When the U.S. equestrian team competes at the London Olympics this summer, Lexington might have a new hometown rider to root for.
Reed Kessler, 17, the jumping phenom who sits atop the current "long list" to make the show-jumping team, is moving to town.
Her family bought a 150-acre parcel of Cobra Farm, at Ironworks and Newtown pikes, near the Kentucky Horse Park. Her parents, Teri and Murray Kessler, who is chairman, president and chief executive of Lorillard, plan to move from New York this summer.
"It's absolutely heaven," Reed said Thursday. "We were never home — we go from Florida to Europe and back — although we actually show more in Kentucky now, really. This just made so much more sense. It's such a wonderful horsey area. ... This will be a nice place to lay over."
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Not that she is likely to have much time to rest any time soon.
Reed has been tearing up the show-jumping circuit this spring in her first year of eligibility at the Olympic level. In March, in what she called the best week of her life, she won the grueling U.S. Equestrian Federation selection trials in Wellington, Fla., on her 10-year-old Belgian warmblood mare, Cylana, after four rounds of jumps. Reed also placed third overall on her other mount, Mika, a 12-year-old Selle Français gelding, an amazing feat.
"I think it would be unrealistic for me to just expect to be on the team. I have no experience, and Cylana and Mika are both green at this level, too," Reed has said.
Reed bought Cylana last summer, and the pair competed in their first grand prix just weeks before the March selection trials.
She was scheduled to ride in the Kentucky Spring Horse Shows, which began Friday at the Horse Park, under the eyes of Olympic selectors in what is known as an observation trial.
Other top riders at this weekend's event will include Olympic gold medalists Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut, and internationally known riders Margie Engle and Mario Deslauriers, who rode for the United States at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Reed is "currently leading the standings. She's a kid who's come up through all the USEF programs, through the rankings, and this is her first year she's eligible for this level of competition," said Joanie Morris, spokeswoman for the USEF high-performance teams. "It's incredible at any level. It's pretty amazing she has been able to produce incredibly consistent results, but she certainly didn't come out of nowhere."
Because of her age, Reed has been able to compete at the top levels — and take on the biggest jumps in competition — only since January. "It's kind of like the blind leading the blind with me and my horses at this level," Reed said in March.
But she already has years of riding and competition experience behind her from her youth on the show circuit, winning the USEF Junior Jumper National Championship in 2009. She is set to graduate from Manhattan's Professional Children's School as a straight-A student but will hold off on college until after her athletic career.
Reed's March win was a bit of an upset, given the high-profile competition.
In the Florida selection event, Reed tied Engle in total points, but Reed had more clean rounds of jumping, giving her the edge over the international veteran. To spare their horses another round of jumping, Reed and Engle agreed to split the $200,000 in prize money and call it a tie.
"I had no idea I'd be in this position," Reed said at the time. "I was just looking forward to having a really positive experience. And it's been that."
Although she is in a prime spot atop the rankings, she might be a long shot to make the London team because of her youth. (She also is ranked in fifth place on Mika.)
To make the team, she will have to make a good showing this weekend in Kentucky and later this month in Calgary, Alberta. The Olympic show-jumping team will be named in mid-June ahead of the competition in August.
"It's an unprecedented event in our sport," Reed said Thursday. "It all depends on my performance in these classes. But results are results. Whoever's doing their best at that time is 'the team.'"