By: Christine Rhodes
Lessons learned in the show ring are often lessons that stay with a rider for life. These lessons can also make us wise beyond our years. Sisters Sophie and Mimi Gochman are perfect examples, as their time in the show ring has given them values, experiences and lessons that will carry them forward into life.
“I’ve learned to always get back up, no matter how hard you fall,” said Sophie. “It’s the same with life. The most successful people in life are the ones who have grit and get back on their feet even when they’ve been hit hard.”
Wise words coming from a 13-year-old, but lessons are also learned from family, and the Gochman parents, Becky and David, are strong supporters of their girls. “My mom is the reason Mimi and I ride, and I think it means a lot to the entire family that we get to share riding experiences together,” Sophie said. “My mom has taught us so much about the sport and encourages us to exceed our goals and set our standards high.”
Mimi, 11, agrees with her sister. “We help each other and are always rooting for each other. My dad doesn’t ride, but he participates and owns all the horses,” she said.
The Importance of Family
“To share this passion with my children is an incredible blessing,” said Becky, who started her riding career when she was a teen and now competes in the Amateur Owner hunters. “It brings us outside, loving on animals and learning to better ourselves through teamwork.”
Becky shares a sweet story that emphasizes the bonding that has taken place because they’re a horse family. “Someone gave us the idea to bake cookies for the girls when they fell off, and that kept it fun — until we were eating so many cookies daily that we had to stop,” Becky said with a chuckle. “They’d fall off sometimes twice a day.”
Today, Sophie and Mimi are holding their own at the top in the pony divisions, and successfully learning the ropes in the junior hunters, children’s jumpers and equitation with the support of their family and under the guidance of trainers Scott Stewart, Ken Berkley, Amanda Derbyshire and Richard Slocum.
Pony Finals, held annually at the Kentucky Horse Park, is a special time of year for the Gochman family. And it continues to offer chances for the girls to grow and learn. “Pony Finals is special because the show gives kids and ponies all over the country the chance to ride in a big ring,” said Mimi. “When I was 7 years old, I went to Pony Finals for the first time. I had a small pony named Embellish and I unfortunately fell off in the hack because of a spook, so I had to come back into the ring first in the jumping phase. My round went really well and that day was an incredible learning experience. I didn’t win any ribbons but I did win a sportsmanship award.”
The family has returned to Pony Finals each year and in 2015 Mimi placed second in the Small Regular Pony division on Dr. Betsee Parker’s Love Me Tender, and Sophie won the USEF Pony Medal Championship. “Winning the Pony Medal was very meaningful to me,” Sophie said. “I didn’t win anything in any of the over fences classes so it started out as a rough experience. It came as a total surprise when my luck changed and I won the Medal.”
Becky is quick to add that Pony Finals can bring out a range of emotions for parents. “It can be joyful, frustrating or enlightening — just like real life,” she said. “As a mom I love Pony Finals because I get to see children who are excited about this sport and about their love for ponies. Sometimes it feels a bit stressful but thinking about all the children gathered and how they’re living their dreams brings a smile to my face.”
Riders to Admire
While many young pony riders look up to the Gochman girls, Sophie and Mimi have their own riders they consider role models. “I admire Margie Engle because, like me, she’s short,” Sophie said. “Yet she’s very tough and one of the best jumper riders in the world.”
Mimi looks up to her own trainer, Scott Stewart. “He’s won more awards than anyone can count and he’s one of the best hunter riders in the United States,” Mimi said. “He’s fascinating to watch because his movements are so subtle yet very effective. His horses always look happy and proud to be under his lead. Scott is someone I can definitely learn from in my future riding career.”
The future looks bright for the Gochman family as they’ll continue to show and travel together as a family. Both girls will show at Pony Finals and Sophie said beyond that, she’s looking forward to Devon and the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival. “I love to waterski, tube and swim in Lake Michigan after I finish showing,” Sophie said.
Mimi’s looking forward to the challenge of the Washington International Horse Show. “The small indoor ring makes you really have to think about how you’re going to maneuver around the jumps and use the ends of the rings,” she said. “The horses are stabled under tents on the streets, which makes Washington interesting. I think the horses actually enjoy the bustle and attention they get from the passersby who don’t see this every day.”
Life Lessons, Future Goals
Their hard work with their trainers and horses has led to big goal setting for the Gochman girls. “My ultimate riding goal is to be competitive in the High Junior Jumpers, the 3’6” Junior Hunters and the Big Eq,” Sophie said, adding that she also has goals outside of the equestrian world. “I want to become an actor. I enjoy creative writing and want to be a screenwriter also.”
While Mimi would like to become a professional hunter jumper rider, she’d also like to travel the world. She’s currently focusing on her education and striving to be an honor student.
Their time spent in the saddle has taught Sophie and Mimi lessons that will stick with them well beyond their pony days. As the 2016 show season continues, the Gochmans will continue to learn, improve their skills, achieve their goals and make more memories as a family.
About the writer: Christine Rhodes is an amateur hunter rider who enjoys combining her journalism goals with her love of horses. She resides in Hickory, North Carolina, and loves the mountains and new adventures.