As this #BEYOUROWN Boss Project comes to an end after taking six fantastic women to talk openly to us all about what it means to each of them to BE YOUR OWN Boss in the 21st century, we present professional showjumper Reed Kessler to close the deal. Reed Kessler’s sensational breakthrough into the international showjumping ranks is yet to be matched. In 2012 at the age of 17, she catapulted to fame when she won the official selection trials for the United States Equestrian Team, won the U.S. National Open Jumper Championship and went on to represent the USA at that year’s London Olympic Games. She became the youngest showjumping competitor to ever have competed at the Olympics, and she subsequently was honoured with the 2013 FEI Rising Star Award.
My name is Reed Kessler, I am a professional show-jumper and member of the United States Equestrian Team. I have been training and competing in showjumping all of my life and as a professional, since I was fifteen years old. Equestrian sport has taken me places I could not have dreamed of at the age of twenty-four. In 2012, I won the United States Olympic Trials at the minimum age requirement for Olympic level competition. I was seventeen years old. I was honoured to represent my country on the U.S. team at the London Olympics and set a new record as the youngest in my sport ever to do so. It was a lifelong dream realised. That same year I was the U.S. National Champion. I also went on to finish 10th at the World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden. I helped the U.S. team to victories in Hickstead, Barcelona, Calgary, Sopot, and many more. I was ranked within the best 25 riders in the world before turning nineteen. From the age of thirteen, I lived roughly half the year in Europe and half the year in the U.S. traveling to compete. At nineteen, I moved full time to Germany to train with one of the best riders in the world, Marcus Ehning. After two years, I purchased my own stable and began my own business in the Netherlands. I have been owning and operating my own business for three years. Alongside a demanding training and competition schedule, I managed my own property, my business, my competition schedule, my sponsors and owners, social media and fan pages, a staff of employees, teaching students, buying and selling horses, and all of the logistics that come with it. It has been an incredible life experience as a young woman abroad by herself. Already this year I was competing in Belgium, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, and Hong Kong!
In addition to my love of horses, giving back and social responsibility has always been important priorities for me. I have been an Ambassador for Just World International for over 10 years. Just World is an organisation dedicated to helping children in third-world countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, Cambodia, and Senegal. Just World works with local NGO’s to help provide education, healthcare, nutrition, and vocational training to children in need. I have volunteered for two weeks in Honduras, working both in the mobile school program and in the orphanage outside Tegucigalpa. In February, I volunteered at Just World’s project in Cambodia helping teach English in the school. I am passionate about bringing awareness to the projects when I can through my social media, volunteer work, and at fundraisers, Just World puts on during some competitions. Last spring I was humbled to receive the Longines Ladies’ Award, recognising women in the sport who both represent elegance as an athlete and philanthropist. Most recently, I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be sponsoring a floor of the People Improvement’s Organisation school in Phnom Penh and joining their Board of Directors.
Showjumping has taken me all around the world and given me so much life experience. But it began to creep up on me that I felt a little unfulfilled. Last year I was showing nearly 48 weeks of the year, and at home on average two days a week. As thrilling as competition can be, it didn’t bring me as much joy as it did before. As frightening as it was, I knew I needed to make a change. I decided to scale back my sports career, move back to New York, and hit the books. I start classes at Columbia in just a few weeks! I’m planning to study English and human rights.
In my sports career, there have been plenty of highlights but also challenges. It was incredible to break into the elite sport so early in my career, but most riders peak in their 30s and 40s- so I definitely grew up quickly surrounded by peers decades older than me. Being a young woman in a male-dominated sport and while living abroad also had its challenges. I’m lucky to have grown up in a more progressive era of feminism, but I’d be lying if I said I was treated the same as my male counterparts consistently. How many times has someone gone around me or asked to speak to my father or a former coach to inquire if a horse was for sale? How many times has someone gotten on a horse of mine assuming it was on autopilot, that they could do so much better- only to be shocked by my physical strength? How many times has someone called me sweetie or honey? How many times has someone showed up banging on my hotel door when their wife stayed home from the show that weekend? That is something I’d love to see changed in sports in general. There is a certain level of celebrity that elite athletes have, and traveling in a circuit does start to feel like an adult summer camp. But no matter how talented you are, it’s not a license to behave poorly. My closest friends outside the sport are consistently flabbergasted by stories I’ve told that are in that environment completely commonplace. That’s not to say there aren’t many lovely people who participate in sport while simultaneously existing as considerate human beings- but the behavioural culture would indicate they are not the overwhelming majority.
So what would I like to see changed for the millennial businesswoman and what does it truly mean for me to BE YOUR OWN Boss? Well, for starters, to never be outright offered something in exchange for romantic favours. To be supported or hindered based on our physical appearance. More subtly, not to be assumed less competent, capable, or emotionally stable than our male peers. To be spoken to without condescension. To be treated equally, not better nor worse than our male counterparts. I’d love for the next generation to look back in shock that their mother or grandmother was ever in those situations because that sort of behaviour would no longer be normalised, it would be outlandish.
I think we are in an interesting “in between” in this generation. Most younger Western women are raised with the encouragement that we can achieve whatever we put our minds to- to become the female CEO, the elite athlete, the neurosurgeon, etc. We also still know what it is to endure mansplaining, nuanced discrimination, inappropriate touching, harassment, and flat out sexual assault. I hope the next generation of businesswomen can look back at what has been run-of-the-mill behaviour for decades with bewilderment and with historical understanding but personal unfamiliarity.
My entire life has hinged completely on my athletic career up until this year. I am ecstatic to start classes at Columbia and see where my studies take me. I have always been passionate about human rights, but I’m also interested in studying English and comparative literature. I feel truly blessed to have accomplished many of the things I hoped to in my sports career, and now I’m looking forward to what this next chapter holds.