Savonna Adell: Switching Rings to Achieve Her Dreams

Photo © Al Cook

By Rebecca Walton/ Phelps Media Group

There comes a time in every young rider’s career that they must make the move from the beloved pony divisions to the Junior Hunters. While some find the transition daunting, 13-year-old Savonna Adell has made it look seamless as she goes from the Medium and Large Ponies, to the Junior Hunters, and has even begun showing the Low Children’s Jumpers. The talented young rider carefully manages each of her mounts with the support of her parents, Joelle and Kevin Adell, and her trainer Gary Duffy. 

Hailing from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, the eighth grader shows across the country, kicking off each year at the prestigious Winter Equestrian Festival before traveling north for events like the historic Devon Horse Show, the Lake Placid Horse Shows and the Vermont Summer Classic. No stranger to the best horse shows in the country, Adell will once again be competing at the indoor championships, but this year she will be showcasing her skills in both the Medium and Large Pony Hunters as well as the Junior Hunters. 

Savonna & Laugh Out Loud. Photo © The Book Llc

Although Adell began showing in the Junior Hunters in 2017 on her talented mare Redeemed, she went full force into the 3’6″ Junior Hunters at the beginning of 2019 with her new mounts Rockaway and Stolzengraf. 

“Horses can be a lot more challenging because they are bigger, stronger and you have to be more precise because you are jumping higher,” explained Adell. “It can be difficult sometimes because ponies have smaller strides than horses, so you have to remember that they don’t have as much scope and as big of a stride if you’re on a pony. If your switching from a pony to a horse you have to remember to open your stride more.”

Adell has quickly overcome the challenges posed by changing rings, picking up top awards in both arenas. Her Large Pony Hunter mount Spellbound is currently leading the country, and she has earned several tricolors with Rockaway, Redeemed and Stolzengraf, even topping the Younger Large Junior Hunters at the prestigious Lake Placid Horse Shows with Rockaway. 

Savonna & Rockaway. Photo © Anne Gittins

“I have enjoyed switching from ponies to horses because I have to change my ride, which makes me learn more every time,” she commented. “Some highlights have been Devon and Lake Placid. Now, I am looking forward for Capital Challenge, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show and the National Horse Show.”

Trainer Gary Duffy said, “It was a transition in the beginning, that is what happens when they move off of ponies into the juniors, and they have to realize that and that each horse show is a learning experience when they jump into 3’6″. We have some really good horses though, and Savonna actually skipped over the Children’s Hunter division completely, which is a rarity that a rider can do that.”

Having a great partner in the ring is crucial to any rider’s success, and Adell has worked hard to learn about each of her mounts, which began in the pony ring. 

Savonna & Redeemed. Photo © Anne Gittins

“She stepped up to the plate because of the great ponies that she had,” said Duffy. “If you have ponies that are not reliable, there is going to be a question when she walks into the junior hunter ring. But each time, it’s all about getting the right horses. She has bonded with Redeemed most, that horse is very reliable and manage and negotiate long or short distances and show her the ropes. Savonna was never nervous cantering up to 3’6”, she knew that if she was a little deep that the horse would be able to teach her that that is ok. If it was a little long the horses is able to say ‘that’s OK, I can handle this too.’”

As Savonna successfully made the transition to the Junior Hunters, it became clear that she was ready to test the waters in the jumper ring as well, and she began riding Zanzibar 19 in the Low Children’s Jumpers, even winning the Classic at the Skidmore College Saratoga Summer Horse Show. Savonna has enjoyed having the opportunity to compete in both divisions. 

“I like them both for different reasons,” she noted. “The hunters, you have to be very precise and focus on how you and your horse look. You also have to focus more on your distances. I like jumpers because you have to focus more on your speed and your turns.”

Photo © The Book LLC

Duffy added, “I am pretty impressed that she is able to jump from the pony, to the horse to the jumper – that’s not a simple task!”

The next step after the jumpers will be the equitation, but Duffy wants riders to take their time getting there.  He said, “I want Savonna to feel very confident in doing the smoothness of a hunter track and the technical elements of a jumper course, and then we move into the equitation.”

Adell is very focused on being successful in the sport, hoping to do the International Hunter Derbies as a junior, before eventually becoming a professional and hoping to one day represent the United States on the international stage. 

For now, Duffy is working with Adell to be successful at each horse show that they attend. “We are working on different lines and turns and just making sure that the horses are prepared for the handy courses,” he explained. “We are working on the flatwork to make sure that we can get those under saddle ribbons. Savonna has been pretty much undefeated in the under saddles.” 

Photo © The Book LLC

With Indoors right around the corner, Adell and Duffy have to be sure that each horse and pony is ready to showcase their best skills. “We are very excited to go to indoors,” said Duffy. “All the riders just have to realize that everybody at that competition is a champion along with themselves, and they just have to relax and realize it’s just another horse show at that point.” 

Adell noted, “The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that you have to work as a team with your horse and always be appreciative of what they do for you.”

That outlook will be part of the key to success at Indoors, where every detail is part of the judging equation, and Adell hopes to bring home top ribbons with her talented group of horses and ponies.

Adell concluded, “My mom has been a great inspiration to me and has taught me not to give up and to work hard for what I want to accomplish, and that is exactly what I plan to do!”