Equestrianism: Boost for women riders as Shutterfly wins Grand Prix

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The Independent Online

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum struck another blow for the small band of successful women riders when she rode Shutterfly to win the Olympia Grand Prix during the closing session of the Olympia Show Jumping Championships here last night.

The victory marked a change of fortune at the end of a difficult year for Michaels-Beerbaum, who suffered a complicated break of her right leg at Hamburg in May and was out of action for four months. "It was a bit of a struggle getting everything together again," she said.

There were no signs of tattered nerves, however, as the American-born rider, who now competes for Germany, set sail in lovely, flowing style, jumping clear in a time that nobody could match.

Robert Smith came closest to finish second for Britain on Kalusha, with the 21-year-old Swiss rider Steve Guerdat third on Campus. John Whitaker, who was nudged down to fourth place after taking an early lead on Lord Z, earned sufficient points to become Leading Rider of the Show.

Michaels-Beerbaum took German nationality in 1998 when she married Markus Beerbaum. Germany acquired another top woman rider through marriage when the British-born Helena Weinberg switched to the native country of her husband, Peter, in 1986.

Weinberg also triumphed at Olympia, gaining the second of her two victories here yesterday when she completed five clear rounds on Silwa Little Gun in the Christmas Eve Six Bar. The previous day, she had triumphed with Kasting Horses Gavi in a thrilling jump-off for the Sony Ericsson World Cup Qualifier, the major contest of the five-day show. Preparing to celebrate her 40th birthday on Christmas Eve, Weinberg is still waiting to be chosen for her first championship team.

But with her current trio of grand prix horses - "I've never had three of this calibre before," she said, referring to Gavi, Silwa Little Gun and Ramonus - the German selectors must already have her under serious consideration for next year's Olympic Games.

But yesterday's winner, Silwa Little Gun, is not likely to figure in their calculations since he tends to be spooky when confronted with water or ditches. She no longer takes him to Hickstead or her famous local show at Aachen.

Weinberg says her parents, Bruce and Sonja Dickinson, made a major contribution to her success by moving to Germany and looking after her two children while she is show jumping. This, she says, is why she has remained successful while other women riders have slipped down the rankings.

Though she no longer rides for her native country, Weinberg could well be helping the future of British show jumping by providing a German base and training for John Whitaker's 20-year-old son, Robert. He has just spent four months with the Weinbergs and may well return there after his 21st birthday in January.