“Photogenic and fearless”
PHOTOS BY Michael Gueth/Equistyle
Courtesy of Equistyle Magazine (Germany)
Meredith was not yet 40 when she rewrote riding history as the first woman ever to reach the No. 1 position in the 2008 Rolex World Show Jumping rankings. She would hold that ranking for 11 consecutive months, lifting the daughter of director Richard Michaels and actor Kristina Hansen to the equestrian equivalent of movie-star status. Photogenic and fearless, she dispelled presumptions about gender and ability with each new victory gallop and went on to become the first woman to win three (2005, 2008, 2009) world cup finals.
Her illustrious career, begun as a pony equitation rider growing up in Los Angeles, California, has included team gold at the 1999 European championships, gold medals from the 1999 and 2001 ladies German championships, and eight nations cup victories. At the recent 2015 Winter Equestrian Festival, Meredith took the $372,000 Suncast CSI 5* Grand Prix with her newest equine partner, Fibonacci 17—Artemis Equestrian Farms’ 10-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding. The victory helped her earn the title of overall leading lady grand prix rider for 2015.
“He has a style different from most horses. It can be difficult to sit as a rider. He jumps with his head up and a little straight in the back,” she said after the Wellington win. “That’s something I have decided I cannot change, and that’s why I try to finesse the bridle a little so I can help him without interrupting his jump.”
It’s About Balance
Taking leaps of faith and over fences requires a keen sense of balance. To better understand where this petite powerhouse finds hers, we spent a day at the Michaels-Beerbaum home in Thedinghausen, Germany.
“We are not just man and woman, but business partners, friends, teachers, and students
to each other. Of course we experience varying degrees of success, but we never see one another as competition,” Meredith says, referring to her relationship with husband Markus Beerbaum, a team gold medalist on both the 1997 European championship and 1998 world championship squads.
In 1991, after studying political science at Princeton University, Meredith went to Germany—initially for only a summer—to further her equestrian education with Paul Schockemohle. She never left. Meeting a certain handsome rider while both were competing in Neumunster—and finding a more vibrant show-jumping industry compared to the one back home in the U.S.—helped convince her to stay.
Partnership and Marriage
By 1995, Meredith and Markus were working together and had leased a barn in Balve. Two years later, they bought a farm in Thedinghausen and got married in 1998.
“We have a lot of respect for one another. That’s very important to a relationship,” says Meredith, now a German citizen ranked seventh on that country’s national-rider standings, “Once we lived together, founded a company together, and bought a farm, we thought maybe it was time to get married.”
In 2010, they welcomed the arrival of the next generation of Beerbaums: daughter Brianne Victoria.
“I was extremely lucky to have my team. I had as much support as a new Mami from my grooms and barn staff as from family,” she adds.
By the time Brianne was 6 months old, the baby’s ‘grooming kit’ could be packed as efficiently as a tack trunk, and Meredith was back to competing at the Kentucky Horse Park, anchoring Germany’s team gold medal at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
The Next Generation
Might Brianne follow in her parents’ famous boot steps? After all, it’s in the genes. Uncle Ludger is a four-time German Olympic gold medalist and no stranger to the view from atop the FEI world rankings. And there’s Magic at home—a willing pony available for Brianne to ride when not serving as a pasture mate for one of Meredith’s oldest and best friends.
You can’t talk about Meredith without mentioning some of the horses she helped make into legends. Like Shutterfly or Checkmate. This year she sees the same potential for greatness unfolding in Fibonacci 17 (dubbed ‘Nacho’ by Brianne).
Now a relaxed and robust retiree, Shutterfly, 21, will go down in show-jumping history as one of its greats: “He’s been enjoying every minute of a well-deserved retirement since 2011 and has Brianne’s pony as a buddy,” Meredith says. Meredith and Petey, as she calls him, won countless grand-prix classes, including the 2005 grand prix of Aachen, three world cup finals and individual bronze at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games.
Her 2010 WEG gold medal show-jumping partner, Checkmate, now 19, still makes it amply clear that he’s not ready to become a pensioner. “If it were up to him, he would be at every tournament,” Meredith laughs. “When the trailer leaves without him, he makes his displeasure known about staying on the farm. He gets downright insulted.”
Not Ready to Retire
Checkmate might be jealous of Fibonacci 17 who, after their win in Wellington, is certainly thrilling new legions of fans. “Nacho is a very special mixture of Checkmate
and Shutterfly,” Meredith observes. “Like Shutterfly, he has an intense work ethic, and when he gallops he feels like Checkmate. He loves big audiences and stays really cool under pressure.
“Using force,” the petite equestrienne says of her equine partners, “accomplishes nothing. A horse has to want to be on your side, to trust you. Otherwise everything else is impossible.”
To Win or to Learn
In 2012, Elmar Pollmann-Schweckhorst published a book looking at Meredith’s philosophy towards training and riding. The book’s title, No Fear of Big Goals, is equally apropos of the groundbreaking horse-woman herself and her approach to life as an athlete and mother.
Whether competing, making breakfast for Brianne before kindergarten, or schooling students like American rider Lucy Davis into world cup competition at the Stuttgart German Masters, Meredith sees only two out-comes for every leap taken: to win or to learn.
That’s finding perfect balance.