The Gochman Grant – A Rider’s Journey to Pony Finals

By Adison Stark, 2021 Grant Recipient

The Gochman Grant generously selects, and funds, a few riders to attend Pony Finals each year. Here, Oregon-based rider Adi Stark writes about her experience, the Grant, and how other young riders can apply for this incredible opportunity.

Adison (far right) with the other Gochman Grant riders at Pony Finals

Being a 2021 Pony Finals Gochman Grant recipient. Where do I start? This was the most incredible riding experience I’ve had yet. The people I met, the horses, Kentucky, the Rolex Ring, literally everything was amazing. It all started with the process of applying, a one-page essay, three letters of recommendation from a trainer, teacher, member of the horse show community and a few questions answered with a relatively short paragraph each. I don’t know about the other girls, but for me personally I really struggled with the essay portion of the application. Right as I started, I got really bad writer’s block and could not even get a single word out. But once I really got going everything was fine. All three letters of recommendation were beautiful, and one even made me cry happy tears. I cannot thank everyone enough for believing in me and writing such wonderful letters. Once my application was submitted the waiting began. 

Then came the call from Penny Brooks from USHJA with the amazing news. I was sitting at the kitchen counter eating my breakfast before school when my mom got a call from Lexington Kentucky “Hi! Is Adison Stark near the phone?” I heard Penny ask through the phone, my mom hands me the phone and Penny says “Hi, my name is Penny Brooks and I’m calling you to congratulate you on being one of the three recipients of the 2021 Gochman Grant. We can’t wait to see you in Lexington Kentucky at the Kentucky Horse Park this August!” I started balling. I couldn’t believe this was happening and I was on cloud nine all the way up until I arrived in Kentucky. Which brings me to my next topic, packing. 

Packing was one of the most stressful parts because I couldn’t forget a single thing or else, I would be in trouble. I was traveling the farthest of any of the recipients so packing all the right things was essential. My mom and I bought a big plastic tub which we used to pack everything we could possibly need and more, but we were still limited by what we bring because we were flying. We checked the tub with my boots, helmet, and grooming stuff and carried my saddle from airport to plane to airport to plane and finally to our hotel. It was a long day of travel but just the beginning of our journey. I remember when we landed, and I saw Kentucky for the first time. It was beautiful! Everywhere you looked there were horses and horse farms, as far as the eye could see. We were so tired from the long day of travel, all we wanted to do was sleep when we arrived but the next day was go time, the day I got the meet the other five girls. (Three from 2020 and the other two from 2021.) 

Everyone was super nice when we all met. Sure, we were all shy at first, but we all got a chance to get to know each other during a tour of the USHJA headquarters and had warmed up to each other by the time we got our golf carts. It was a pretty special day because my birthday had been the day before and Penny had everyone sing happy birthday. I have to say, that was one of the most embarrassing moments ever. I had just met our trainers for the show Robin Greenwood and Rob Jacobs for the first time and they were singing to me. After that we got the golf carts and found our barn aisle. We were barn #8 which was in the perfect spot, right next to all the concessions and food and a relatively short walk to the Rolex ring but when I say short, I mean ever so slightly shorter of a walk than every other barn. I don’t know what we would have done without the golf carts. The Kentucky Horse park was so HUGE, I probably wouldn’t even have had enough leg strength to ride after walking miles and miles worth of the show park. I had never had my own golf cart at a show and it was a lifesaver. 

Adison and Skye

Meeting the ponies was exciting because no one knew which pony belonged to who. We suspected the small was for Lulu Carney and the medium was for Janie Wilder, but the two larges were between Kelly Finn and me. Kelly got this super cute bay with chrome, and I got this small cute dark bay with chrome and the cutest snip/blaze, her nose almost looked like it had flames on it. One of the most unique face markings I’ve ever seen. Her name was Skye and she had so much personality. Kelly and I were the first to ride and we were just starting to get to know each other when suddenly it started thunder storming. The storms in Kentucky were nothing like the thunderstorms in Bend. Lightning was striking on the show grounds! Lulu almost even got hit! Honestly, it was pretty scary, and these storms happened every single day no matter what the forecast said there was always a storm. I have never seen so much rain fall so fast! 

Learning how to ride Skye was not easy and I only had a couple days to get to know her. Not to mention, I was getting to know Rob and Robin as well. Skye had qualified for Pony Finals in 2020 but had been doing the cross-rail job since so she was a little surprised to see 2’9”-3’ fences again. Skye was spooky at times but she always jumped in incredible form, she was so fun. Initially, I had been struggling with her lead changes but one day, I was lucky enough to meet the girl who had qualified her for Pony Finals. I don’t know what I would have done without her tips and tricks for everything including the lead changes. That next day I tried her tricks, and everything was much smoother. I can’t thank Daisy enough for helping me with Skye! I couldn’t believe how much easier riding her was once I used her tips. 

Thursday was the first day I showed. We had the model and under saddle first, Skye might not have had the most ideal confirmation but she was such a good girl, and stood perfectly for the model. The next day was over fences I was set to go into the ring around 3:30pm. Since I didn’t need to show until later, I got to hack Skye around the show park, playing in the cross-country field with three of my really good friends who also came from the Pacific Northwest. Playing in the field was one of my favorite parts of being in Kentucky. The day started out beautiful but halfway through the day there was a giant thunderstorm in the forecast, my show time kept getting pushed out later and later and eventually got canceled and rescheduled to the following morning. This was probably a good thing since showing under the lights in the Rolex ring might have been more excitement than Skye or I could take. 

In the big ring. Adi and Skye at Pony Finals

The next morning the weather was perfect, and we were ready to show. I was so nervous and when I warmed up in the Walnut Ring the first jump I went to, Skye stopped. What a great way to start the day and build confidence! That was when I realized how hard I was going to have to ride and work for every single jump our first time in the Rolex. We only had one round, and I needed to make it count. Okay, now I was ready to go in the ring and do my best. I was so nervous because all I wanted to do was make Rob and Robin proud, thankfully I did just that. It may not have been the floaty hunter round I dreamed about, but we got all our strides, jumped every fence, and I was able to do everything Rob and Robin wanted me to do in the ring. Everyone was ecstatic! I waited at the ring for the results, and I was 13th overall! Not too bad! That was it, the riding part was over. 

I couldn’t be happier with how everything went. The week flew by in a blink of an eye. Everyone was so nice, I learned so many new things and met so many wonderful people. I will never forget this incredible week and experience and I am forever grateful to the Gochman Family, USHJA, Robin Greenwood, Rob Jacobs, and all my friends and family who supported me. The Gochman Grant and going to Pony Finals in 2021 has just gotten me even more excited to take my pony in 2022!

Gochman Grant Q&A

Since receiving the Grant, I have had several riders reach out to me with questions. Below are a few of the top questions I have received and my answers:

Q: What’s the application process like?

A: Submit one essay talking about you and why you want to go to Pony Finals, three letters of recommendation, video of you riding, and answer a few short questions about you, and your riding background through the USHJA website

Q: Is it worth applying?

A: Yes! Many kids apply but you have an equal chance as everyone else. Just make sure your application is complete. Also, everyone who applies gets a $50 Dover Saddlery gift card.

Q: What is it like at Pony Finals and how do I receive my pony?

A: The Gochman kids always get stalls in aisle 8, one of the best spots, right by all the vendors and rings. Every day is like “Christmas” because Penny brings gift baskets from different sponsors including Shapley’s, Farm Stand, and Essex. The Gochman Grant/USHJA takes care of everything from your entries and fees to hotel and food, they also provide a golf cart. Be ready to groom your own pony though, you won’t have a groom, but it will give you a chance to get to know your pony. Make sure you don’t miss the golf cart parade, it is amazing and people go all out on their golf carts. Rob and Robin will match you to a pony based on your submission video, whichever one they think best matches your riding style, you will meet the pony on Monday. I recommend getting to the show a couple days before, if you can, so you can get a feel for the showgrounds and do any sightseeing before the week starts.

Q: What are they looking for in the video?

A: You can find some past videos on YouTube, I personally, chose a professional show video for my submission. Just remember, the video cannot have any sound or identify you in any way.


GRANT INFO & DEADLINE

The Gochman Grant is made possible by the generosity of Becky and David Gochman and their family. Each year, the USHJA offers three young pony riders the opportunity to attend and compete at USEF Pony Finals.

The Grant is open to current USHJA members under the age of 18 (per USEF rules), who have not previously participated in Pony Finals and who would not be able to attend Pony Finals without the assistance the grant provides. Individuals may only be awarded the grant once. Riders must be able to jump a height of 2’3 and should be current USHJA members.

This grant is not strictly monetary in nature, but rather experience-based. In addition to the opportunity to compete at USEF Pony Finals, each grant recipient is provided access to professionals for training, entered into available clinics and exposed to other educational experiences throughout the week. In addition to financial need, each rider selected exemplifies the qualities most important in our sport: horsemanship, tenacity and good sportsmanship.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Active USHJA Membership
  • US Citizen or Legal Resident
  • Jumping Experience at a Minimum Fence Height of 2’ 3”
  • Has Not Previously Competed at USEF Pony Finals
  • Demonstrate Financial Need

Deadline: March 15th 2022

APPLY TO THE GOCHMAN GRANT HERE

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