When equestrian Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum first set foot in Wellington in the late 1980s, she used it as a stepping-stone to one of the most successful careers in the equestrian sport of show jumping. More than 30 years later, she is a regular winter visitor with her husband, Markus Beerbaum, a top rider and trainer, and her 10-year-old daughter, Brianne.
While studying political science at Princeton University, the Californian won her first big Grand Prix in 1989 at the age of 19 in Wellington riding Quick Star. At that time, the Winter Equestrian Festival was based at the old polo stadium grounds, currently home to Equestrian Village and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. Flying down on the weekends to compete, Meredith balanced riding and school like many junior and young amateur riders do to this day.
Two years later, in 1991, Meredith moved to Germany to work for legendary trainer Paul Schockemöhle, and when she met Markus, she stayed. The couple started their own riding and training business in 1994. After marrying in 1998, Meredith became a German citizen and was the first woman to ever earn a spot on the German national team when she competed at the 1999 European Championships.
While Meredith was focused on her career and competing in Europe — which led to three victories at the FEI World Cup Jumping Finals, Olympic team bronze, three World Championship medals and six European Championship medals — Markus, who has won team gold medals at the European Championships and World Championships himself, was traveling to Wellington annually to ride and train students such as Alison Firestone, who was the alternate for the U.S. show jumping team at the 2000 Olympic Games in Athens.
“He was doing more of the Wellington circuit than I was,” Meredith remembered. “It’s a bit of a contradiction! I would commute a little bit back and forth; he was based in Wellington doing the full-time WEF circuit.”
When the Beerbaums gained new sponsors who lived in Florida and were interested in having their horses compete in Wellington, Meredith joined Markus in more regular trips to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Meredith brought two young, talented horses, Jim and Nancy Clark’s Shutterfly and Checkmate, to give them experience. Those two horses would turn into her most successful mounts with seven championship medals between them. Shutterfly took Meredith to the top of the podium three times at the World Cup Finals in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Checkmate returned to WEF in his late competition years, until he was 19, to compete in Wellington.
Since 2012, Meredith and Markus have spent winters in Wellington, with horses owned by Jim and his wife Kristy Clark of Artemis Farm, and working with students such as Saer and Audrey Coulter, Lucy Davis and Chloe Reid.
The Beerbaums’ daughter Brianne was born in 2010, and the family trade has been passed down.
“She started in the walk-trot classes in the South Ring, and now she’s out there on Pony Island,” Markus said. “She adores it and has a great time, and she established a network of friends.”
Brianne trains with Patricia Griffith of Heritage Farm, and she attended school at Binks Forest Elementary School for the semester they live in Florida. With COVID-19 making schools virtual, Brianne will continue with her German online school in 2021, working with Upper Echelon Academy in Wellington, which was founded by equestrian Clementine Goutal.
Markus and Meredith will be primarily training students this winter, but they have brought one pony for Brianne to compete.
There are many facets of life in Wellington and at the Winter Equestrian Festival that make it an ideal place for the Beerbaums in the winter, both professionally and personally.
“The weather is fabulous, and we get to ride outside. You can’t ride [outside] very many places in the world [in the winter], particularly in Germany,” said Meredith, who is based the rest of the year at the Beerbaums’ stable in Thedinghausen. “The [PBIEC] show grounds has everything in one location, which is so attractive for a family like us. I can help Brianne in the pony ring, then go and ride in the Grand Prix without traveling to another show. In Europe, that is not possible because the big shows don’t have [classes] for kids.”
Markus also enjoys his winters in Wellington.
“We have a lovely life as a family in Wellington, and we get to all share and enjoy our time together,” he said. “We have a normal time schedule, having dinner in the evening, and are able to sit around the pool and throw steaks on the grill. We have a really comfortable, nice family life and still ride our best horses, compete at the top level of the sport, plus watch our daughter shine in the pony ring. It’s a win-win-win for us. It’s a wonderful time to be together and enjoy what we all love to do, but in the same place for a good length of time.”
While the whole of Palm Beach County has much to offer residents and visitors, the Beerbaums tend to stay closer to home in Wellington, usually enjoying restaurants and shopping. “I think the Village of Wellington offers so many things,” Meredith said. “It’s really convenient. You can get whatever you need: Pilates, golf, a tennis lesson, all next to the stable or where your kid goes to school.”
Competition at WEF in 2021 will be as tough as ever, with top riders from around the world coming to Wellington to compete. More European riders are making the trip across the Atlantic as well, realizing something that Markus and Meredith saw years ago.
“It’s vital to point out that this is the top of the sport,” Markus said. “For years, before Europeans came, they knew [WEF had the] best American riders, but they didn’t realize how good the sport is. Now in the last few years, Europeans have come and seen how difficult the competition is, how the course designing is top, the facilities are great and the prize money is outstanding. It’s not only the best Americans, but there is a European and international flair. That brings a lot to Wellington and makes it one of the best places to compete, particularly this time of the year.”
Joining thousands who attend the Winter Equestrian Festival every year, the Beerbaums are happy to have made Wellington their winter home.
Learn more about the Beerbaums at www.michaelsbeerbaum.com.