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How 16-Year-Old Equestrian Athlete Zoie Brogdon Is Making a Mark in Her Sport

Get to know the next generation of must-know names that are changing the game in the series Introducing, where Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are celebrating the Black women and girls who are emerging leaders and rising stars in the sports world.


Zoie Brogdon

Instagram: @iamzoienoelle

Name: Zoie Brogdon
Age: 16
Profession: Equestrian
Hometown: Los Angeles

Zoie Brogdon is a bright, sparkly teen whose eyes light up when she talks about the love of her life—her horse, Ninja. While she still can’t decide her favorite song on her 13-hour playlist, or what she wants to do in the world, the free-spirited equestrian is saddled up and ready to boldly ride into the future, wherever it takes her. The young fashionista hopes to see more Black and brown girls riding horses and making an impact in the sport.

Empower Onyx: What do people say when you tell them you’re an equestrian?

Zoie Brogdon: “Oh my gosh, you're a horse girl?” To myself, I’m like, Oh no! I can't be labeled as the horse girl. That’s weird. You're like becoming a horse. I'm like, no, that's not me. I just happen to be really happy when I'm riding. After I explain what I do and how cool this sport is, they become so amazed about it. They say, “You're like the people in the movies?” I'm like, yeah, I'm like the people in the movies.


EO: What's your definition of what an equestrian is?

ZB: It's kind of hard to define because people have different explanations for it. For me an equestrian is just someone who really loves horses, who cares about them, who wants to be around them and who rides, obviously.

EO: I was reading an article about the Netflix’s film The Harder They Fall. The actor Keith Stansfield talked about how he got emotional when they wrapped the filming, because he really bonded with his horse and felt this unconditional love. Everybody understands dog or cat love, but talk about horse love.

ZB: Me and my horse Ninja are best friends. He is my partner in crime. We do everything together. I absolutely love him. To get that emotional with any animal that you bonded with is such a special connection. For me and my horse, we've grown together and we know each other so well. It's not like a dog or a cat; they're not just your pets. This connection goes a bit deeper. You trust your horse with your life, and they're trusting you with theirs. It's a team effort—you have to have a certain communication.

EO: What does it feel like when you’re riding?

ZB: Like I'm flying? Honestly, I absolutely adore a good gallop. I love jumping. I'm like up in the air.

EO: What advice would you give a young Black girl that wants to be Zoie?

ZB: Compton Cowboys and Compton Jr. Equestrians work hand in hand and have done a great job of helping Black and brown kids to get into the sport. Hopefully we can have a new generation of a diverse equestrian world.

EO: What would you say to any young person who’s thinking of an out of-the-box sport?

ZB: At first, I'd ask, do you want to do the sport? If the answer is yes, just do it. Who's stopping you? No one is stopping you besides yourself. If you don't see people that look like you within the sport, be the person you want to see in the sport.

EO: Do you have any stories to share about adversity?

ZB: Whenever I have to put my hair inside of a helmet. I got thick braids. It's not going to fit. It never fits. I've had judges mark me down because my hair was in a bun instead of up in my helmet. I physically cannot put it in a helmet, I have explained it. I was like, look guys, I got braids. My natural hair can't really condense itself into a helmet. That doesn't happen as often because I don't go into those classes like I used to. There are certain disciplines in this sport where it’s mandatory to look a certain way. But I mostly compete in the jumper arena which is not as formal. I can leave my hair in a ponytail, which I love to do. I love seeing my hair flow in the wind.


EO: Can you talk about the accessibility of the sport?

ZB: It's an expensive sport because there's so much that goes into it. I have those tall boots. I have the jacket. I have that thick helmet, that's for safety reasons, but all of it goes into the look of the sport. I would love to wear sweatpants, sneakers and a tank top, but that's not proper. All these things go into the sport and taking care of you and your animal. The vet bills are extreme, because they're big animals. Ninja does not stop eating; having him fed is a lot. If you compete, there are fees for the competition and for trailering to get your horse there. I’ve been fortunate to have received the Michael Nyuis Grant from West Palms Events to assist with my competition fees.

EO: Since you love to show off and style is a big part of being an equestrian, what would be your dream fashion collab?

ZB: A Nike or Jordan brand collaboration with Ariat [equestrian gear] would be sick, because they're already working with other sports. That sounds awesome. That would look cool. Think of the pictures. That is the move right there.

EO: What’s the future look like for Zoie?

ZB: I’d like to be a Grand Prix jumper [the uppermost level of show jumping]—at least 1.50 meter. That’s my goal. After that, I don’t know what I want to do. I know I want to go to college, but I'm not sure what I would major in and what I would go on to be in the world because I'm still figuring it out. Yeah, just wherever the world takes me, I'm willing to take it all in.

Editor’s Note: Shortly after the interview, Brogdon went on to win a gold medal at the Markel/USHJA Zone Team Jumper Championship, after four perfect rounds over three days in Thermal, Calif.