Horse Of A Lifetime: Shutterfly

Jan 31, 2023 - 7:56 AM

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum announced Saturday that her longtime partner Shutterfly, the horse who won three World Cup Finals and helped her become the first woman to top the FEI World Show Jumping rankings, had died at age 30.

Along with earning many competitive victories in their 24 years spent together, Michaels-Beerbaum described “Petey” as a dear friend.

“We will miss the kind and sweet-hearted Petey who stuck his nose in the baby carriage and softly nuzzled my daughter Brianne just days after she was born,” she wrote on social media. “I am sure that caress gave her the passionate love for horses she has today.”

In honor of Shutterfly, we are sharing this profile first posted April 10, 2020.

“Just believe in him.”

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum repeated these words, spoken by her husband, Markus Beerbaum, as she headed to the main ring at the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas aboard Shutterfly for the closing round of the 2005 Budweiser FEI World Cup Jumping Final.

Michaels-Beerbaum’s week began with a sixth-placed finish in the opening speed leg—the same position in which the previous four winners had started—and a win in the second leg gave them an overall lead going into the final day.

But a light rub and resulting rail in the first round that day meant they’d enter the deciding round in a tie with three-time winners Rodrigo Pessoa and Baloubet Du Rouet, with Michael Whitaker and Portofino just 2 faults back.

Then, in the last warm-up, Shutterfly began to unravel. Notoriously sensitive, the bay gelding was upset by oncoming horses, and the tight quarters proved too much, so he began stopping.

“I think he jumped maybe two crossrails, and that was it,” Michaels-Beerbaum recalled. “And then he stopped at every fence. I knew that he was upset because he could feel the tension. There were too many horses around, and he decided that he couldn’t handle it.”

She knew kicking on would only escalate her problems, so Michaels-Beerbaum let it be. Either it would turn out or it wouldn’t. Though Pessoa had a pair of rails, Whitaker went clean, so they couldn’t afford a mistake.

“I went in the last round and was clear over 1.60 meters because I knew him like the back of my hand, and I trusted him,” said Michaels-Beerbaum. “I knew that even though he was stopping outside, it had nothing to do with his performance in the ring. That was years and years of trust. There was no way a rider could do that—you cannot do that—unless you really believe in your horse and really know your horse.”

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s road to victory with Shutterfly wasn’t easy, but she believed in him. Molly Sorge Photo

An Interesting Prospect

Michaels-Beerbaum first spotted Shutterfly, then 6, at a national show in Germany in 1999. She was on the hunt for the next promising prospect, and as she scanned the young horses before her, a particular leggy bay captured her gaze.

“He was so elegant and beautiful,” she said. “He had a very unknown rider, an amateur guy, riding him, and he wasn’t spectacular over the fences at all. He sort of jumped them easily, but he didn’t give them much height. I was more struck by his expression and what a nice type he was. He was so Thoroughbred-y and leggy. His movement was so light.”

After his round, Michaels-Beerbaum walked up to the rider, Karsten Rauschen, and asked if the 6-year-old, then known as Struwwelpeter, was for sale. The answer was no; breeder and owner Uwe Dreesmann wanted to keep this one. Six months later, Dreesmann offered to sell her half of the gelding.

But when she tried him, Michaels-Beerbaum wasn’t convinced Shutterfly would be an international horse.

“He was difficult at home,” she recalled. “He was always nervous and anxious, and he would go too quickly to the fences, very flat over the fences. He wouldn’t take any time to go up in the air, so you couldn’t judge his scope and his carefulness because he would rush the fences, and he was so light in the mouth that if you tried to help him, he was agitated by you holding him too much.”

When Michaels-Beerbaum took him to his first show, she warned her groom Anu Harrila not to expect too much.

“He was spooky and frightened of everything, and nervous and anxious, but at the jump he did the opposite of what he’d done at home,” Michaels-Beerbaum said. “He just flew. He just went up in the air so high over every fence. He would spook, but instead of going low and flat like he did at home, he just soared [over] the jumps. When he came out of the ring, that’s when I knew he was a great horse. It took many years to make him, and we had a lot of ups and downs, but after that first round I knew what the potential of the horse was.”

Within that first year, Jim and Nancy Clark purchased Shutterfly as part of a package of investment horses. Though still young, Shutterfly demonstrated enviable talent, and with Michaels-Beerbaum’s own string lacking depth, the Hanoverian (Silvio I—Flamm, Forrest xx) soon became her No. 2 behind Stella.

Shortly before the 2000 Aachen CHIO (Germany), Stella was injured, and though she’d recovered in time to compete, Michaels-Beerbaum wanted to save her for the weekend. So Shutterfly went into the opening class where he jumped an easy clear, and Michaels-Beerbaum decided to try him in a bigger class that day.

By the afternoon it was raining, and Shutterfly was jumping phenomenally until he turned toward a pair of spooky narrow gates with liverpools. Unnerved by splattering water, the gelding shrank on approach, and though Michaels-Beerbaum spurred him on, Shutterfly refused, throwing her.

“It took me about a year to get him to forgive me for that,” she said. “He was always spooky, but he was always very, very brave, and when I did that to him—he was such a sensitive horse—from that point on, for about a year, every time he would see a liverpool he would spook. He would either stop, or he would knock it down, or he was terrified.”

“He just flew,” said Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum of her legendary partner Shutterfly. “He just went up in the air so high over every fence.” Jacques Toffi For Arnd Bronkhorst Photo

The Art Of Compromise

Turning Shutterfly around required finesse and plenty of compromise. Given his delicate mind, man-handling him wasn’t an option. Instead, Michaels-Beerbaum focused on keeping his stress level low.

“Had I not been that open to compromise I don’t think I would have been as successful,” she said.

To regain his trust she dropped him down to the youngster tour. She was the only one who rode him, and as they retrained liverpools, she kept it simple.

“He would always walk to the ring with his head hidden behind his groom,” Michaels-Beerbaum said. “For such a great horse, he was so shy and bashful and insecure in the beginning.

“We tried to eliminate the things that made him upset, and we did that as best we could,” she said. “Of course there were obviously shows that were loud, especially indoor warm-up rings where it’s all under one roof. It’s very loud, echo-y. It was very difficult with him with noise. He was very, very sensitive to noise, so sensitive that you would be trotting around the ring, and somebody on the sidelines would sneeze, and he would jump to the side.”

Early on, she thought putting Shutterfly in more awards ceremonies would help acclimate him, but the idea backfired. He would get so upset that he’d be covered in a lather and paw the entire time. With each experience he worsened, so eventually Michaels-Beerbaum requested permission to ride another horse (often his barnmate Checkmate, who loved them).

In all other aspects of his job, Shutterfly proved to be a great student. In his first jump-off he took nearly every fence down because once Michaels-Beerbaum asked for speed, he forgot to do anything but gallop.

“I learned in order to ride him fast, I had to ride him fast without him knowing he was going fast,” Michaels-Beerbaum said. “I learned to ride him smooth, and he never really realized or got agitated by the speed. But he learned to go fast that way, smooth and quick and not with kicking and pulling or distracting him or chasing him or rushing him. It was a great example of how he learned. It wasn’t his nature to go fast and clear all the jumps. He was too much of a race horse.”

Bringing Shutterfly To The World

Once Michaels-Beerbaum regained Shutterfly’s trust, his confidence increased exponentially. He won the young horse championship at Hamburg (Germany) as an 8-year-old and followed it up with a win in the German women’s national championship. But his dicey early record meant buyers were hesitant to pull the trigger, so the Clarks decided to keep him.

As Shutterfly settled into his 9-year-old year, Michaels-Beerbaum knew he was a championship horse. She just had to prove it to the rest of the world.

Still a relative newcomer to the German team, she wasn’t a shoo-in for a spot at the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera (Spain), and she felt pressure from the chef d’equipe to have a foot-perfect performance at the 2002 FEI Nations Cup Final (Germany).

That pressure got to her, and she called it a “disaster” with chips and a refusal in a combination. They were left off the WEG team but finished the year with numerous wins.

“I had been through a lot of people not believing in the horse,” Michaels-Beerbaum said. “So it wasn’t unusual. I was angry when I didn’t make the team for Jerez. I remember exactly because I felt like it was too much pressure on a young horse and myself, and I felt like they were waiting for me to fail, and I did unfortunately. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise because maybe that was too young for him to go to his first championship at age 9, but I wanted to prove to everyone how good he was, and basically he did after that.

Shutterfly helped to establish Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum as one of the world’s best riders, and she retired him at the top of his game. Jacques Toffi for Arnd Bronkhorst photo

“He did nothing but win and win and win and win,” she continued. “Indoors, outdoors, grass, sand, big rings, small rings, fast jump-offs, many rounds, Nations Cups. He was so versatile; it didn’t matter when, where. If you look at his results, they’re as good as any horse anywhere because he could do it consistently, and he was dependable. He was good at everything. Then at that point I will say I was welcomed on the German team again.”

“I Felt Like I Let Him Down”

As worldwide show jumping fans sat enraptured by the final four for the individual medals at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Michaels-Beerbaum retreated within herself. Perched on an overturned bucket in the corner of the ring, she couldn’t watch her best friend rear, spin and kick as Harrila, Beerbaum and German national coach Kurt Gravemeier attempted to saddle him for each of the other three riders in the final.

“I knew in my heart that was going to be a difficult thing for him, and I just hoped that it would be OK,” Michaels-Beerbaum recalled. “And somewhere I knew it was going to be as bad as it was. I couldn’t watch it. I was in the ring there, and I had to turn the other way and look away. I felt like I had let him down because I put him in a situation that he couldn’t handle. He couldn’t handle it in the ring there with all the noise and all the people and saddle changes and grooms and different riders. He was just so upset in the end, and it took a long time to get him calm again after that.”

Those who knew Shutterfly expected this extreme reaction. As Harrila handwalked him the previous evening alongside Clark Shipley with Beeze Madden’s Authentic, she told him, “You know that Beezie is very lucky to ride him first while he still has half of his brain in his head.”

As Harrila recalled, the time in the saddling enclosure was the hardest for Shutterfly—once on course he settled slightly.

“He was always happy when, finally, we got the saddle on and the rider on, but it was the most difficult part,” she said. “He was then happy to go and jump because then he didn’t have to wait there in the middle of the ring and close to all the people and the noise. I was always like, OK, we got the tack on and the person on, off you go.

“But there’s nothing else we could have done,” she continued.

The show officials offered to let them use the separate area roped off for Jos Lansink’s stallion Cavalor Cumano, but that was even closer to the crowds, so they declined.

Then, with three riders turning in perfect rounds, Madden, Lansink and Michaels-Beerbaum were forced to jump-off. Getting back aboard after his rounds with the other riders, all Michaels-Beerbaum could do was steer and hope for the best.

“He was so upset at that point, he could no longer concentrate on his job,” she said. “I think he left a leg, and he took the fence down like his old days, like when he went in the jump-off, and he forgot to jump the fence. He was just going so fast that he couldn’t jump. I only had one fence down, but I was surprised I didn’t take the whole course down because he had lost his mind. He was no longer with us.”

They came home with the bronze individual medal to go with their team bronze, and Michaels-Beerbaum promised she’d never ask that of him again.

“It was a world championships; I was in the final four. It would have been ridiculous to say I’m not going to ride,” she said. “But looking back on it, it was terrible. I felt horrible. I felt like a mother who had let her child down. That’s why I said four years later, when my chef d’equipe asked if I would ride him [in the 2010 Alltech FEI WEG] in Kentucky, no, that he wasn’t going to the World Championships ever again. I made that decision after that.”

Shutterfly earned a well-deserved vacation following the WEG, but the damage to his psyche proved longer lasting than expected.

“I started him at a small show, but I remember having a really hard time getting on him at the ring,” she said. “He was running in circles again. We had to slow everything down and take him back to the stable and calm him down and try to get on him at the stable, and I had never had that problem before the World Championships. So that was new, but eventually he gained the trust back again.”

There’s Nothing He Can’t Do

Shutterfly’s 2005 World Cup victory nearly didn’t happen. They’d finished second the previous year after a rail, but then Shutterfly tested positive for a metabolite of hydroxyl promazine, a tranquilizer. Michaels-Beerbaum appealed to the FEI Judicial Committee, but she hadn’t been cleared until just two weeks before Las Vegas. And her other trips to the final proved equally tumultuous.

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly competed for Germany in the 2008 Olympic Games, 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games, the 2007 FEI European Championships and won the FEI World Cup Finals in 2005, 2008, 2009. Molly Sorge Photo

In 2007, the pair hadn’t had a rail leading into the final day, but Michaels-Beerbaum got jumped loose over an oxer and fell when Shutterfly turned the wrong way on landing.

“I felt so badly,” she said. “I felt like I’d let him down too because he hadn’t knocked a rail down, and I just fell off in the corner, so I was really devastated. It was really hard on me.”

They made up for it the following year with a win in Gothenburg, and this time when Shutterfly began stopping in the warm-up, Michaels-Beerbaum didn’t sweat it. Their last win in 2009, back in Las Vegas, proved to be the most meaningful of their trifecta. They led from start to finish, beating McLain Ward and Sapphire, who Meredith called “one of the greatest pairs ever.”

“It was a major honor,” she said. “I had just lost my stepfather, so it was a very emotional win, and it was a perfect win because I won every single leg. It was just perfect.”

With hardware from World Cups, World Championships and the European Championships, there was only one thing that eluded Shutterfly: an Olympic medal. The Germans had a disastrous Nations Cup performance in 2008, and Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly narrowly missed the podium, finishing fourth individually.

“That horse deserved an Olympic [medal], so I was disappointed,” Michaels-Beerbaum admitted. “But you know, most people think that he won the gold at the Olympics. It’s funny, I often meet people at dinner parties, and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, you won the gold with Shutterfly didn’t you at the Olympics?’ I don’t think it matters at the end of the day that he did or did not win that, but I felt badly knowing that he deserved a medal.”

At the height of his career in the mid-to-late 2000s, many considered Shutterfly to be one of the best in the world. Each time he entered the ring, the crowd erupted.

“When I came in I would get an ovation,” Michaels-Beerbaum recalled. “It was amazing. It would give me goosebumps when I would trot in the ring, because I would hear the crowd clapping and cheering for him. He was like a rock star in Germany. People knew him, and he was famous. The people who came to shows like Aachen, they came there to see him.”

Harrila had always believed he was a superstar. “It took a while, but in general just the whole trip, from a young horse to what he became, it was just unreal,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Did this really happen?’ ”

Along with Checkmate, Shutterfly’s results put Michaels-Beerbaum at the top of the world rankings several times—a feat no other woman has repeated.

“He was so fragile, so delicate in his mind, so there was a lot of stress involved, but it was a great feeling to know you had this horse that not only did everyone think was great, but you thought was great as well,” she said. “And it gives you a tremendous amount of confidence when you walk the course, and you know there’s nothing they can build that’ll scare you or make you doubt your horse or wonder if you can get over it or not. That’s an amazing feeling. I loved my years with him. He made my career.”

It’s a feeling she says she’s never experienced with any other horse.

“I knew what he was feeling before he was feeling it, and I would see things coming that would upset him, and I would get upset,” she said. “I had to be careful because I would yell at people who were going to make him upset. It was sort of like an old married couple or maybe even more so like a mother and child because I didn’t want to put him in situations that would stress him.”

A Fitting Send-Off

The only extended break in Shutterfly’s career came late in 2009 when Michaels-Beerbaum took time off to have her daughter Brianne Beerbaum, who was born in February of 2010. Shutterfly returned to the international show ring that April, winning a 1.50-meter class in Mannheim (Germany).

The following year, at 18, Shutterfly was as sound and happy as ever. They paced his schedule and gave him rest, but the gelding never missed a show due to lameness. Michaels-Beerbaum knew at some point his fairy-tale career would end, and she wanted him to retire on her terms.

“He had an amazing career, and he was never lame, and I didn’t want him to one day walk out of the ring lame,” she said. “I’d seen that with my colleagues with some great horses that left the ring on three legs, and I did not want that to happen with that horse.”

After Shutterfly won the Warsteiner Prize at Aachen on July 13, 2010, Michaels-Beerbaum had to do some soul-searching. She’d wondered if she should continue to compete the gelding, and after that win, she and Beerbaum debated the merits of doing the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen on Sunday versus retiring.

“I woke up on Sunday morning, and it was clear to me that I had to let him go on his win there on Wednesday because I thought, if I could switch the positions, and it was me and he was me, that’s what I would wish for,” she said. “I would wish to go out on a win like that, one of the best in the world, at the top of my game, and not fail or have people watch me fail, or have people say the poor horse or we should’ve stopped him earlier. It seemed like the perfect end to a perfect career.”

Aside from a few key players, the decision remained a secret as they worked to pull together a ceremony following the grand prix. Harrila kept it together for most of the day, until she braided him a final time, and she held back tears as she gave Michaels-Beerbaum a leg up.

After the class, the announcer’s voice broke through the crowd, commenting that though they’d seen several great pairs, a key combination was missing from the start list. At those words Shutterfly trotted into the stadium one last time to a standing ovation.

In front of a crowd of more than 40,000, Michaels-Beerbaum thanked her long-time partner, as highlights of their career played on the jumbotron.

Now 27, Shutterfly lives out his days at the Beerbaums’ German base Thedinghausen.

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum with her husband Marcus and Shutterfly
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and her husband Markus Beerbaum had faith in Shutterfly even when he defied convention. Photo Courtesy Of FEI

“He totally enjoys his retirement.,” said Michaels-Beerbaum. “I was worried he would get nervous or anxious or upset. He’s chilled out. He loves his life. He and Checkmate never liked each other all those years; now they’re best friends. They go out every day together. They live in the stalls side-by-side, and then they go out every day in the field, and they’re best buddies. He loves his retirement. He’s so relaxed now; you don’t see any of his nervousness and anxiousness, his shyness. He’s chilled and happy.”

After 20 years together, Michaels-Beerbaum can’t select just one memory that sticks out.

“I have tons of favorite memories,” she said. “I have millions; I can go on and on about favorite memories.”

Instead, she’s thankful to have shared the years with him. “Being the lucky one,” she said, “to be part of his life.”

This article appeared in the Feb. 24 & March 2, 2020, Show Jumping issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

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