse to ride” says Reed.
It is this very easiness that would be one factor in what would become one of the greatest show jumping upsets in Wellington’s history. Reed and Cylana tied with American Olympian Margie Engle for the top spot in Olympic Selection Trial #4 and the 2012 USEF National Championships at the end of March. All of a sudden, Reed went from talented young jockey to a serious Olympic prospect in the blink of an eye and the horse that paved the way was Cylana. “Reed had only competed once at Olympic-grade level with Cylana and once with her lovely gelding Mika before the US Olympic trials”, said her father, Murray Kessler.
“I went into it pretty humble, thinking, ‘This is going to be way bigger than anything -do my best,’” Reed said of the Olympic trials. “By the end of it, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I need to start planning.’”
The Olympic trials also served as the $100,000 USEF National Show Jumping Championships, with Reed tying 53-year-old Margie Engle for the Championship. Reed was the overall winner of the Olympic trials by virtue of having more clean rounds – a result that Chronicle of the Horse called one of the biggest upsets in show jumping history.
I got to catch up with Reed and Cylana at the Masters this fall in Calgary and sure enough they both were everything I expected and more. It is clear that Reed thinks very highly of her bold mare, for she was the happiest when I told her she would be featured this week. “She deserves it” said Kessler. I imagine that the events of the last year must have brought the two together in an incredible bond. The trust between Reed and her Olympic mount must be incredibly strong and I believe that there is nothing that these two will not face together.
Now don’t go thinking this mare is dull and without personality. Funnily enough, Cylana is the epitomy of the classic chestnut mare; she is strong, stubborn and a born fighter with plenty of personality and opinions. “She can be really cranky outside the ring, but nothing makes her happier than showing and jumping. Every time she goes in the ring she gives you 1000% percent and you can feel it. She wants to give you everything she has and she wants to win” says Reed. “In the barn she can be very mare-ish! Not so nice! Only two things exist for Cylana- eating and jumping.”
By the in-gate at Spruce, I spent time with Cylana and Reed’s long time groom, Tracey Edge, who has been with Reed and her family for three years. The born-Brit, who Reed describes as her “rock”, laughed at me when I observed Cylana and said she was so sweet. Later I shared this with Reed and sure enough, she confirmed also, Cylana is many things but sweet is perhaps not the best word. Reed explained that she can enjoy some intimate moments with her lovely mare on occasion, but they are for a finite period of time for Cylana likes her space.
So I thought about this and realized that perhaps the greatest moments between these two marvels, is just before they enter the ring. I’ve seen it multiple times. They walk in, have a few quiet moments to themselves amongst the hush of the crowd and the tension before the bell is rung. It is as if they are frozen in time, for that moment just seconds before they jump the first fence. Reed pats Cylana ever-so subtly every time and as soon as it happens, the moment is quickly gone and they are underway. But the two always leave the ring the same way they entered it, wrapped in this silent sense of companionship. This clear sense of mutual respect and affection for one another which I always notice. I would bet a lot of money, that that mare would jump through hell and high water for her young jockey and perhaps that is the greatest intimacy of all.
Jockey: Reed Kessler
Owned by: Teri and Murray Kessler
Stable name: Cylana
Breeding: BWP – Belgisch Warmbloedpaard v.z.w. (Skippy II x Verone van de Ruiterhoeve x Darco)
Bred by: Dirk and Daniel D’Haese
Age: 10 years old
First show with Reed: St. Lo, France
Biggest moment this year: Member of the 2012 USA Olympic Team in London
Currently ranked: 8th of the USEF/Rolex Show Jumping rankings
Special training: The only special thing I do with her is a lot of fitness work. I normally take her for gallops or hill-work every other day, she loves it.
Personality: “To describe her I’d say she’s like Mariah Carey. She knows she’s a star so she gives the diva attitude but always delivers the killer performance. And she’s also a curvy full-figured woman! haha”