BY ANNIE BIRMINGHAM
There is nothing quite like the USEF Pony Finals. The unique event is not only a competition; it is also educational in nature—and connects young riders from around the country. While hundreds of pony riders congregate at the Kentucky Horse Park each August, many more are watching—and longing for an experience of their own—from home.
The Gochman family, whose daughters Mimi and Sophie recorded numerous accolades at Pony Finals in their youth, recognized the financial commitment required for event participation, and in 2015, they decided to pay it forward to child riders in need of financial assistance. The result: the annual Gochman Grant for USEF Pony Finals.
The Gochman Grant has created opportunities for young riders in need of financial assistance to compete and learn from top industry professionals on a national level. The grant has become a highly competitive scholarship program offered in conjunction with the United States Hunter Jumper Association. Each year, three junior riders receive a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend and compete at the USEF Pony Finals in Lexington, Kentucky—at absolutely no cost to them.
The Gochman Grant application is open to any junior USHJA member who has not previously competed at Pony Finals and would not otherwise be able to attend without the financial assistance provided by the program. The grant, however, offers far more than strictly monetary support. Recipients are provided access to professionals for training and receive entry into clinics, among other educational opportunities. Beyond that, the young riders receive an unprecedented opportunity to develop long-lasting friendships and connections within the sport.
“[Beyond financial need], each rider selected exemplifies the qualities most important in our sport: horsemanship, tenacity, and good sportsmanship,” said USHJA Development Director Penny Brooks.
The recipients of the 2021 Gochman Grant for USEF Pony Finals are Kelly Finn, Adison Stark and Janie Wilder.
“It is like a dream come true to be a Gochman Grant recipient!” Wilder said. “I’m so grateful to the Gochman family and to the USHJA for providing me with this opportunity of a lifetime. I have worked very hard to get to where I am now, and I am very grateful to all the people who have helped me get to where I am today. I’m happy to finally be able to say that hard work does indeed pay off.”
Due to the event’s cancellation in 2020, the three selected recipients from last year—Lulu Carney, Jocelyn Flanner and Eleanor Pieters—will also be making the journey to Lexington, KY for the week of competition. Pieters said she is “honored” to have been selected; listed in her travel itinerary are educational clinics, visiting the museums at the Kentucky Horse Park, and taking part in all the fun activities that occur during the week.
Applications for next year’s grant will open in January 2022. For more information on how to apply or get involved, visit the USHJA’s website at www.ushja.org/donors-grants/grants-scholarships.
*This story was originally published in the August 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!