Reed Kessler, Denise Wilson and Derek Braun Bring the Split Rock Jumping Tour to the Kids at UK Children's Hospital

Thursday, May 21, 2015
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Lexington, KY - As the anticipation builds for the debut of The Split Rock Jumping Tour's inaugural CSI3* event this week, Olympic veteran Reed Kessler, Grand Prix rider Denise Wilson and Derek Braun, founder of the Split Rock Jumping Tour, took time to talk horses and more with patients at the University of Kentucky Children's Hospital. Visiting rooms with young children, the riders engaged them in conversations ranging from favorite TV shows to ponies, from gymnastics to vaulting, and from horses to chickens.
Denise Wilson, Reed Kessler, Marlee Powell and Derek Braun
Denise Wilson, Reed Kessler, Marlee Powell and Derek Braun (Photos: McFarland/EqSol)

"This was such a moving experience," said Braun after the visit. "These kids have such courage to battle their illnesses the way they do and I really want to thank Reed and Denise for taking the time to join me in visiting with them and giving back a little bit to our Lexington community."

Kessler came home to Lexington for the Split Rock event after competing at the Longines CSIO5* in France. She will be competing on Cos I Can, Charity and Ligist at Split Rock this week. She will head to Spruce Meadows soon, where she will meet up with the rest of the horses for some weeks of competition in Calgary. Wilson flew in the night before the hospital visit after competing in Spain. She will return to Europe on Monday to represent the United States in the Nations' Cup event in Portugal. Riding out of her bases in WI, and FL, Wilson brought Nimbus and Caruso to Split Rock's Lexington International CSI3*.

Tiles in the Welcome Center of the UK Children's Hospital
Tiles in the Welcome Center of the UK Children's Hospital (Photos: McFarland/EqSol)

Braun hasn't had much time for competition, as his vision for the Split Rock Jumping Tour is about to come to fruition. Promising an "unparalleled show jumping experience" for riders, spectators, and sponsors, Braun and his staff have spent countless hours preparing the farm as well as promoting the event on radio, television and around town.

During their time at the hospital, they met with approximately ten patients and their parents, including almost ten-year-old Marlee Powell. Everybody laughed throughout the visit, as Marlee talked about her passion for gymnastics and the equestrians about their lack of gymnastics skills. Some of her favorite moves include a handspring and the splits.

Marlee Powell wearing her autographed SRJT hat (Photos: McFarland/EqSol)
Marlee Powell wearing her autographed SRJT hat (Photos: McFarland/EqSol)

Kessler and Wilson were quick to praise her skills, and admitted that neither of them could get anywhere close to doing splits. Kessler explained how riders squeeze their leg muscles to encourage, as well as stay on, the horse, which means it's even more difficult to attempt stretching them out for splits. Both show jumpers asked the young gymnast to teach them how to improve their abilities, to which she shyly agreed. Marlee's father commented on how long she could hold a headstand, and Kessler admitted to doing a headstand as a dismount once, "but it wasn't intentional," she said. Laughs ensued and that led to a chat about gymnastics on horseback and Wilson described how vaulting works. Kessler said that she had actually tried vaulting one time, and that it was really difficult. "Even the simplest moves are challenging!" the Olympian said. All the riders encouraged Marlee to try gymnastics on a horse and they could come watch. 

The Split Rock group gave event t-shirts, hats and, of course, tickets to the patients' families, as well as to hospital staff. "It really was great coming back home and visiting with these kids," Kessler said. "It meant a lot to me to be able to do it."

The FEI international show jumping schedule has both afternoon and evening highlight events on the grass, including the $100,000 FEI CSI 3* Grand Prix Presented by Split Rock Farm, $40,000 Hollow Creek Farm CSI 3* Grand Prix, $35,000 Amalaya FEI CSI 3* Speed Cup, and $15,000 Hagyard Equine Under 25 Cup. In addition to the chance to see many of the sport's top horses and riders competing in world-class show jumping competition, spectators will also have the chance to enjoy a variety of boutique shops and food vendors, a Children & Family Festival, a Beer and Wine Garden with live music, as well as free raffles and cash giveaways!

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