Did you know that showjumping is one of only four Olympic disciplines where men and women compete against one another? (The other three are dressage, eventing and sailing). Although the showjumping medal board at the London Olympics was an all-male affair, these sensational riders promise to do their countries proud — and give men a run for their money.
Currently the highest-ranking lady show jumper in the world (in fourth position), Pénélope Leprevost began riding at three and competing at six. Twenty years later, she won the French National Championships (having placed third the previous year).
Another national title followed in 2007 and after that came many international triumphs, including team silver at the World Equestrian Games in 2010 and in 2014 and team silver at the European Championships in 2011. Second at the FEI World Cup final in Las Vegas, she also placed fourth at the Europeans.
Alongside world-number-one rider Simon Delestre, who is also French, Leprevost will now spearhead the French team’s attempt to conquer a showjumpign medal that has eluded them since Alexandra Ledermann took bronze in Atlanta in 1996.
Image: Pénélope Leprevost competes at the Longines Global Champions Tour, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour
Part of the American team that won gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and at Beijing in 2008, Elizabeth ‘Beezie’ Madden also won individual bronze in 2008. She started riding when she was three and hasn’t looked back ever since.
Madden’s career is peppered with records: she is the first woman to have broken the $1 million mark in earnings in the sport, the first to rank within the top three in the FEI rankings (she’s currently 11th), and the first to win the King George Gold Cup at Hickstead. She is also the only rider to have won the USEF Equestrian of the Year four times.
Image: Beezie Madden competes at the Longines Global Champions Tour, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour
Edwina Tops-Alexander doesn’t come from an equestrian family, which makes her successes all the more remarkable. Having begun riding at eight, she had her first major breakthrough in 1995, when she won the Australian Young Rider Championships. She moved to Europe three years later and accolades soon came in fast and furious.
In 2006, she was the first Australian ever to qualify for the World Championships finals in Aachen and in 2011, at the end of 2009 she became the highest ranking female rider in the FEI rankings (she’s currently 14th) and in 2011 she won her first Longines Global Champions Tour—a feat that she repeated a year later and an especially satisfying triumph for her, seen as she’s married to LGCTA organiser Jan Tops.
A striking rider with an innate sense of style, Tops-Alexander is a brand ambassador for fashion house Gucci (where stylists designed a riding wardrobe specifically for her) and luxury watchmakers Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Image: Edwina Tops-Alexander at the Longines Global Champions Tour, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour
Brazil-born Portuguese rider Luciana Diniz conquered an individual ticket to Rio a few months ago, after an intense campaign that saw her win competitions across the world in the past couple of years.
The daughter of polo player Arnaldo Diniz, and Brazilian dressage champion Lica Diniz, and the sister of Brazilian polo champion Andrè Diniz, little Luciana grew up surrounded by horses. She started out in dressage, like her mother, but the death of a beloved horse pushed her to change disciplines, and she switched to show jumping when she was 11.
A year later, she won her first Championship. At 18, she took the plunge and moved to Europe to train. International victories soon followed and none more so than last year when, having claimed three gold medals, two silvers and one bronze in the Longines Global Tour circuit, she was named Champion of Champions.
Diniz, who has already taken part in two Olympics (Athens in 2004 and London in 2012) also managed to find time to jog, boxe, Zumba dance, do a spot of archery—and write books.
Image: Luciana Diniz is named Champions of Champions at the end of the Doha leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour
Malin Baryard Johnsson began riding when she was six-and won her first Swedish Championship just eight years later at 14.
The Swedish show jumper, who is married to a TV presenter and has done a spot of TV work herself, has often represented Sweden at international competitions, winning team silver at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez in 2002 and two years later at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Image: Malin Baryard Johnsson competes at the Longines Global Champions Tour, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour
For a time, American rider Lucy Davis seemed destined to a career in football. An active young girl, she started riding when she was five, but also began football, which she played competitively until she turned 16. But when two sports became too much and she was faced with a choice, she picked show jumping.
Her career quickly took off. At 24 years of age, she has taken part in the Longines Global Champions Tour (winning the grand prix in the Lausanne leg when she was just 21) and represented the US in many international competitions, including the 2015 World Cup Final in Las vegas, where she placed ninth.
Earlier this year, she admitted in an interview to American magazine Chronicle of the Horse that competing in Rio was her ambition — and now that she has been selected, she may well aspire to a medal.
Image: Lucy Davis wins the Lausanne leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour in 2013, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour
One of the world’s most successful young riders, Jessica Mendoza is Britain’s travelling reserve to Rio. But the British team wouldn’t be at the Olympics in the first place if she weren’t for her — she was instrumental in securing Britain’s qualification for Rio at last year’s FEI European Championships in Aachen, where the team placed fourth.
After a spectacular year in which she was also part of the team that won the Rotterdam Nations Cup in 2015 and secured silver in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup final in Barcelona, Mendoza was named Longines Rising Star of 2015 at the FEI Awards in Puerto Rico.
This year, too, has started on a good note for Mendoza: she was part of the team that won gold in the Rome leg of the Nations Cup—and is now very close to achieving her dream of riding at the Olympics.
Image: Jessica Mendoza competes at the Longines Global Champions Tour, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour
American-born German rider Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum is Germany’s travelling reserve. The daughter of film director Richard Michaels and actress Kristina Hansen, Michaels-Beerbaum grew up with horses and, after graduating from Princeton University, decided to go and train in Germany with Paul Schockemöhle during the summer of 1991. What was meant to be a season abroad turned into years, a marriage and a change of nationality.
Michaels-Beerbaum met and married German show jumper Markus Beerbaum, brother of another Olympian, Ludger. She was part of the team that won a gold medal at the 1999 European Championships in Hickstead and at
the 2005 World Cup Final in Las Vegas, as well as the one that claimed silver at the 2004 World Cup Final in Milan. She also claimed several Nations Cup wins and ranked first in the FEI rankings in 2008 (currently, she’s 21st).
Image: Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum competes at the Longines Global Champions Tour, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour