By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — Zoie Noelle Brogdon is a modern-day renaissance woman who enjoys breaking barriers.
The spirited 17-year-old teen, who attends the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, has emerged not only as a champion equestrian, but as a talented artist, poet, author and social justice advocate as well.
Brogdon exhibited her creativity at an early age.
“Zoie shined as a young child when she began making purses and clothes out of odds and ends found around the house,” said her parents, Tracy and Marc.
“At 6 or 7 years old, we were amazed at her attention to detail. I recognized that there was truly something special about Zoie and we needed to support her passions, whatever they may be,” Marc said.
Born and raised in South Los Angeles, Brogdon was drawn to horses at the age of 9.
“My greatest accomplishment is the first day I overcame fear and climbed on top of a horse,” she says.
Brogdon’s mother then enrolled her in the Compton Junior Posse program where her riding skills and natural bonding with horses were noticed by her instructors. They urged her parents to enter her in horse riding competitions.
Since joining the competition circuit, Brogdon’s equestrian skills executed on her horse Emilion (also known as Ninja) have made her a young star in the equestrian world where she has captured ribbons and prizes in nearly 100 competitions.
Jessica Springsteen, Team USA Olympic silver medalist and the daughter of Bruce Springsteen, first met Brogdon at the West Palms Events Riders Cup week at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank.
“Zoie showed incredible focus,” Springsteen told U. S. Equestrian magazine. “Zoie rode with a beautiful position, soft hands and great natural instincts. She was quick to adjust her plan when needed, showing her calm and cool mindset.
“I was further impressed by her support of the other riders in the clinic throughout the day — lending a helping hand when needed and cheering them on — characteristics of a great teammate.”
Like the fences she jumps and clears with her horse, Brogdon said that she personally possesses a passion for leaping over barriers.
“That’s how I aspire to live my life,” Brogdon wrote in U.S. Equestrian magazine. “Life is about pushing beyond your comfort zone into new worlds. Worlds you’ve never entered. Worlds some try to push you out of. Conquering new worlds, in order to conquer the world within.
“You have to have the courage to be the very first, or be one of the very few. It’s about pioneering new ground and as an African-American young woman, demonstrating excellence at every turn.”
Pioneering new ground for Brogdon includes seeking out and encouraging more Black and brown faces to enter and horse riding competitions. Brogdon wants to help diversify the predominantly white sport, since she is one of the few African-American girls jumping fences in competitions.
“My mother says: ‘Meet your obstacles with grit, but also with grace and poise and a persevering faith whenever faced with defeat,’” Brogdon says.
She added that she is personally driven to always reach for higher goals.
“Life is not about never falling down, it’s about the determination to get back in the saddle, so that’s what I do,” she said. “I fall down. I fall forward. I get back in the saddle … and I win. Because I no longer compete just for the ribbons, but rather to gain ground in the world and to gain ground within. This is why I ride. This is why I am an equestrian.”
Like her love of horse riding, picking up a paint brush and drawing her visions on canvas has always provided a calming oasis for the teen, whose first Solo Gallery exhibition, “Feelings and Emotions”, was recently held at the Galerie De’ Ladouceur in Inglewood, drawing accolades from actress Vanessa Bell Calloway and politician Isadore Hall.
“Over the course of my life, I’ve drawn hundreds of pictures,” Brogdon said. “It puts me inside of this vacuum. I can lose myself for hours on end. It’s such an euphoric experience and a way to detach from the world. I’ve drawn on napkins and every notebook I’ve ever had.”
Brogdon said that she sought solace in her painting when the pandemic was at its height.
“During the pandemic, it was very hard for me to express myself,” she said. “Not being able to go outside took a mental toll on me.”
Brogdon also is drawn toward social activism. She said the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minnesota which stirred up feelings and emotions that ignited her passion for social justice.
“I was harboring a lot of anger and sadness,” she said. “I could not figure out why we were still going through this racial divide. I thought we had moved on a little bit further than where we were. It was a wake up call for me.”
Brogdon channeled her grief by creating “Say His Name: A Tribute to George Floyd,” a three-minute film that was shown during her recent art exhibition.
Brogdon, who creates paintings in watercolor, was asked to describe her painting style. “I paint in a wide variety of styles. I am currently exploring my punk rock style by creating bold, colorful portrait pieces.”
Inspired by the poem “Invictus” by Wiliam Ernest Henley, Brogdon loosely based her exhibit on the poem.
“Each grouping of her work was a stanza of the poem,” her father said. “She wanted everyone who saw the exhibit to know that like the famous line in the poem, she wanted viewers to know that they were the masters of their fate and the captains of their souls.”
Her parents added that the reception for the exhibit drew both curators and prominent representatives from the art world.
“A lot of people from the art community were amazed and blown away that Zoie had such a mastery of her art at such a young age,” her parents said.
A gifted poet as well, Zoie’s original poem “Melanin” was featured in the ABC television special entitled “4th of July Block Party for Diverse Voices.
In September, UCLA’s Young Black Changemakers, a program that recognizes Black youth who are actively engaged in social or political change, recognized Zoie’s sketch “Black Girl” and poem “Melanin.”
Both will be included in the forthcoming book “Young Black Changemakers and the Road to Racial Justice,” which will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2023, which documents how and why Black youth become changemakers.
In 2021, Zoie was featured in an impactful mini-documentary produced by AFROPUNK and GoPro where she discussed her passion for riding, her competitive spirit, and most importantly, the experience of being a young Black woman in a predominantly white sport.
She also was featured in a Sports Illustrated article and video entitled “The Horse Girl,” and was listed in the November 2021 issue of the Financial Times as “The 10 Need-to-Know Names of International Show Jumping.”