A equine legend of the sport was lost on January 28, 2023, when Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s iconic partner Shutterfly passed away at age 30. Michaels-Beerbaum and “Petey” had 24 years together, during which they accomplished countless feats. Perhaps most notably, the “dear friends” won three FEI Jumping World Cup Finals, and Shutterfly helped Michaels-Beerbaum become the first woman to top the FEI World Show Jumping rankings.
Their partnership began in 1990, when Michaels-Beerbaum spotted Shutterfly, then 6-years-old, at a national show in Germany which was serving as a qualifier for the Young Horse Championships. “I was sitting on the sidelines looking for young prospects to invest in and [Shutterfly] came in the ring and caught my eye,” shared Michaels-Beerbaum. “And I thought, ‘Oh, he looks interesting.'”
She approached the rider and asked if Shutterfly was for sale, but was told the owner/breeder intended to keep him. But, Michaels-Beerbaum was persistent, and asked that if the owner every changed his mind, to please get in touch. Six months later, she got the call she’d been hoping for and the owner offered Michaels-Beerbaum half of Shutterfly, which she accepted.
“Did I think he was gonna be the best horse to ever live? Definitely not at that time,” admitted Michaels-Beerbaum. “I thought that he had a lot of attributes that were interesting. We were looking for investment horses, so I thought he was pretty, I thought he was leggy, like thoroughbred-y, and he seemed relatively straightforward. I tried him in a small indoor ring by himself and he seemed like it would be a good investment to buy half of him.”
What Michaels-Beerbaum thought to be a “relatively straightforward” horse turned out to be “way more difficult” than she anticipated.
“He was super sensitive to noise, to anything. He was very squirmy to ride, he was not straightforward, he was not easy, he was a lot of blood, he was nervous,” Michaels-Beerbaum confessed. “At the jumps, he went extremely forward, so his arc was always way past the jumps. He rushed the fence, raced over it, didn’t jump with height, and hit rails because he was going too fast. He seemed very spooky and really complicated.”
But at their first show together in Verden, Germany, Shutterfly surprised her. “I thought it was going to be a total disaster when we went in,” said Michaels-Beerbaum. Instead, Shutterfly surprised her.
“I went to the first fence and he spooked, spooked, spooked, and then he jumped it at the top of the standards. He proceeded the whole course to spook, but then go high over the fence, rather than fast and flat. I came out of the ring and I said, ‘We have to get the other half of this horse.'”
Throughout his 7-year-old year, Michaels-Beerbaum worked with Shutterfly to build his confidence. At the time, she was campaigning her first championship horse, Stella, and started “backpacking” Shutterfly to shows with the mare to help expose him to the atmosphere.
“I just took my time. I never rode him fast. I just brought him along and he got a lot of experience seeing all sorts of rings. He was super brave and he was [still] spooky, but he was seeing. He would make a mistake here or there, but in general, it was the same horse that I had showed earlier on in Verden. He was very brave and he jumped very high, but he was confident and we knew he was a really good horse.”
Two Steps Forward, One (Enormous) Step Back
That summer, though, Stella had an injury before the CHIO-Aachen. “We were trying to get her to Aachen and we patched her to together to get her [there],” said Michaels-Beerbaum. But after the opening class, which Shutterfly jumped in excellent form, she made the decision not to risk Stella’s health and to ride Shutterfly in the qualifier.
“I said, ‘Let’s keep Stella for the next qualifier, … I think Petey can go in the qualifier.’ That’s how much I believed in the horse. That’s how much experience he had. He was 7-years old and I put him in the first qualifier for the Grand Prix of Aachen.”
As luck would have it, the skies opened up and it started pouring rain during the qualifier. “I was going around the course and he was jumping clear and he had never stopped with me,” remarked Michaels-Beerbaum. But at a skinny combination with liverpools under the jumps, water splashing up from the rain, Shutterfly stopped and she fell off.
“It took me one year to repair that damage that I did. It took me one year to regain his trust,” Michaels-Beerbaum divulged. “The whole trust between horse and rider was lost. It took literally one year to regain it. It just shows you that it’s not all a smooth [journey]. I took a huge step back with him. Nobody liked him. Nobody wanted him. They thought he was spooky and difficult and not that brave. We took an enormous step back by me pushing him at that one event.”
For the next year, Michaels-Beerbaum put in the work to build their relationship back. “It was really about going in the ring, and it was about time, and it was about getting good experience under his belt.”
She trained with Shutterfly at home, made the jumps easy and added liverpools back into the question to get his confidence up. When the duo got back in the show ring, she dropped Shutterfly back down to the young horse classes.
“He was no longer jumping the big classes. He was jumping the youngster classes that were way lower, way easier for him. He didn’t have any sparkling results for basically that whole year.”
Back in Germany a year later, Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly went to a show in Hamburg to compete in young horse classes over the course of a few days. “They set the first two days really nice,” said Michaels-Beerbaum. But come the third day, the course designers upped the challenge.
Sitting ringside watching the course be set, her brother-in-law, Ludgar Beerbaum commented, “They’re setting it really, really hard for young horses.” But he continued, “Shutterfly’s the only one who can jump it.”
In that moment, Michaels-Beerbaum realized that her hard work with Petey over the past year had paid off. “When Ludgar said that, I thought, ‘Wow, maybe everybody realizes he’s good again.'” And by the end of the class, Shutterfly reigned victorious.
Just a couple of months later at the German Championships, Michaels-Beerbaum said Shutterfly looked like the horse he would eventually become. “At that championship was the first time he looked like everything. He won the German Championships with me at 8-years-old. If you look back at those videos, you can see the Shutterfly that went on to win all these accolades.”
Onward and Upward
In 1999, with the help of Shutterfly and her two back-up mounts, Checkmate and Le Mans, Michaels-Beerbaum became the first woman in history to top the FEI World Show Jumping rankings.
“[Shutterfly] brought me to number one in the world,” said Michaels-Beerbaum. “You can see how hard that was because it still hasn’t been accomplished today. Even today, there has not been another woman who’s ever achieved number one in the world, and not even for one month. And we held the position for 24 months.”
Throughout the next six years, Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly claimed countless wins in Nations Cups, World Cup classes, Grands Prix and German Championships. At their first appearance at the FEI World Cup Finals in 2004, the duo claimed second place.
World Cup Champions
In 2005, Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly won their first of three FEI World Cup Finals. But she wasn’t sure it was going to happen after finishing sixth in the first round of competition. “I always thought that you have to win every day to win the World Cup Final,” said Michaels-Beerbaum.
Feeling a little defeated after the first day of the Finals, she received a message from a German fan club. The group came prepared with statistics, and reminded Michaels-Beerbaum that a number of World Cup Finals champions had also finished sixth in the speed round on the first day of competition. “They had the statistics. And I thought to myself, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!'”
With that encouragement, Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly went on to win the 2005 FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In 2008, the duo claimed their second FEI World Cup Finals win in Gothenborg, Sweden. Just one year later in 2009, they claimed their third FEI World Cup Finals champion title back in Las Vegas.
“He won every single day, every leg of the World Cup Final against two other pairs that were top in the world, which was McClain Ward with Sapphire and Albert Zoer with Oki Doki,” regarded Michaels-Beerbaum. “Those were two of the other best horses in the world, and [Shutterfly] consistently stayed on top of them. And he was 16-years-old, which is not a young age. The most perfect win could have been that, because that was fairytale event.”
“King of the World”
At 18-years-old, Shutterfly entered the arena at Aachen and won yet another qualifier. “I remember having tears in my eyes when I came out of the first round because it was so hard and I realized how much he had given me to do that,” said an nostalgic Michaels-Beerbaum.
On that note, her husband, Markus Beerbaum said, “We should retire Shutterfly on that win.” Michaels-Beerbaum was initially baffled. “I kept thinking, ‘But I can win the Grand Prix!'” but then she considered, “What would you do if it was the other way around? What if Shutterfly was you and you were Shutterfly? What would you wish for?”
Come the morning of the Grand Prix, Michaels-Beerbaum had made a decision. “I realized it, it’s exactly what I would wish for—to be retired there on a win in front of the best crowd that loved him so dearly, at the highest note, not not having a rail down, not having him be injured, not having look bad. That’s what I would wish for me as an athlete. So what can I do to be the best partner to him as he’s been the best partner to me for so many years.”
Following the Grand Prix that day, the announcer said, “We’re going to have the prize giving, but there’s one horse you all missed.” Michaels-Beerbaum rode Shutterfly into the ring where he received a standing ovation from 55,000 fans and spectators.
“He looked so beautiful because he was in perfect form. He was totally sound, he had just come off a win on Wednesday and it was Sunday. And he trotted in like king of the world,” shared an emotional Michaels-Beerbaum. “He got a standing ovation and they honored him, and I gave a very brief speech because I was just as emotional, and then all the riders came in and they made a tunnel. I did two victory gallops, then I galloped through the tunnel and out the in-gate again for the final time.”
Shutterfly was retired to Michaels-Beerbaum’s farm in Thedinghausen, Germany, where he spent every day in the field with his “best friend” Checkmate.
“That’s how he lived his life. He went out every single day behind my house. He was really healthy to the very end. He lived a long life.”
On the morning of January 28, 2023, Shutterfly passed away at the age of 30. “It is with a very heavy heart that I am sad to announce that we lost Shutterfly this morning,” Michaels-Beerbaum shared on Facebook. “He was a unique and irreplaceable part of our lives.”
She continued, “I will miss you my friend and I appreciate every moment I had with you. You were the greatest partner anyone could ever have. You will never be forgotten Petey. Rest in peace my love.”
The news of Shutterfly’s passing reached all corners of the equestrian community and condolences came pouring in. “He has received, on Facebook and Instagram, over 53,000 condolences, and that’s incredible,” shared Michaels-Beerbaum.
“When you hear the story of how we had these setbacks in the beginning, and if I had given up on him, he would never have achieved what he could have achieved. It wasn’t a smooth road, it wasn’t easy. So, it was really a fairytale story and he became a fairytale horse.”
Thanks to Absorbine for our coverage leading up to the 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final, including rider interviews, competition reports, photos, videos and more!