Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum is back in the tack and winning after giving birth to a daughter last February. She’s agreed to periodic interviews about her life during the Rolex World Cup season. Read her thoughts about becoming a mother and winning a team gold medal at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Q. Tell us about 2010.
A. 2010 has been a very memorable year for me, first with the birth of my daughter (Brianne Victoria) and then winning the team gold at the [Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games]. After my return to jumping, I had several ups and downs, and it did take me a while to feel like my old self.
My horses (Checkmate and Shutterfly) have both been in very good form. I’ve taken a bit longer to get back in the saddle, but overall, I think everyone was surprised at how quickly I came back. But I knew there was still a lot of work to be done. My focus before the WEG was just to continue on my program and get into the best shape possible.
Winning the German Championships (on Checkmate in Münster) just before the WEG was great, and it gave me a lot of confidence in myself and Checkmate. Until then, I wasn’t 100 percent certain whether I’d take Checkmate to the WEG. But after Münster, I was comfortable he could handle it.
I think it’s wonderful that the WEG was held in America—it was fantastic to compete there. I have a lot of friends in the U.S. who were taking part in it or supporting me, so it was a truly amazing experience. The WEG is one of the biggest championships we have. It’s an exciting format with the team final and the Rolex Top Four as the individual final, which makes it different from other competitions.
The German team was amazing! The Americans were the favorites, so we surprised everyone by winning the gold medal. For me to secure it with a clear round was just phenomenal. People from all other sports recognize that achievement, and for us athletes, it’s one of the highlights of our career.
Q. Tell me about Shutterfly and Checkmate.
A. Shutterfly has been in great form, which is very exciting because he is now 17 years old. I’m realistic about competing with him now that he is older. I have a very special attachment to him, and I’m quite emotional when it comes to decisions about his future.
I’m going to let him dictate his own program and let him tell us whether he wants to go to a show or not. That’s my plan over the coming months—to show him according to his form and when he feels good to me, without any pressure on the horse. Everyone knows what an extraordinary horse he is, and he’s become part of our family. Part of me wants him to have the easiest time possible but another part recognizes Shutterfly as a wonderful partner who loves competing.
I didn’t want to take him to WEG because the horse changes in the Rolex Top Four were really tough on him four years ago (in Aachen, Germany). He really wasn’t very comfortable being ridden by anyone else, and with the saddle change as well, I just couldn’t imagine putting him through all of that again.
At the moment, Checkmate is my preferred horse for top-level competitions. He is 15 years old this year, and I’ve been riding him since he was 6 years old, so I have a long history with him. We’ve had a lot of success together—I’ve been German Champion twice with him —he’s a great jumper and a fantastic horse for me.
Q. What is it like to compete now that you’re a mother?
A. My priorities in life have changed since I had Brianne Victoria. Without a doubt family comes first. She is the highlight of my life and the most important thing in the world to me. I still love competing, but she has put things in a different perspective for me.
Markus has been an amazing partner and father; he has taken a huge weight off my shoulders both by looking after Brianne Victoria but also by acting as my confidant. All of this has given me the freedom to engage in two passions of mine simultaneously—motherhood and top-level competing—and I feel extremely fortunate to be in this position.
Q. Tell me about the Rolex FEI World Cup Qualifiers at Lyon and Verona.
A. Lyon, France, was a wonderful competition, and I went into it with no expectations whatsoever and just wanted to enjoy myself. I, of course, felt confident as Checkmate has been in great form, but never thought I would win, so it has been a fantastic surprise and a massive confidence boost.
Lyon was my first indoor competition since the Final in Las Vegas in 2009, and Checkmate’s first indoor competition in two years, which makes the result even more special.
My last show with Shutterfly was five months ago, so I was just delighted to be in Verona, Italy, with him. I didn't know whether I would ride him in the World Cup class as I was planning on riding Checkmate. But actually it was Jeroen (Dubbeldam) who said Shutterfly jumped so well on the first day you must ride him. It was this comment that made me rethink my plan and ride him in the World Cup, and in the end Jeroen was the one who beat us—how ironic! It was a great day for me and for Shutterfly.
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, 40, was born in the United States but moved to Germany in 1991 and married Markus Beerbaum in 1998. She rides for Germany and holds team and individual bronze medals from the 2006 Aachen, Germany, World Equestrian Games as well as team gold from the 2010 WEG. She is a three-time World Cup winner and is a Rolex equestrian sports Testimonee.