Amanda Derbyshire likes a good, solid plan, and after her first round in the Winter Equestrian Festival’s $134,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI3* on March 16, she was in a good position to formulate one: last to go in the jump-off. She watched her competition navigate the course and created a strategy to win.
“I did actually plan nine [strides from jumps] 2 to 3 in the jump-off and ended up doing eight,” Derbyshire recalled. “Then I just kept going. I was really lucky in the double at the end; I didn’t have much control by then. Luck was on my side.”
Aboard David and Becky Gochman’s 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Roulette BH (Moschino—Sendermarkens Michel, Michellino), she emerged victorious, defeating a field of 45 riders to take the win under WEF’s Saturday Night Lights in Wellington, Florida.
Derbyshire, 30, now boasts wins in multiple FEI grand prix classes, a top-10 individual finish at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) for Great Britain, and a bright future ahead of her with support from the Gochman family.
Technically, Becky and David Gochman are her employers, but she sees them as a second family. Derbyshire has managed the Gochmans’ Baxter Hill Farm in Wellington for eight years and has mentored their children, Mimi and Sophie, along the path from pony hunters to their first CSI2* competitions.
Derbyshire now rides three of the Gochmans’ jumpers: Roulette BH, Luibanta BH and Cornwall BH, plus her own Oasis Spirit. The Chronicle caught up with Derbyshire to talk about her recent win, her future plans, and why she won’t be leaving the USA anytime soon.
Chronicle: Congratulations on your win in the $134,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 3* with Roulette BH! What you were thinking about with this horse going into this competition?
Amanda Derbyshire: I’m really thrilled. Going into the class, I knew that we’ve only shown him three times this year at WEF. I knew going in that, if I rode accurately and stuck to my plan, he was going to try his best to jump clear, and it all worked out. It was a surreal feeling seeing No. 1 come up on the board.
What’s the plan for this horse this year and beyond?
He’s going to do the [$500,000 Rolex Grand Prix] five-star next week, and then he’ll have a few weeks off. Then he’s going to end up doing a couple of Nations Cups this year for Team GB, and then our big plan this year for Great Britain is to qualify for the Olympics. So, I hope we’ll be a small part in that big team to try to help Britain do that this year.
Can we talk a little bit about your background growing up in England?
I got my first pony when I was 6. My mom used to ride more for fun, and I just got the bug for it very young. It turned into night and day mucking out and riding ponies. The horses lived in my backyard and—I mean, like a typical backyard—I used to ride and hack on the roads, and we had a field across the road from us that I used to ride in. Very minimal facilities.
I went to our local Pony Club; that’s where I got my lessons and maybe a lesson once every couple of weeks because that’s all we could really do. At age 17, I went to be a working student, and at 18 or 19 I went to Nick [Skelton’s] for a year.
It just became my life to do that, and I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a year working with Nick Skelton before I came [to the United States], and I learned as much as I could.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned from working with Skelton?
Hard work. Punctuality. Organization. Their barn is run very well. I guess to never give up. He broke his neck and came back and did this. It’s one of those barns you go to, and you really learn everything correctly, and everything gets finished up.
It was the first time I had ever been to such a professional place, and I learned a lot about horse care and barn management and myself. In England, it’s a little different. A few yards are run like this here, but [in England] everyone gets up and mucks out, and then we’ll have breakfast, and then you’ll start riding.
I really wanted [riding] as my profession. That really solidified it in my mind where I wanted to go with my life. I [thought] I would be back in England, but after the three months here I thought I should stay for a year to learn the American system and the market and do what I could. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work with the Gochmans. They’ve been nothing but good to me and helping me follow my dreams and supporting me to do this.
What drew you to the United States?
I actually came here originally just to see America and travel a little bit, but I’ve never done it. It ended up turning into me living here and probably never living back home.
Nick goes out with Laura Kraut, obviously, and she was the one who said, ‘If you wanted to go somewhere, that would be really cool.’ Laura called Andre [Dignelli] and asked if I could go there for three months.
What were you thinking about when you took the job with the Gochman family?
The Gochmans were riding [at Dignelli’s Heritage Farm] at the time. And then when [Becky] set up her own barn she asked if I’d help run it and work with the kids. I had been at Heritage a year and a half, and it was the right time for me, and I had learned enough to be able to do that. It just seemed like the right opportunity, and it’s been the best thing I could have done.
I didn’t have huge expectations. I knew I was going to get to show and do some more jumpers, and that excited me, and it was exciting to get a lot more responsibility and help run the barn. I’ve obviously learned a lot about that side, you know, running it, staff, and doing all that comes along with running a barn.
So that was exciting for me to manage that. I’m very organized, and I don’t normally forget much, so it’s a new challenge to help run the barn. We have a lot of young people in our barn, and I think we’re really successful as a young team. Becky has always believed in us. We’re lucky enough to work with Stacia Madden, Ken Berkley and Scott Stewart, who also train the kids. We’re all still learning. That’s what I like about our barn—we’re a younger team, and we’re all still learning.
What was your first experience showing for the Gochmans?
We were lucky enough to get an older, experienced horse called Attack from England. He had already done some bigger classes. As a team, we won the grand prix at Lake Placid [New York]. The kids were there showing; Becky was there showing. I think that was just my first grand prix win and my first experience of what that kind of success felt like. We still have that picture of all the kids and Becky coming in. It was so exciting. That was our first big success in the jumpers, and that was a really exciting moment for everyone.
You’ve said the Gochmans are like family to you now. I think everyone in the industry would love to call Becky Gochman “Mom.” How do you deal with other people’s jealousy or negativity about your role there?
I just try to ignore it. I mean, I think you should just worry about yourself and do everything as [well] as you can do it, and I don’t really think much about that, to be honest.
When did you start to dream about riding for your country or believe that dream might come true?
The Nations Cup in Florida happens every year, and I had always watched it. It was such a fun event to go to. And [in 2017] I had a horse good enough to do it, [Luibanta BH], and that went well that evening. The British chef d’equipe came over, and it was the first time she had seen her live.
That was my first team experience, and we just kept on a steady plan. We didn’t try to do too much, and last year I was lucky enough to get to go to Europe and show. I did three team events there, which all went very successfully, and the horses were great. And to get to go to WEG last year was just an unbelievable experience—something, three years ago, I never would have expected that I could achieve, but sticking to a plan and working hard and being supported, we all got there. That was a really incredible feeling for Becky and David, for my family, and for everyone that helped.
What was your biggest takeaway from representing Team GB at the WEG?
You learn to deal with the pressure of going in there; you learn to keep it cool. Getting into the finals—the final 20 the last day—I think walking into the ring on the last day, I just relaxed. I had made it that far. Anything else is a bonus. The horse jumped great, the best she had jumped all week. I rode to the best I’ve ever ridden. We walked away from there really proud, everyone did, and I think [we need to] just keep going now.
You’ve had to make a lot of tough decisions in your life to get where you are, like not going to college and leaving home to move to the United States. What’s your thought process been like in those situations?
In my head I wanted to be a lawyer or a vet, and I couldn’t decide which one. I had aspirations to do both for a hot minute. I still thought I would maybe try to ride and do a career to help pay for it, but after coming to America for three months, I was like, ‘OK maybe I’ll just do it for a year and then go back and finish up [my education],’ but that realization got further and further away that I wasn’t going to.
What is a typical day for you?
It’s always an early start, and we like to write a plan the night before. Some things can change; the plan for the horse changes, but organization, having a good, happy team is always the key. We try to give everyone enough time off so that no one gets burned out.
Is there ever any competition between you and your fiancé, Irish show jumper David Blake?
Just friendly competition. We both root for each other, and we’re both happy for each others’ successes. The competition is very friendly. There’s never any jealousy or anything like that between us. It’s fun. We get to share a lot of success together. And, if someone’s having a bad day we know how it feels.
Do you have a life outside of horses?
We have a lovely group of friends in the horses. We get to go to some nice dinners and drinks a couple of times a week. A couple of times a year we try to do a non-horsey vacation somewhere. I do like seeing other parts of the world.
We are lucky enough to [be going] with our two best friends to New Zealand for eight days [after circuit]. We’re going to hire a car and drive around and see New Zealand. Being able to show in Europe a little bit this summer we get to see some really cool places. That’s always so much fun.
How do your personal goals fit with your training role at Baxter Hill?
We’ve got a really nice team around us, so if I go away, it’s so organized with such a good group of staff. They’re always there working hard behind the scenes, and they maybe don’t get as much credit as they should. They’re part of the reason we can all do this.
Going forward, we just go for as much success as we can. The kids are moving up to the two-star and young rider level this year, and they’ve been doing that so successfully. Becky herself started doing the equitation this year, something she’s not done before, and she’s winning all the equitation classes, which is so fun.
During the last couple of years Becky started in the jumpers and now the equitation, and [previously] she primarily only did hunters. She really expanded in her riding. Sophie and Mimi are always very busy, and we try to learn these horses and enjoy them and work as hard as we can, and that’s all we really can do.