Seventeen-year-old Mimi Gochman is no stranger to success in the show ring. As a junior the West Palm Beach, Florida, resident racked up accolades upon accolades, starting in the pony hunters, through the 3’6” equitation and junior hunters, to the U25 grand prix classes and North American Youth Championships.
Within the past year or so, Gochman has set her sights higher—literally. Gochman stepped into the grand prix ring in 2021, finishing a successful Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) circuit by winning the U25 Grand Prix Final aboard Celina BH, before moving on to take the $30,000 National Grand Prix at the Upperville Colt & Horse Show (Virginia) and the $25,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Amateur-Owner/Junior Jumper Grand Prix at the National Horse Show (Kentucky). More recently, she and Celina BH placed third in the $250,000 Sapphire Grand Prix at Devon (Pennsylvania) in May.
Gochman’s consistent success earned her a spot representing the United States in the prestigious International Youth Equestrian Games in Aachen this June, where riders under the age of 18 came from around the world to compete on borrowed horses. There, alongside teammates from Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras, she anchored team North America and turned in a jump-off performance that secured the gold riding Merino Van De Achterhoek, a 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood who’s competed up to the 1.45-meter level.
We caught up with Gochman at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival in Traverse City, Michigan, where she won the $37,000 CSI3* Welcome Stakes aboard Celina BH on July 8—her first stop after returning to the U.S. from Germany—to talk about the FEI Youth Games, her first Aachen experience, her last junior year and her future plans.
Was this your first time competing at Aachen?
It was my very first time. It’s a very prestigious show, and I was honored to be selected to represent the U.S. at the [FEI] Youth Games. The ring is iconic, and it was a very exciting experience for me.
You’ve competed on a number of youth teams before. What was it like competing on a multi-national team in this format, against riders from all over the world?
I really loved meeting other international riders. The show community in the States is a very tight-knit, small group of riders, so it’s very interesting to be able to learn from other young riders, to see their traditions and see how they approach international competition. When we’d discuss courses, some people would have completely different approaches to various fences. I noticed variations in tack cleaning and polishing boots. It’s not that different, obviously, but it was quite interesting to see. I also loved my team. I think we worked really well together, and we all made an effort to get close to one another. It’s definitely one of my favorite experiences I’ve had thus far.
What did the games involve outside the competition?
There were a number of educational opportunities available to us, like anti-doping programs that raised awareness and taught us how to avoid doping at all costs. There were also some concussion programs and how to deal with injuries in the sport and how to come back from them. There was social media training, as well as career development discussions both within equestrian sport and beyond. It was a very good experience. They really tried to make it informative, educational and fun, and I think they did a great job.
How did you get to know Merino Van De Achterhoek? What was it like competing on a completely new horse at such a prestigious venue?
I got very lucky with my draw. Merino Van De Achterhoek was very sweet. He had a good heart and really wanted to compete. His rider from home actually came and helped out a bit so I was able to discuss his potential quirks with them. I was able to spend a good deal of time with him. We came to Aachen the week before the games so we could ride our horses and get to know them before competing, which was also very helpful.
You’ve spent a lot of time showing in Europe. How has that helped you improve as a rider? What differences do you see between showing in Europe and showing in the U.S.?
There are some similarities between showing in Europe versus the States, but the communities are a bit different in the way you sort of know everyone in the U.S., [and] we all help each other. In Europe, there are so many more people I don’t know, but it enables me to learn from others who might have a different perspective than I do.
You’re in your last junior year. Have you been doing the equitation, or what contributed to your decision to focus on jumpers instead?
I’m actually not doing the equitation anymore. It was a very good experience, and it taught me a lot about riding and equestrian sports in general, but I think I got all I could out of it. I had some great finals seasons, some phenomenal horses, and I was able to train with some truly talented professionals, but in the end, the jumpers are the part of the sport that I’d like to focus on. I still do the hunters a bit with my mom—I love those as well—but my energy is centered around the jumpers. It kind of just came together that way.
How has your perspective on the sport changed during your junior career, and how has that changed your approach to it?
As a junior, everything was about winning and points, getting qualified for indoors, etc. As I’ve moved up to the larger jumper classes, it becomes so much harder to win and be quantitatively “successful.” The sport has become so much more about the horses and horse care for me, becoming a better horsewoman and riding the courses properly whether I win or not. And don’t get me wrong, winning is amazing, but I’m now more concerned about caring for and doing what’s best for the animals. It made it so much more of a team effort. “How can I get the most out of the experiences that I’m having? How can I make sure I’m becoming the best horsewoman I can?” These are the questions I ask myself.
How do you balance horses, school, social life, etc., while competing at such a high level?
It’s a very serious sport, so you do need to strike a balance. I have a lot of friends in the horse show world and at school as well, so I do feel socialized enough that I have fun. I think that I can hang out with my friends as much as I can, but when it comes down to it, I do need to prepare for a class more than go out with friends. It’s important to make sure I’m as ready as possible.
In terms of school, it’s a bit different. My high school is very understanding of my situation. While this is my last junior year, I still have another year of high school. I do plan to go to college, to experience other aspects of life and learn, of course. I’m going to ride in college, not for a team or anything, but my own horses while studying. I’m not sure exactly what that plan is at the moment, but I’m figuring it out.
Has your role at Baxter Hill (her family’s farm) shifted since you began competing in the upper levels/as you’ve aged?
Baxter Hill is very much a collective, familial operation: my mom, me, my dad, my sister and Amanda [Derbyshire]. We all run it together. It’s a collaborative effort. As I’ve started to compete in bigger classes, I’ve taken greater responsibility; I’ve learned more about how the barn operates, what things cost, and how to ensure everything runs smoothly as I’ve taken on this larger role at the farm. I’m learning how to voice my opinion about how things should run and how my horses are doing. Baxter Hill will always be a family farm. We love it together. I’m so thankful for my family’s support, including the entirety of the Baxter Hill team, as well as Ken [Berkley] and Scott [Stewart] for their coaching and support.
What are your plans for next year?
My goal is to jump a few three- or four-star Nations Cups, to get myself into some of the teams. I’d like to jump consistently well and solidly in some FEI classes. Maybe start developing some young horses. Hopefully I’ll eventually jump five-star Nations Cups, Aachen, World Games and maybe the Olympics in the future, but you never know. I’m going to hold off on declaring a professional status for now, at least until after college, so I’ll be an amateur next year. I can still jump three-star classes as an amateur [laughs]. I can still learn a lot while in college, and we’ll see where that takes me.