Michael Matz (Courtesy Show Jumping Hall of Fame)

I admire most all riders who have made it to the top and are consistently proving themselves in the grand prix arenas of the world. Still, there’s a handful of riders that continue to impress and inspire me with their talents, personalities, and attitudes towards the magnificent sport of show jumping.

Mclain Ward

Mclain’s a beautiful rider. Grand prix jumping takes a lot of strength and movement, and few riders can make those rounds look like 3′ medal trips. In the stickiest of situations, Mclain remains quiet and in constant motion with his mount. He hardly seems to falter, and grace is his forte; watching him ride is an extreme pleasure, and I hope to one day be as correct and graceful in the saddle as he is.

Beezie Madden

Beezie is one tough woman, and like Mclain, she is an absolutely gorgeous rider. What I most admire about her, though, is her mental prowess. She often serves as the anchor rider for the US team, and while I’m sure there are nerves at work under that red hunt coat, she always appears calm and collected. Her horses jump outstandingly for her, so I assume that she’s a master at controlling her jitters and focusing on the task at hand, whether it be schooling a young horse in his first prix or turning in the last team trip in the Olympics with a medal on the line.

Richard Spooner

While having perfect form takes years of work and mental control takes lots of practice, having the guts to pull off risky, class-winning rides takes a whole other form of preparation. Having nerves of steel–and the skill to pull off what some call crazy moves–doesn’t seem to be a learned trait. You have to be born with it, and Richard Spooner certainly was. Known as the Master of Faster, he always finds one more ounce of speed and power in his horses, and isn’t afraid of cutting corners and galloping headlong to looming triple bars. What I admire most about this rider, though, is that he does all these things with careful foresight and control. There’s no reckless cowboy kicking here; Richard thinks, plans, and executes his rides with accuracy and flair. If there’s a millisecond on the table, he’s going to figure out a way to get it.

Michael Matz

Forget the whole pulling kids out of a burning plane part–Michael is a class rider who competed for the US in the Olympics, carried our flag in the closing ceremonies, won the 1981 show jumping world cup, and continued his passion for horses by becoming a successful racehorse trainer. For someone torn between a love of show jumping and the thrill of the track, Michael’s a perfect example that anything is within reach if you want it enough.