Ronnie Beard: How To Make an Olympic Champion

Wellington, Fla. – August 10, 2016 – With the countdown to Show Jumping at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro dwindling day by day, it’s common for fans to recall incredible athletes and moments that filled them with their country’s pride. For men like Ronnie Beard, the memories are up close and personal.

The famous horseman and owner of Wyndmont, Inc. continues to achieve greatness through the lenses of the athletes and horses he’s developed into legends. The best part is, he’s not done.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of riders and horses that were of Olympic caliber,” Beard said. “My very first rider to compete at the Olympic Games was Robert Ridland.”

Ridland, the current Chef d’ Equipe for the United States Equestrian Team, rode for Beard when he trained at Winter Place Farm in Maryland. Beard and the eager professional rider made plans to compete in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal aboard Jet Run, who ultimately earned a plaque in the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.

Prior to the Olympics though, the 16.3h bay Thoroughbred was sold to Mexico and Fernando Senderos. The duo went on to win an individual gold medal in the 1975 Pan American Games and compete in the 1976 Games against the U.S.

Needless to say, Beard and Ridland needed a new plan.

“When we sold him, Robert was left without a horse,” Beard explained. “At the time, we had another horse in the barn named Southside. The horse was recovering from an injury, yet I knew he was a talented horse. I told Robert Southside was going to be his ticket to the Olympics, however once the injury was resolved, we found another issue. Southside would not jump water.”

Beard and Ridland spent a lot of time and effort to make the talented Thoroughbred comfortable with jumping water. “It was a matter of slow training,” explained Beard. “Winter Place was a large property and we built little liverpools all over the facility. Whenever the horse would go out, he would jump over a liverpool or a stream, or something until he became very comfortable with water. It took a lot of discipline and a lot of training until he was confident jumping water.”

In fact, it took three years to train and prepare him for the Games, but they did it. In 1976, Ridland, Southside and team USA placed fourth on the biggest world stage.

Shedding some light on what the selection process was back then, Beard recalled, “The team was run by Bertalan de Némethy and there were not many people really considered for the Olympics. Bert would basically hand pick people he thought had international caliber. He would invite them to train in sessions and coach them. For so many years, he had a fairly set team.”

That team consisted of legendary riders like William “Bill” Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, George Morris and Kathryn “Kathy” Kusner. Later, that team grew to include Carol Hoffman and Christine Jones.

At that time,  Beard was working with future legends, Buddy Brown, Katie Monahan Prudent, Melanie Smith and Robert Ridland.  These athletes were very appealing to Némethy and considered to be the next generation of show jumping superstars.

“Although the riders had to go to trials, Bert would either bless you or not bless you,” Beard described. “It was very much under his control and it was very selective. We were fortunate to be able to edge our way in because they were great riders and we had the best horses.”

Beard continued, “In today’s world, it’s so much different. Basically, you earn your spot. There is a ranking list and you work hard to get on the ranking list.”

Currently, Beard works and trains with Matt Williams, who claimed his spot on the Australian Olympic team for the 2016 Games, a partnership that only came together within the last year.

Beard said, “Last August, Matt didn’t even think he’d be considered for the Olympic team because he didn’t have a horse.”

That all changed once he was paired with Valinski S at the beginning of the year. Williams and the Dutch Warmblood were a perfect match and quickly gained success at the Grand Prix level.

“Valinski was being ridden by Michael Dorman,” Beard explained. “He did all the riding and training.  Michael truly outdid himself with this horse.  He made Valinski. When we bought him, Michael initially did all the riding and training. When he stepped down, Matt got a beautifully made horse to ride.”

Williams and Valinski S, described as “a large pony,”consistently placed in grand prix qualifiers around the country and eventually represented the Australian team during two Nations Cup events.  The results of these efforts resulted in Williams and Valinski S being selected for the 2016 Olympics.

It is a bit uncommon to see a long-time supporter of U.S. sport backing a foreign rider yet for Beard it was about seeing Valinski S make the most of an opportunity and showcase his talent on the world stage.

“It’s a little difficult for me,” Beard explained about his unique position. “I’m in the same position that Jane Clark is in. Jane and I are both on the High Performance Committee of the U.S. Equestrian Team. So, we actually helped select the US team. And, we both have foreign riders. Our hearts are with the USA winning, there’s no doubt about that. We’re totally behind Team U.S.A. It just so happens that we don’t have a rider from this country. That’s where we were found ourselves.. She was with Ben [Maher] and I was with Matt, and they’re both going to the Games.”

Beard continued, “I feel in my heart that it’s Matt, Valinski and myself as individuals and they happen to be on a team and giving a score to the Australian team. If they could come together and place well, that’s important to me. I want them to do well, and I’m very pleased that they both have the opportunity to do so.”

It is more than just one event or one country for Beard, it is about helping riders achieve success on the world stage at any major championship. And it is a recipe that he has perfected time and time again.

“To me it’s not just the Olympics, it’s any of the championships, whether it’s the World Cup or World Equestrian Games,” Beard said. “To qualify and to get there is a big deal. Just to make it is an achievement worth celebrating. Robert and Matt were not my only riders to make it to the Olympics, Scott Nederlander qualified in 1980 before the boycott. I had Michael Dorman qualify for the World Cup Finals on Olisco [1990], and he was the highest placed American that year. I took Hiro Tomizawa to the Olympic Games in Barcelona [1992] and to the World Championships in Stockholm where he was the highest place Japanese rider ever and finished in seventh place. The list goes on, and I’m excited to continue developing horses and riders, now.”

While some may say that Beard has had his fair share of luck in selecting and buying great horses over the years, he prefers to call it instinct.

“I pick horses that give me a feeling,” Beard expressed. “I like a horse with a lot of class. I’m drawn to it. If they have the heart, you take your time and give them the confidence they need. It’s about developing them and making them comfortable in what they’re doing.”

Beard and Dorman continue to do that. Valinski S is one of their  high-caliber horses. In fact, their roster of super horses has already earned accolades that lead Beard and Dorman to believe they can be the next Olympic horse for their team.

Over the years, Beard has learned many tricks of the trade. He’s learned new styles of teaching and training while remaining true to himself.

Describing his training style, Beard said, “Have I learned more? Yes. Are there new things that I add in to my training? Yes. However, my horsemanship has not changed. I strongly believe it’s about taking your time and developing horses. You have to have a real program in order to make it. You have to have a goal and be persistent and stick with your program. And you have to understand there may be lots of ups and downs. When that happens, you just have to stick with your plan. You can’t take short cuts, taking care of the horse through the process, from beginning to end is the most important part.”

Beard achieved more in his life than many dream of and he considers himself very lucky to have done so. And while he may be unsure what the next challenge will be, he is sure that he and his Wyndmont team will continue to develop champions.   

“It isn’t in the individual moments,” Beard said about looking back at his achievements and where he is now. “I’m very pleased with my career. From being a kid in Virginia, it’s been everything that I ever could’ve asked for. I’ve been able to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do and more. Let’s see what else the future holds for me and our team at Wyndmont.”