Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum can swing an axe. Metaphorically, speaking.
The Olympic show jumper has made a career of clearing the path for women in equestrian sport.
She was the first American to take on Germany nationality, the first woman to make a German championship team and first to reach world #1. She was also the first to successfully advocate for an FEI points-ranking freeze for pregnant international riders.
We caught up with the pioneering show jumper at the CP Palm Beach Masters in Wellington, Florida to talk about her history of “firsts” for women in show jumping.
First US show jumper to assume German nationality
It was a very difficult decision for me. I decided to change my nationality because I was living in Germany, I had married a German, Marcus Beerbaum, all my owners were Germans, and I was competing in Germany.
I never thought that I could make a championship team for Germany—no woman had accomplished that. But I knew I would be accepted to certain great shows like Aachen just because of my results. To have done that as an American, I had to go back to America in order to get higher on the US Ranking List, so it seemed like the logical thing to do at the time. But it was a very hard decision in my heart.
First woman to make a German championship team
I changed my nationality in 1998. The following year I was on the European championship team, jumped double clear in the Nations Cup and we won the gold medal. I had to fight for a position on the German team, but I never felt like I made the wrong decision.
First woman to be world #1
I still get goosebumps thinking about becoming number one in the world. The first woman ever and, to date, the only woman who has ever achieve that goal. It was an amazing accomplishment that I’m very, very proud of. I held the number one spot for 24 months—not consecutive, there were a couple of months in there where I moved down—but for a total of 24 months. To this day, I think it is probably the greatest accomplishment of my career.
First to win pregnant rider rights
I have one daughter. I took a leave of absence, so to speak, from the sport when I was pregnant with my daughter. I asked the FEI to recognize that fact—that women are different than men and when having a child there is no possible way to continue in the sport. They made a new ruling that women who are out of the sport because of pregnancy could keep 50% of their [ranking] points. It was an amazing step in the right direction for women in this sport.