Britain’s newest showjumping star and leading lady rider talks to Sarah Jenkins about making the World Games team, riding Big Star and loving the American lifestyle
Amanda Derbyshire was selected to showjump for Great Britain at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, USA, in September 2018. The 30-year-old, who originally hails from Lancashire, has been based in the United States for the past nine years. She runs Baxter Hill, an impressive 40-stable yard in Wellington, Florida, for owners the Gochman family.
“Going for WEG selection felt a little surreal. The further we went through the summer, the more I kept thinking, ‘Wow, that dream is getting a little bit closer’. Winning the Nations Cup in Florida and then coming second at Hickstead was incredible. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl,” says Amanda, who was encouraged all the way by trainers Nick Skelton and Laura Kraut, and British team performance manager Di Lampard.
“This is the first year I’ve had a group of horses capable of jumping five-star shows with that level of success,” says Amanda. “And it was good timing as the family also planned to compete in Europe this summer.”
The “family” is David and Becky Gochman and their daughters Mimi and Sophie, who also came to Europe to compete at top level, allowing Amanda to impress at the right moment. The teenagers made an impact in Europe, too, and are ones to watch for future US teams. The Gochmans take pride in what they have achieved as a team and that includes getting Amanda to a position of being in contention for a team place.
Amanda’s Irish fiancé, David Blake, is also a showjumper, handily based in North Carolina, where WEG 2018 was held.
Amanda was introduced to riding early by her own family, being legged up on her mother Julie’s “big riding club horse”, Scooter. When Amanda was six, she starting riding a five-year-old pony, Sparkle. “I used to fall off most days in the beginning,” she recalls.
She enjoyed riding in the British pony system, which she feels has benefits over the American one she sees more of now.
“They have hunter jumpers in the US, which is comparable to working hunters in the UK and you’re judged on style and movement. That makes kids ride nicely, it’s not such a free-for-all and you need more flatwork schooling and discipline in your riding. But the British pony jumping system makes our kids a little braver and, in my opinion, it is a little more fun,” she points out.
She became brave and talented enough to be spotted by Olympic gold medallist Nick Skelton.
“I’d just finished college and Nick saw me at a show and said he needed someone to ride the young horses, so I went there for a year,” she explains.
One of those young horses was Big Star, who would go on to win gold at London 2012. Amanda recalls: “When he was five, I rode him for the first six months. Looking back I’m grateful for that, though at the time he was very boisterous and a lot for a little girl. From the day he came off that truck, you knew he was going to be special.”
It was Nick’s partner, US showjumper Laura Kraut, who suggested Amanda go to the States. Amanda had met US clients at Nick’s and was intrigued by the American system. It turns out the lifestyle suits her, and though she visits her parents in Lancashire, who enjoyed having the chance to see and watch her compete here more this summer, she won’t be coming back to the UK permanently.
“I love the American lifestyle and year-round sunshine. We spend six months competing in Florida and then six months travelling round the American show circuit,” she says.
“It’s non-stop and a lot of work, particularly travelling, but the summer shows in America are beautiful and I’m definitely happy here with a great group of family and friends to work with. In Florida, the horse community takes Mondays off and we enjoy going to the beach together and drinking margaritas.”
She still trains with Nick and Laura, including this summer when she was based with them while they competed in Europe, and last winter when they were all in Florida over the same three months, but often she’s doing it on her own.
“I know they’re excited about what we’ve achieved,” she says. “And I know they’ve got my back.”
An incredible string
Modest about the phenomenal horses she has the opportunity to ride, Amanda recounts how she found her current top three.
“Roulette would have been hard to miss,” she says of arguably the best of her string, a horse everyone was talking about when Amanda went horse shopping with the Gochmans on the Sunshine Tour in Spain this year.
“He’s very, very strong, but so careful and talented you know he’s always going to jump. He’s a timid personality, but very sweet and is changing with a lot of one-on-one attention. He’s going to be the best,” says Amanda, though right now her heart is with Luibanta BH, the little mare who has put her on the map.
“She’s taken me the furthest. She’s the easiest horse who would do anything for you. I’m never worried riding her, I know she’ll try and has a big heart. She never makes a mistake so you know you can be successful on her when you go in that ring. I’m so grateful to have her in my life; she’s been a game changer for me. I’ve had her since she was eight years old and we’ve got this far together, jumping our first Nations Cup and our first five-star grand prix.”
The third horse is Cornwall BH, found with Shane Sweetnam as an eight-year-old. With Amanda he came second in the two-star grand prix at the London Global Champions Tour, and second and fourth in the five-star classes in Dublin last month.
“All mine are like pets, most of them follow me around without headcollars on. I can’t do that with Roulette just yet, but it won’t be long,” Amanda adds.
When she started with the Gochmans, the children were only five and six — she’s “grown up with them” and is “like family”.
“We bought one young horse and have progressed steadily from there,” she says. “Attack was my first grand prix horse and he was so successful that we kept progressing. We shocked ourselves how big the operation grew.”
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What do the Gochmans get out of supporting the Brit this far?
“They’re excited to support a young, up-and-coming person,” Amanda explains. “They’re proud of how much we’ve achieved as a team. They love watching at the top shows, too. And, sure, they hope their children will be on the team for the USA in future.”
Baxter Hill has found a winning formula, and the British team is a very happy beneficiary.
This interview first appeared in Horse & Hound magazine.
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