“I never really imagined that I would win one of these grand prix!”

In her 20s, Erin Davis-Heineking (USA) competed at Florida’s Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) as an amateur jumper.

She’s 43 now and has exactly one international horse, which she competed in all of five FEI events last year. It’s a notable number given that it’s double her annual average for FEI competitions in the past decade.

In a good year, Davis-Heineking, mother to adorably sassy four-year-old Ella and wife of German show jumper Christian Heineking, typically competes in one to three FEI shows on the west and midwest circuits. Then there was a 17 month hiatus between March 2017 and August 2018 when she didn’t compete in international classes at all.

This week, the amateur underdog didn’t just return to Wellington and take on the FEI division of the east coast’s most challenging winter circuit. She rode away with her first ever 3* win against a field of professionals that included the likes of national team veterans Kent Farrington (USA), Shane Sweetnam (IRL), Amanda Derbyshire (GBR), Cameron Hanley (IRL) and Spencer Smith (USA).

And she did it with the horse that brought her out of retirement two years ago.

“[Leonie] was a sale horse of my husband’s, and he was trying to get me back in the saddle,” said Davis-Heineking of the now 11-year-old Oldenburg mare.

“He told me to play around with her at home. I did, and before I knew it, he had talked me into going in a small grand prix close by. I almost won it, and got the taste again. Honestly, I never saw myself here two years ago, so it’s been quite a ride.”

The pair, described on Davis-Heineking’s Facebook page as a “two alpha females,” led the $137,000 Adequan® Grand Prix CSI3* at WEF from start to finish, posting the first of six clear rounds over Kelvin Bywater’s (GBR) opening track.

They returned first over the short course to set the time to beat at 45.51 seconds with a fault-free, if not entirely mistake free, jump-off round.

“I was a little bit in disbelief that I had left a couple of jumps up out there,” said Davis-Heineking. “It didn’t quite go as I planned; I had an idea in my mind of the numbers that I wanted to do, and then right before I went in, my trainer/husband [Christian Heineking] basically said to leave one out from all of those. So, I took a shot at the last line and tried to do the six. I chipped in a seven, and she left it up. I was really proud of her.”

It was the kind of round that stokes the latent grand prix ambitions of amateurs the world over—relatable in its imperfection, entirely respectable in its execution, spectacular in its result. (Watch their round here). The kind of round that has even your competitors rooting for you.

Said Olympic silver medalist Farrington, who took third with upcoming mount Kaprice: “Erin had an amazing round. I’ve known her since I was a kid riding in the Midwest, so I’m really excited to see her here in Wellington and coming out with a big win.”

Davis-Heineking never imagined she’d win a “Saturday Night Lights” Grand Prix at WEF. But chances are a few more amateur owners are now because of her.