(Editor's Note:  This article was reprinted with the permission of The Daily Commercial, written by Scott Kauffman)

Montverde Academy freshman Kailin Kesselring competes in a recent equestrian event.  Kesselring recently won the 71st annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, TN.

Special to The Daily Commercial
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

MONTVERDE -- When equestrian veteran Carol Wakefield first began working with Montverde Academy student Kailin Kesselring several years ago, Wakefield knew there was something special about her newest pupil. And other equitation experts recognized it, too.

"We were at a show when I first started training with (Kailin) and a Florida trainer came up to me and told me, 'she looks just like Chantel did,' " recalls Wakefield, a reference to Wakefield's daughter, a well-known world champion in Tennessee Walking Horse circles. "I got tickled to hear that because Kailin is such a beautiful rider. She's very talented."

Indeed, Kesselring proved the prescient comment to be right on the mark seeing she recently captured her first world championship. Kesselring clinched the coveted title at her sport's biggest event of the year, the 71st annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration that concluded Sept. 5 before a capacity crowd of nearly 20,000 fans in Shelbyville, Tenn.

Several weeks ago, Kesselring kept her winning streak alive when she won five more titles at the Florida Walking and Racking Horse Association Championship Show held Oct. 17 in Tampa, Fla. Kesselring, a ninth-grader at Montverde Academy, took top honors in the following "no canter" championship events: Walking Open; Stock Seat Equitation; Youth Spotted Saddle Horse; Lite Shod Amateur; and Walking 4 & Under.

"Kailin works at it, studies it and she loves it," says Wakefield, co-manager and certified riding instructor for Montverde Academy's acclaimed equestrian center. "That's what it takes (to be a champion). And Kailin has it."

The "it" is something Wakefield knows all about considering the former Instructor of the Year has helped groom five Tennessee Walking Horse champions in her 43-year career, including two championships achieved by her daughter in the Juvenile and Adult Equitation divisions.

Kesselring got her school year off to a rousing start when she notched her first world title in the Owner-Amateur Novice Youth Riders Division (ages 12-17), reserved for first-time winners on Novice Walking Mares or Geldings. Kesselring's gelding, a powerful performance horse called He's Our Duramax, was a birthday present earlier this year. She was trained by Wayne Dean Stables of Lewisburg, Tenn.

"I'd been showing all summer and done really well, but the highest I got was second at an event in Pulaski, Tennessee (the previous week in Youth 12-17 Reserve Mares)," says Kesselring, whose been showing horses since 2003. "I didn't expect to win (at Celebration). I was just focused on a good ride."

Of course, that all changed once Kesselring and He's Our Duramax charged into the packed arena in her dashing black hat and suit.

"She rode as we say," Wakefield points out with a proud smile. "She rode the hair off him. She was out there with blood in her eyes. It was the first time for her to be in that big ring. ... She did really well."

By winning her first world championship, Kesselring qualified for the subsequent World Grand Championship. Leading up to the show, however, the 14-year-old rider was unable to compete in the prestigious event because her horse was ruled ineligible after failing one of the pre-show inspections.

Strangely enough, He's Our Duramax passed the same inspection prior to Kesselring's world championship, according to Wakefield, who serves as a Tennessee Walking Horse judge with the National Horse Show Commission.

Wakefield says it was a shame Kesselring's hot streak was interrupted because she had a good chance to win or finish in the top three at the World Grand Championship. Kesselring took the temporary setback in stride.

"My trainer said we'll get 'em next time," says Kesselring, whose father, Montverde Academy Headmaster Kasey Kesselring, also shows Tennessee Walking Horses.

Besides her world championship, another exciting achievement for Kesselring this season is her recent ability to canter with her horse.

"All summer I've been trying to get him to canter," Kesselring says with a sense of accomplishment. "For the past two summers, there was a lot of stress not being able to do it. There were a lot of falling into walls and a lot of scars.

"When I was finally able to do it I was proud of myself and him. What really made it special was how everybody us felt for me. They were so happy."

To master the canter, a collective highly disciplined and coordinated effort between rider and horse, is very difficult partly due to the Tennessee Walking Horse's unique four-beat gait. Then, to perform to perfection in front of thousands is even harder.

"She's got to be perfect, and the horse has to be perfect," Wakefield points out. "A good rider can take a medium horse and make him look like a champion. That's the art of equitation. Kailin has it all. She just needs to finish off her canter. We'll work hard all winter on the canter. She's going to do it."

If Kesselring's recent world championship is any indication, expect the talented teenager to indeed conquer the canter with her equitation horse, Pushin' The Skys. Last year, Kesselring earned the People's Choice award in the Reserve Equitation Division..

"I just love the horses," added Kesselring, explaining her equitation enthusiasm. "My horses are different than the jumpers or those that trot. It's definitely a thrill and kind of scary. At first it was really difficult. ... I love Duramax more than anything. He's great and I just love him so much. He's just so huge and sweet."

Now, he's even a world champion.

Scott Kauffman is the Assistant Dean of Admission, External Program Development at Montverde Academy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - www.dailycommercial.com/1111horse