And Jump Into History She Did
The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, a fairly new concept conceived in 2013, is the Triple Crown of the show jumping world. Linking together the four most prestigious, most difficult, and highest-paying Grands Prix, the Grand Slam challenges the world’s top riders to achieve utmost perfection in the chase for the ultimate title. The most recent winner of a Grand Slam competition, along with earning the highest share of prize money, is crowned the “live contender.” Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum says of the title, “The Rolex Grand Slam is the crown jewel of the equestrian sport. It is every show-jumper’s aim to win it.”
We live in a world dominated by men’s sports. If you haven’t read Jay Bilas’s twitter feed lately, a women’s field hockey game was called in overtime so the university could use the field to set off fireworks for a football game. What world allows that to be okay? Answer: our world. Men’s sports are simply prioritized. They bring in the money. Fans watch on TV. These men become the “famous athletes” everyone in the world aspires to be.
But show jumping is a window into a world that looks a little bit better. Enter: a level playing field. Men and women compete against one another. No competition is divided by gender. Some argue male riders have added strength and athleticism that their female competitors do not, but that has proven irrelevant as of late. The Rolex Grand Slam is just another equestrian event at which men and women compete as equals for the title of a lifetime. And that title was most recently won by a woman.
Elizabeth (Beezie) Madden took home $1 Million in prize money on September 8 as the winner of the CP International Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows with Abigail Wexner’s Darry Lou. The pair proved to be masters of the sport, jumping two flawless clear rounds and being the only rider to finish the entire class with no rails down. She’s no stranger to the venue, nor the class itself, which she had already won once in 2005 aboard Judgement. This win, however, made Madden the first ever Live Grand Slam Contender who also happened to be female.
The course, designed by Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela, was tremendously technical, and the world’s top riders fell victim to the course’s difficult tests. World-ranked number one, Steve Guerdat, who jumped clear in round one, accumulated 16 faults in the second round, showing that men held no edge over women, as Madden sailed home on a total score of one time fault.
Though this was a huge victory for Madden, she’s captured so many monumental wins over the course of her career, making her one of the best this sport has to offer. She’s been a member of two gold-medal-winning US teams at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and she’s won FEI World Cup Finals not once but twice, in 2013 and 2018. She was the first woman to be crowned champion of the King George Gold Cup in 2014, and if that wasn’t enough she came back in 2015 and slid onto the exclusive list of back-to-back winners of the class. Her accolades continue on forever, and she’s nowhere near done.
The previous live contender, though a male rider, belonged to a female horse. Prior to Madden’s win, American rider Kent Farrington and his mare Gazelle conquered an impressive triple-clear (two rounds and a jump-off) to take the CHIO Aachen International Grand Prix in August. This mare showed her agility and speed as the competition came down to a jump-off with multiple clear rides, of which hers was the fastest. The sport has a way of seeming the least sexist of any I know of, with any combination of male and female horse and rider having equal chance at any given competition.
Horses and men have a powerful history, one could say. Horses were so strongly linked to the military heroes of the war-torn world that they became subjects of male power. The power is shifting, however, as women are emerging victorious more and more frequently at the top of this sport. At the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, Germany’s Simone Blum took home the Individual Gold Medal and became the World Champion after being the sole competitor to jump five (!) clear rounds at 1.60 meters. She accomplished this task with her agile and exquisite mare DSP Alice, taking the “girl power” up a notch higher.
So what do women everywhere have to learn from show jumping? They’re never inferior. Women’s accomplishments in today’s world are every bit as unbelievable as men’s. For every NFL star breaking records there’s a female rider, gymnast or scholar breaking even more records. The future is bright for females, and I’m proud to be part of a sport that recognizes and celebrates that. I’m proud to compete in a sport against men and know that I CAN beat them, after seeing the leading women in my sport do just the same. I’m proud to know any mare has every chance to beat any gelding or stallion on any day. Girl power is very much alive in show jumping, and more so now than ever. Thanks to women like Beezie, Simone, and so many more legends that are just beginning to stake their claim in the sport, it’s the woman’s time to shine, knowing she has no limits.