BY RENNIE DYBALL
You don’t need to spend much time with Savannah Strome to pick up on the special connection she has with her animals. Hand grazing one of her horses at a show in Michigan over the summer, she smiles as the gelding sniffs out the perfect patch of green. Unhurried, and without a cell phone in sight, she peacefully takes in her horse’s downtime.
“I can still remember the first day I got on my first pony to ride at three and a half years old,” Strome tells The Plaid Horse. “It was just so exciting. I’ve always had a love for animals and nature.” Currently showing in the Small Junior Hunters and the High Children’s Jumpers, she’s built upon her love of animals with some big initiatives. At just 16, Strome has already formed a nonprofit, Climate Justice for All, and she’s starting a podcast to interview scientists and students about their experience with climate change, as well as to provide solutions for listeners.
“My goal is to spread awareness and provide easy, simple green alternatives,” says Strome. These projects have been a long time coming for the equestrian, who rides with Balmoral in southern California. “I spent most of my childhood outside, whether it was riding, camping, or swimming in the ocean,” she recalls.
“My passion for horses and the environment inspired me to launch my nonprofit. It’s easy to take for granted the horses and the overall world that we are given, but we are losing it. Climate justice is the idea that the people most affected by climate change are the ones least contributing. Climate Justice for All focuses on this idea that communities are being unfairly subjected to the effects of climate change, and seeks to remedy this.”
Strome is also collaborating with WildAid, a global wildlife conservation group, this summer, providing aid to conservation efforts in Gabon and Zimbabwe. Together, they’ll work to educate people on the biggest contributors to climate change, particularly In Africa. The group will launch a series of animated short pieces to explain global warming, climate change, biodiversity, and more.
The Barn Balance
Not surprisingly, Strome’s environmental passion is a time-consuming one, along with her studies as a junior in high school. So she’s particularly grateful to find a balance with her horses—Castle, whom she shows in the Small Junior Hunters, and Dena d’Eclipse, her partner for the High Children’s Jumper. A third horse, Cathartic, is currently rehabbing an injury. “Fitting riding time into my schedule can be challenging, but it is essential for me,” says Strome. “My academic life can be very demanding so going to the barn is my escape from that. I value my academics just as much as I value the time I spend with my horses, so I try to make room for both.”
“Riding and spending time with my horses allows me to disconnect from the stressors of high school and focus on my horses,” she adds. “The barn has become a safe space for me when I’m feeling stressed in my school or social life. Spending time and getting to work with my horses makes me happy and reminds me how lucky I am every day.”
The horse show is an extension of that happy place and safe haven for Strome. “I love getting to show my horses and going to horse shows because of the atmosphere and how much I learn,” she says. “Riding horses is an endless learning process.”
“My barn, Balmoral, is my team that supports me and makes each show fun. I also love getting to meet my competitors and rooting for them. Without horse shows I wouldn’t have been able to meet some of my closest friends. Most importantly, I know my horses love it. They can sense the friendly competition and the pressure, and they work just as hard as I do to make each show better than the last.”
Strome’s trainers at Balmoral have also taken notice of what their young rider can bring out in her animals. “What’s always stood out to us about Savannah is her empathy for the animal. From her pony days until now—competing at a high level in the hunter and jumper rings—she’s always had that soft, special way with her horses. They can sense that, and always try their best for her,” Traci and Carleton Brooks tell The Plaid Horse.
“It’s been interesting over the years to observe the relationship between Savannah and her horses and ponies,” adds her mother, Tammy Strome. “There truly is an empathetic bond where they seem to carry each other. I have noticed that, for her, the accomplishment comes in the challenge to be present, in the moment with her horses. I think for her the goal isn’t to always win, but to show up with her best self, a positive attitude and to keep learning.”
Sportsmanship—and (No) Social Media
Strome’s positive attitude was recognized last year in Harrisburg, where she was awarded the Best Sportsmanship Award in the Junior Hunters. In addition to her sportsmanship, Strome stands out from the crowd by skipping social media. “It’s hard not to compare yourself to other juniors,” she says. “I’ve learned that, for me, staying off social media is best, because it can create unhealthy standards. Social media only presents the best of each rider, without demonstrating the journey it took to get there. I remind myself that staying focused on my own personal journey is the best way to improve, to appreciate my horses, and, most importantly, enjoy the sport.”
Strome is looking forward to once again showing at Traverse City Horse Shows in Michigan this summer. “I love showing there. The show grounds and green fields are my favorite, and my horses love it too,” she says. “The atmosphere is friendly and challenging, which is the perfect environment to learn. It’s my favorite horse show.”
Looking ahead, Strome is eager to explore beyond California during her college years, perhaps on the east coast, or even internationally. With an interest in STEM, “I want to be a part of this new age of scientific discovery, and hopefully contribute,” she says. “Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to explore the unknown, and I want to nurture this passion for exploration in college.”
But no matter where her education and adult life take her, Strome says that she will always come back to horses. “I plan to continue my riding career far into the future. Whenever I picture what’s to come, horses are always in it,” she says. “The sport is my passion. It keeps me grounded while also driving me to work hard.”
Simply put, “My life wouldn’t be the same without my horses.”
*This story was originally published in the December 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!
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