Conversations With Equestrians: Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum on Motherhood and Medals 
Life as an international professional rider and trainer is physically and mentally demanding. Once you’ve been #1 in the world, the pressure to keep your name at the top of that list is always at the forefront, meaning you need to stay focused, fresh and keep a solid string of talented horses. So what does this intensely competitive, first-ever #1 ranked female rider in the world, three-time World Cup FEI World Cup Champion think about adding motherhood to the mix?

Markus Beerbaum and Brianne
Photo by Cheval Photos

“I LOVE being a mom!” exclaimed Meredith without hesitation. When out of the saddle Meredith is often seen with 18-month-old Brianne in her arms. Uncharacteristic of a world champion? Apparently not so for this uniquely talented, focused and determined mother.

Since her equestrian goals still include Olympic aspirations, she and partner Markus have a plan and have considered every aspect. Already an extremely successful equestrian power couple, Meredith often mentions how Markus is a key to her success. As rewarding as her career with him at her side has been to date, and apparently continues to be, they now potentially have the ultimate reward, a family.

Becoming a mom may have changed Meredith’s perspective, but it hasn’t slowed her down — she made the German team only weeks after giving birth to Brianne in February 2010, something she hadn’t anticipated. It was “a nice surprise” and a memorable year, as Meredith competed on Checkmate in the German Championships in Munster and then headed to the states to represent Germany at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in October 2010. Her clean ride on Checkmate clenched the Gold Medal for Team Germany.

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Kismet 50 place 4th in the 2011 $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix of the Desert, Presented by Lamborghini of Newport Beach. Photo by Cheval Photos.

“I never would’ve dreamt that was possible, it is one of the highlights of my career,” said Meredith about her return to intense competition as a new mother. And the victories continued into the fall season, as she collected a World Cup Qualifier win in Lyon and the Mercedes German Masters in Stuttgart. Alll before Brianne was one.

Thermals Aren’t Needed
Hosting several indoor World Cup Qualifiers as well as outdoor grand prix events each week, the HITS Desert Winter Circuit is a destination for show jumpers from both coasts and around the world. A California native, Meredith came from Germany to spend a warm winter in the Palm Desert. Leaving the chilly winter indoor European competitions behind, Meredith and husband Markus brought baby Brianne, and a few of their up and coming mounts, out to the sunny desert. Shutterfly and Checkmate remained at home, where Meredith would return to compete in the spring.

“I’m really enjoying myself here,” Meredith said of the desert. “It’s great to be with people that I haven’t seen in awhile. I’ve received such a warm welcome and I love the weather!” The desert sunshine and palm trees are a welcome change from the cold, late night indoor winter circuits in Europe. For Meredith, Markus and Brianne, who celebrated her first birthday in February, Thermal offered sunshine and a place to call “home” for the winter. With a reasonable show schedule, they were able to have some “remnants of family life.”

Lancaster at the 2011 HITS Desert Circuit
Photo by Cheval Photos

Horses and Clients
Thermal also proved to be a good circuit for the string of horses they brought over. The good footing, indoor and outdoor grand prix schedule along with the spacious show grounds allowed for horses like Kismet 50, a 10 year old Belgian mare to move up the ranks. “Kismet’s been the second horse in Europe,” said Meredith. “This circuit is her time to step up – she’s been consistent and is a very talented mare. I have a lot of faith in this horse.”

Lancaster is a German bred gelding and another up-and-coming prospect. “We decided to keep him in the outdoor because he’s SO big, (17.2h) and he’s done really well. We are very proud of his performance out there.” The Beerbaums also brought two 8 year olds over, whom Meredith believes to be “the best young horses in the world.”

Joining the Beerbaums in the desert were professional Gaby Salick, also a mother of a young daughter, Eleanor, and students Lucy Davis, Saer Coulter and Christi Israel. Developing these riders into international contenders also influenced the decision to start the season at HITS Thermal. Seems that Lucy, who is college bound in the fall of 2011, may follow in Meredith’s footsteps. An accomplished equestrian when she met up with the Beerbaums in the summer of 2009, the uniquely focused and talented rider has excelled under their tutelage.

Directly after Lucy won four grand prix classes in a row, including the $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix of the Desert, Meredith was off to Doha, Qatar to compete on the Global Champions Tour. Immediately back in form with Shutterfly, the pair was 3rd in the Grand Prix of Qatar.

The horses and the clients joined the Beerbaums in Europe this summer.

Shutterfly retires at Aachen

Brief Update
Competing in five Global Champion Tour events since spring, Meredith has earned close to 100,000 euros. She recently won the ‘Preis von Europa’ (Prize of Europe) at the prestigious CSIO 5* in Aachen, Germany on her horse of a lifetime Shutterfly. Now 18 years old, the Beerbaums decided that victory would be Shutterfly’s last and held his retirement ceremony in front of 40,000 fans before the jump off of the Grand Prix a few days later. What an amazing experience to win and then retire the world’s best horse at the world’s best show.

Thank you Meredith for your time. We wish you all the best with your continued quests and with your family. And happy retirement to ‘Petey’!


EQSOL: If you weren’t a top equestrian, what would you do?
MMB: We always laugh about how I would have gone into politics – because I attended Princeton – I love politics and I probably would have chosen that field.

EqSol: What horse would you ride if you could ride any?

MMB: Shutterfly – because he’s the best in the world.
EqSol: What’s playing on your iPod right now? 
MMB: Coldplay – I listen to them a lot. I like classical and classic rock – I also have a play list called ‘Brianna’s favorites’ – they are lullabies and songs that Jewel did for babies.EqSol: What’s your favorite movie? 
MMB: Haven’t seen many movies lately; all time favorite – probably Fried Green Tomatoes.EqSol: What is an inspiring quote or mantra that you appreciate? 
MMB: I heard someone say in a clinic once, ‘The beauty of perfection takes time’ – it’s very true. We’re always striving in this sport for perfection and it’s important to understand that it takes time.

Rolex Anyone?

What a World Cup – FEI Rolex Show Jumping WC Final, Leipzig, Germany
While the World Cup in Las Vegas was touted for its exciting combination of two FEI disciplines, show jumping and dressage, Leipzig upped the ante this year. The 2011 Rolex FEI World Cup Finals hosted four finals for four FEI disciplines – show jumping, dressage, vaulting, and driving – in the same venue at the same time. As show jumping competitor Pablo Barrios (VEN), noted, “The venue was amazing. It was a super facility and a huge building. They had all sorts of different rings and things were run really, really well.” Quite a show.

Focus on Show Jumping
Germany maintained their victory status in another Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Finals this year, but with two Germans, one Canadian, two Dutchmen, two Americans, one New Zealander, one Swiss and one Frenchman, the top ten was not dominated by one country or continent. Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Taloubet Z scored a final clear round to take the top spot in show jumping’s individual championship. The Olympic champions, Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Hickstead, finished second overall after they rocketed up the standings following an exciting round two victory. Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED) and BMC van Grunsven Simon finished third after an impressive double clear performance on the final day. The only other double clear on the last day, Beezie Madden (USA) and Coral Reef Via Volo made an impressive move up to place fourth.

On opening day, it was two other American women who started out strong. Margie Engle and Indigo were the first to go clear in the speed class and finished fifth. Ashlee Bond and Cadett 7 were also clear for eighth place.

Engle, who had a refusal in round two but finished 12th overall after having only one rail over two rounds on the final day, commented, “He’s a good boy, (and) he wanted to be good all the way through. It’s been a great learning experience for him as a young horse; it was a lot for him. One thing nice to see is that I still have plenty of horse left. He could go another round.”

The early pacesetters were Germany’s Marco Kutscher on the veteran Cash, followed closely by Marcus Ehning (last year’s World Cup Finals winner) and Sabrina, Ahlmann and Taloubet Z, and Gerco Schroeder (NED) on Eurocommerce New Orleans.

Frank Rothenberger of Germany set a more demanding test on the second day, and only seven riders out of 40 scored a clear first round to advance to a jump-off. The first of those was Pablo Barrios (VEN) and G&C Quick Star. However, their eight faults in the jump-off put them seventh that day.

Lamaze and Hickstead won in exciting fashion in 40.68 seconds over Ahlmann and Taloubet Z (40.86 seconds). They were four seconds faster than Schroeder and Eurocommerce New Orleans and Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) on Action-Breaker. Ward and his second mount, Antares F, were fifth when they had the final jump down, and Kutscher on Cash was sixth.

“It was fun, and it was fast – we were smoking!” said Lamaze. “We had some ground to make up after Thursday so we had no choice.”

“I didn’t take a chance on the first day, I went very casual,” said Lamaze, who noted that the World Cup Final was only Hickstead’s second indoor competition of the season. “I knew he wasn’t ready for those inside turns and to be competitive in that event. I was hoping for a clear and it didn’t happen. I had to come from behind. When you are on a sports car like Hickstead, anything is possible.”

On the final day, the points were close enough where one rail could change the results significantly. Riders had to contest not one, but two difficult courses in one day, with only 19 coming back for the second round out of the 27 who started the final day. With the fastest time but a heartbreak rail in the jump-off on day two, McLain Ward and Antares F, completed the final day with just one rail and 10th overall. “I’m thrilled with Antares. I couldn’t have been happier; he was amazing all week,” Ward said.

Lamaze and Hickstead were clear in the first round, as were Dubbeldam, Madden, and Kutscher. The pressure was on Ahlmann and Taloubet Z, and they finished with four faults after a rail in the final double combination.

As the second round commenced, Kutscher was the only rider with a score of zero, while Ahlmann had four, Lamaze had six, Katie McVean (NZL) had eight with Delphi, and Schroeder had nine.

Although Dubbeldam and Madden were double clear, their point total coming into the last day was too much to overcome for victory but moved the pairs up to third and fourth respectively.

Dubbeldam admitted that he was still looking for a win – which he accomplished, along with Madden, the only two double clear they tied for the win in round 3. “You have to believe it’s possible and I went in today thinking I would go up at least a few places,” he said. “I knew my horse was in top form.”

This was the first World Cup Finals performance for Coral Reef Via Volo. “She got better as the week went on and rose to the occasion (on the final day),” Madden said of her mount. “Coming into (the final day), you’re only halfway through. The new format has the second round just as long as the first, so a lot can happen. I expected her to be good, to say I expected double clear would be saying a lot right now. She needs experience at places like this. I’m really happy at our first one. She was amazing.”

 When riders in the top ten faulted or were carrying too many faults already, it all came down to the final two Germans. Kutscher and Cash had a devastating 12 faults, so the pressure was on Ahlmann. His final clear round gave Ahlmann the victory.

“I’m unbelievably happy that everything worked out the way it did,” Ahlmann exuded. “Taloubet did an amazing job all weekend and the only fault he made was his rider’s fault at the last fence in the first round. He has no experience of Championship competition so I’m delighted that he showed today that he can do it.”

Ahlmann added, “He has unbelievable power and scope, and he can do it over many days. I was lucky to have him.” Ahlmann said that after his European Championship gold medal, this win ranks as his most memorable.

Phenomenal Firsts – Royal & Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event CCI4*

The Brits celebrated quite a bit this week, from Royal weddings to Olympic Level wins. Depending on your tastes these amazing events are certainly once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Hats off to the royal couple, HRH Duke William and HRH Duchess Kate, but the equestrian world congratulates “King Mary” who not only clinched the win on Kings Temptress in the Rolex 3-Day, she earned second place on Fernhill Urco. In her first event at the Olympic level, American Sinead Halpin was certainly a star. Speaking of firsts, the Reiners came to town during the Rolex 3-day for the inaugural Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup CRI5* and the crowds loved it.

A Stable Story: El Champeon Farm

By Jackie Freundlich McFarland

Söhnke ‘The Happy German’ Theymann
This is a tale of a faraway place where a young German has happily landed and is now spreading his wings. Many of us know the name El Campeon Farms, but may yet not know Soehnke Theymann.

El Campeon is certainly the home of champions. The multi-faceted farm continues to host clinics, film sets and commercial shoots, and without question is one of the finest equestrian facilities in California, if not beyond.

And now back to Soehnke (which is the English translation for Söhnke). Certainly destined for greatness, he is named after a famous German Olympic Medalist and Chef D’Equipe, Sönke Sönksen. He comes from a family with a strong equine background – his parents own a breeding farm in Dortmund, are both Grand Prix level riders and his sister has ridden on the German Dressage Team.

I was introduced to Soehnke a few seasons ago and although also from German descent (Freundlich means friendly), admittedly I had a hard time remembering this very German name. So to break the ice, I asked him how to say it and if there was another name he went by. Zunkah is how one might translate it phonetically, but to those who have gotten to know him in the show ring call him ‘the happy German’ as coined by our very own Janet Fall. And he explained that others, like Sophie and Ty Simpson, simply call him Tim.

EqSol: So you’ve been around horses all your life. What age did you start riding? Competing?
ST: Growing up on a 150-acre horse farm, there were always horses around. I was five when I started riding and was showing by age six or seven on ponies in both dressage and jumpers. I competed up to Level 5 in dressage, and rode in my first Grand Prix when I was 16. When I wasn’t competing as a junior any longer, I started to focus more on the young horses, getting our offspring ready to compete and sell.

EqSol: Did you always want to ride, teach and train?
ST: I went to school for Farm Management but then I got an unbelievable opportunity to work with Eva Gonda at El Campeon and really enjoyed it. I always had a few customer horses on the side, but now I am getting more involved in teaching. I really love the whole process of developing a horse and rider from the ground up, and customizing a training program that fits them.

EqSol: What do you see as the similarities and differences between American and German riding styles?
ST: The German style is based on dressage. Straight from the books – the classic system. The whole idea is to raise horses to jump well from a dressage background. I am also very focused on the horse’s fitness; making sure that when they start the show season they are 110% fit for the job that we are asking of them.

The American system is based in the forward seat. Riders evolve faster here – there are a lot of great trainers heavily involved in the process of the rider’s education. The process teaches riders to be very competitive in the show ring. I observed this when I came to work in West Palm Beach directly after high school. I was impressed with the style and could see that there are different ways than those I had learned to achieve top results.

EqSol: How does your German background shape your adaptation to the American system?
ST: We, the horses and the riders, strive for goals for the year and work towards that in our program – at home and at the show. We get an education every day – a lesson, flat ride or in the show ring. It’s a system we plan – it can change of course – but always looking towards the goal.

For example if we want to be competitive in the big class on Saturday, we may decide to ride the class on Wednesday slower to develop confidence for the horse. So we prepare in the previous classes to achieve the goal for that week.

EqSol: What do you see as the similarities and differences between your experience with California and German horse shows?
ST: At a number of the European shows, you trailer in, ride in four or five classes and leave that same day. I love how here you can spend the week and really gear up to your goal for that week. And there are great venues here in California – who wouldn’t love showing here?

EqSol: Going on your third year at El Campeon, what are your goals for 2010?
ST: To be as competitive as I can on El Campeon’s All Star. I brought him along from a 6 year old to the Grand Prix and at the end of last season I earned my first World Cup points on him. We will continue competing in the World Cup Qualifiers.

And to develop a nice string of competitive horses and clients at all levels. Becoming better horsemen, jumping solid rounds and achieving our goals. Of course it’s serious sport but we also have a good time.

EqSol: El Campeon is a fabulous facility – how do you take advantage of preparing for the show ring there?
ST: It’s unbelievable, the most amazing facility I’ve ever been to. From European walkers, the grass Grand Prix field, the all weather sand arena, indoor, you can’t prepare better than here – and I’ve been to good facilities. I am so very thankful to be here, you can really bring horses along here without over-showing them.

Even with the major storms that we had last week, we didn’t miss a day of training and fitness. We rode in the indoor during the downpour, but the outdoor arena was ready for riding within 12 hours after the last rain.

EqSol: So on to important things…what is your favorite American food?
ST: There are too many! Let me think… In & Out Burger – I must admit that I love that place. Also the Mexican influence, there are no Mexican restaurants in Germany. I do sometimes miss my mom’s German cooking.

EqSol: And how do you like the SoCal lifestyle?
ST: I love it. It’s laid back. People say that I don’t seem like a German because I am so laid back – so I fit right in! I think that’s why Janet called me ‘the happy German’ my first season in Thermal and it stuck. Of course I am so thankful to have this amazing opportunity – to live and work in southern California, at a facility that is second to none and with a great team of people.

Danke schön Söhnke! We always enjoy getting to know the people behind the names. Best of luck achieving your goals and continuing to live the dream at El Campeon!