Wellington, FL - Amateur and Junior Hunter competition commenced today at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), and Leah Schwendeman and her own Gisele dominated the Pine Hollow Amateur-Owner 3'3" Hunter division this week. They won three classes over fences, and placed fifth in the under saddle to lock up the championship. The reserve championship was awarded to La Fayette, owned and ridden by Deborah Perkins.
Schwendeman has had the ride on Gisele since the middle of the summer when her trainer, Heidi Fish, first spotted the mare. "She is the sweetest mare I've ever seen. She's got plenty of step, has a good jump, and does good lead changes. She's so brave and is really a lot of fun," Schwendeman said her six-year-old Swedish Warmblood.
Although Gisele is a green horse, she is learning the ropes of the show ring very quickly. The duo emerged victorious in the handy hunter round today, making an impressive inside turn to secure the win. "She was incredible in the handy. I did that inside turn that I look at now and don't even know how I did it," Schwendeman smiled. "The first couple times I did the handy with her, turning was a total mystery. Now if I turn she looks where we're going and she's ready for anything," she continued.
The pair competed during the first three weeks of the FTI WEF, and plan to continue throughout the rest of the circuit, depending on whether or not Gisele gets sold. After the FTI WEF, Schwendeman "won't show again until Kentucky in May, but it also depends on if I have a new horse and how green it is," she noted.
Schwendeman, a Belleville, Illinois native, has been riding since she was six years old. She has had many successes throughout her career, most notably with her well-known hunter, La Cara. "I took some time off after La Cara. I needed to take a break and wasn't sure I wanted to keep going because it just wasn't as fun after her. Then I found this one and fell in love with her, so my fire came back," she laughed. "She's just amazing. I can't even believe it," said a teary-eyed Schwendeman of Gisele after accepting her championship award. "I never expected this. She is so smart and has come so far."
The 2010 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival has 12 weeks of top competition running from January 13 through April 4. WEF is run by Equestrian Sport Productions, LLC, and Wellington Equestrian Partners and held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. All 12 shows are "AA" rated and Jumper Rated 6, and more than $5.5 million in prize money will be awarded.
Photo Credit: Leah Schwendeman and Gisele Dominate the Pine Hollow Amateur-Owner 3'3" Hunters at the 2010 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo © 2010 Randi Muster/Mustphoto, Inc., Official Sport Photographer of the 2010 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival.