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Aug 19, 2019 11:05 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

One-On-One With Top Junior Riders Sophie and Mimi Gochman

Sophie Gochman receiving her gold medal after winning the 2018 USEF Junior Jumper National Championship (Prix des States) at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg.
Aug 19, 2019 12:56 PM

Mimi and Sophie Gochman have never known a life without horses.

The sisters are two of the most successful junior riders in the country, traveling both domestically and abroad to compete in some of the most prestigious shows in the world, racking up tri-color ribbons and championship trophies everywhere they go. Attending the Hampton Classic has been an end-of-summer tradition for the girls and their parents, David and Becky Gochman, and they always seem to do particularly well at the weeklong show, which caps off the summer show season for many of the country’s top riders.

The Gochman sisters will be back at the Hampton Classic again this year, showing several horses from their family’s Baxter Hill Farm, based in Wellington, Florida, in the hunter, equitation and jumper divisions. Mimi, who will turn 15 the week of the show, will try to defend her title in the $10,000 Equitation Championship while also showing in the junior hunter and jumper divisions. Sophie, 16, will also show throughout the week, mainly in the equitation and jumper divisions.

The sisters are coming off an impressive performance in early August at the North American Youth Championships in North Salem, New York. In what was their first showing there, they both brought home gold medals: Sophie in the Young Rider division and Mimi in the Junior division. It was only the second time in the history of the NAYRC that a sister duo have both won gold in the same competition.

Their mother, Becky Gochman, is responsible for introducing them to the sport, putting them on horseback almost as soon as they could walk. Ms. Gochman is also an avid equestrian and has competed to great success at the Hampton Classic and other shows in the amateur-owner hunter divisions with her own horses.

The sisters recently took time out of their busy schedules to talk to the Southampton Press about their lifelong love affair with horses, the challenges of balancing schoolwork and other priorities in a sport that consumes so much of their time and has them on the road so often, and what else they want to accomplish in their already illustrious junior careers.

Question: You both started riding at a very young age, so obviously it’s been a lifelong love affair, and of course your mother is an accomplished rider as well. Was there a certain moment when you realized how much you loved it and wanted to pursue riding and showing at such a high level? Was there a specific horse or pony that solidified your love for the sport?

Mimi Gochman: I have always been a rider. It is something that I have always known, done, and loved. I don’t remember a certain day, horse, or pony that reassured my love for the sport, but there were definitely many special animals throughout my riding journey.

Sophie Gochman: My love for riding always came naturally. Although there was never a specific time when it clicked that this is what I wanted to do, it was almost assumed. There were many ponies and horses that definitely pushed my career forward and encouraged me to branch out the riding. For example, I always thought I wouldn’t like the equitation, and when I got my first eq horse, Contelido (aka Connor), I didn’t think I’d stay in the equitation for more than a year. Connor is such an amazing horse and taught me so much that I actually started to enjoy the equitation and focus on it equally as much as other divisions.

Q: Tell me about some of your top career highlights, what you consider your biggest wins so far?

MG: My three major accomplishments have been winning the NAYC [North American Youth Championships] Junior Individual Gold medal, being fourth at Maclay Finals, and winning the Hampton Classic Equitation Championship [in 2018]. Receiving individual gold at NAYC was very exciting for me because it was my first podium finish in a Nation’s Cup format championship. Finishing fourth at Maclay Finals was a huge honor because it required extreme focus from me during the testing phase, and teamwork between me and my horse during the flat and jumping portions. Lastly, winning the Hampton Classic Equitation Championship. That class was very challenging because it was on the big Grand Prix field with obstacles such as a water jump, bank jump, and some in-ground liverpools that make the course specifically harder.

SG: My three biggest wins have been winning the Prix de States individual gold medal, the NAYRC individual gold medal, and a 2* Grand Prix at the Miami leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour. Prix de States and NAYRC are special because they follow a Nation’s Cup format, which is unique for junior championships, and they require a lot of consistency and the ability to stay calm under pressure. The Grand Prix was a big win because it was against professionals.

Q: What are some of the best parts about the competitive equestrian lifestyle, and what are some of the most challenging parts? How do you manage balancing the travel and logistics with your schooling?

MG: I think, for one, competitive equestrian riding requires organization and focus that doesn’t always come naturally. I think balancing school is something that I have had to learn over the years, but thankfully my school has always been very helpful with communication. I also have a tutor from Palm Beach International Tutoring Center that can travel to the shows as well, which makes the whole missing school process much easier as well. I think the most challenging part of riding is all the change that happens throughout one horse show day. Classes shift, they start super early and can run late. This makes days extremely long and not only does it affect the rider, but also the horse. Since there are other live beings involved with this sport, as a rider I have to know how my horse is feeling and take that all into account.

SG: One aspect of the competitive equestrian lifestyle that has made my life a lot more interesting is the amount of travel required to ride at the top level. It has taken me all over America, as well as Europe, and I love learning about and experiencing different cultures. Another fun part of the equestrian lifestyle is friendships I’ve made. This is not uncommon in sports, but whereas most popular sports are team sports, riding is an individual one so all your friends are your competitors. I think it’s really important to learn how to compete against someone and then be able to get off your horse and set your competitiveness aside and be close friends with them. On the flip side, a lot of travel can be exhausting, as well as early hours and long days. I have had to give up a lot of my social life at school, as well as most of my other extracurricular activities. I have tutors from PBIA who help me catch up on my work, and Spence has been very generous and helpful with letting me miss school.

Q: It seems the Hampton Classic is one of your favorite shows, and you do very well there. Explain why you love the Classic so much and what sets it apart from other shows. What are some of your favorite Hampton Classic moments over the years? Is there anything you look forward to when you come to the Classic, certain foods or boutiques or other stuff that is maybe not related to riding?

MG: First let me mention the scenery. It is beautiful with all its green fields and bright colors. The Classic is just a happy place to be. I think one thing that sets the Hampton Classic apart is that it is one of the final summer shows and something to look forward to. Not only are the fields always in pristine condition but the shops in the back and the [competition for best designed table in the Grand Prix tent] make it a fun show for non-riders as well. The Hampton Classic always tends to fall on my birthday, so some of my favorite moments have been sharing ice cream cake with fellow riders and family, and winning the equitation championship last year. A lot of friends and family attend the Hampton Classic as well, which makes it fun for me to show them the sport I love. I always look forward to the Hampton Classic. This year the show will be extra special because my mom’s shop will be in the Boutique Garden. The shop is called Farm Stand and it has natural home goods and cute clothes.

SG: The Hampton Classic is one of the only American shows on the grass, which adds a fun challenge, but also makes it really beautiful. It’s a world class competition with top riders from across the country and the globe. It’s also the last show of the summer, which always makes it memorable. I don’t have any specific favorite memory, but winning there is always an honor. My favorite day is definitely Sunday, when everyone gets really dressed up and decorates their tables. There are so many cute boutiques, I don’t think I could choose a favorite.

Q: Talk about some of your mentors and people who have really helped you in your riding careers. Tell me some things they’ve said or taught you that are your “guiding principles” so to speak, or nuggets of wisdom that have really stuck with you.

MG: Some people who have really been mentors throughout my riding career have been my mom, Becky Gochman, and also [trainers] Amanda Derbyshire, Ken Berkeley, and Stacia Madden. My mom is the woman who brought me into the sport and I never would have discovered it at such a young age if it wasn’t for her. She introduced me to a lifelong passion that I always hope to keep with me. Amanda Derbyshire has always been there for me. She is basically like another sister. She was there from day one and has always done her best to make riding fun and successful. She has advised me in ways that have boosted my career immensely. Ken Berkeley, where do I even begin? He has been my trainer for the majority of my junior career and I would not be riding at the level I am today or doing any of the things I am now if it weren’t for him. He has a unique teaching style that has pushed me to be the best person and rider I can be. He has always wanted success for me and my sister and he has really taught me how to do that. Not only is Ken my trainer, but also a person that I look up to as a rider. Ken has made me a strong rider, and I will always be thankful to him. He has also taught me to be able to ride any horse I am put on. The sport of riding would never be the same to me without him and I have to thank him for everything that he has done for me. Last but not least, Stacia Madden. Although she is a newer trainer for me, she has already taught me so much and made me so happy. She introduced me to a whole other part of horse jumping and has made equitation amazing for me. She not only instructs me, but she has also taught me how to correctly analyze a line and know which path is the best for my horse. She has taught me how to think on my feet and has always prepared me for testing.

SG: I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of the best trainers in the country who have taught me so much. One thing that has really made me into a stronger rider is practicing as much as you can without stirrups, which Ken Berkeley taught me. Stacia Madden always reminds me to stay focused on the test the course is asking you. Those two “tricks” have really helped me improve as a rider.

Q: Tell me about your relationships with your animals and how you create that all-important bond of trust and love with your horses. How do you connect with them and take care of them when you’re not in the saddle? Also, talk about the personalities of your horses and any little quirks they have that you really love.

MG: I love all of my horses. Since communication vocally is limited I try to find as many ways as I can to show they are appreciated and loved. Grazing, handwalking, and just going into their stalls are all ways I try to communicate that love towards them. I owe everything to them. They are all slightly different and thankfully I have gotten to know each of them pretty well. Each individual horse has its own quirks and little things that they like or don’t like and I try to do as they like. I think that good riding creates a great trust between horse and rider. I have a great trust for my horses and I hope they trust me as well.

SG: Riding is such an incredible sport because you create an athletic bond with an animal. Not only do I love my horses, but I have to trust them and they have to trust me. I always have to thank them by giving them treats, extra pats, or grazing them. All my horses are very unique: Connor’s favorite foods are donuts and birthday cake, Bunny has a nose twitch, which makes her look like a bunny rabbit, and Saskia is a bit of a spook. I’m so lucky to have all these nice horses and I love them all.

Q: What are some of your short-term and long-term goals in your riding careers and in life in general? Are you interested in college at some point? What do you hope to achieve in your careers, and where do you envision yourself down the road in terms of your relationship with riding and showing?

MG: I hope that riding can always be a part of my life. I have been fortunate enough at a young age to have it be a huge part of my life. I am so thankful for this sport and want to keep it in my life. As far as goals go, I want to continue to ride in the high junior jumpers and equitation classes. I do hope to move up to U25s and to do a 2* Grand Prix.

SG: My short-term goals are to place top 10 in all the equitation finals and to have a good overall finals. My long-term goal is to move up to the 3* and 4* Grand Prix. I’m definitely going to college. I’m not really sure what I want to achieve in my riding career after college, but I think that riding will always be a part of my life in some way, shape, or form.

Q: If someone asked you, “Why do you love riding so much?” and you had to try to explain what you get out of it and why you devote so much of your time and energy to it, how would you explain it?

MG: I think the best part about riding and the reason I love it so much is the connection between rider and horse. The satisfaction of doing a course really well or just when a horse puts their head on your shoulders or in your lap is why I do this sport. It is so challenging yet so rewarding. To see a fellow rider have the same success and the same connection with their horses is another thing that makes me continue to be in the horse world. Riding is the only other sport that has another animal as a main partner and it is one of the most special things ever. When you can tell a horse is having fun in a class or lesson, or they’re just enjoying a trail makes me the happiest. I think seeing the horses happy and proud of what they can do can be one of the most rewarding feelings ever.

SG: I love riding so much because of several things. One, I love horses and the bonds I create with them. But, riding in general is just very fun; I get an adrenaline rush every time I go into the ring and I get to know what flying feels like. Even though it can be exhausting, I always miss it after I don’t ride for a couple days. It taught me how to be passionate about something, taught me about determination, and how to not crack under pressure. I couldn’t imagine a life without riding, and I’m so thankful for it!

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