It’s a welcome and increasingly familiar scenario in today’s world of professional sports: those who have advantages joining forces to help others around the world who don’t have the same opportunities, or even the necessities of life such as clean water and schools. This is where the equestrian community jumps in, including the Step by Step Foundation Inc.
Created 12 years ago by Liliane Stransky in Miami, FL, to help underprivileged children both locally and internationally, the Step by Step team made its first appearance at Spruce Meadows in 2014, with a half-dozen riders taking part in the charitable endeavour during the summer series.
Stransky explained the birth of Step by Step’s initiative RidersGive.org, giving credit where credit is due. “It was on one of our trips to Haiti. We have a school there [an elementary school in Lahaie]. My daughter, Daniela, was one of the girls in the group, and she is really the one who came up with the idea. She said “why don’t we create a team to ride for Step by Step?” That was the beginning of it.
“She was the first one. Trainer Hector Florentino’s 10-year-old son was helping with the backpacks full of school supplies, so we had two or three riders who were helping and they decided to join the team. Every horse show we go to, we always have new riders. Santiago Martin del Camp from Mexico asked me two days ago if he could start riding for the Foundation, so we’re very excited.”
The riders’ responsibility is to find a charitable organization in their respective country that can benefit from the help of Step by Step. Then they contribute what they can – often a portion of their show winnings. “They feel much better to do it that way, because not only are they contributing, but with that money we’ll buy exactly what those kids need,” Stransky explained. “I don’t make them sign contracts. I give them jackets. I pay all the [administrative] expenses out of my pocket. They can give whatever they want, and every dollar that comes in goes out and they decide what they want to do with it.”
Daniela, 18, proudly displays her association with Step by Step by sporting one of the black jackets with orange lettering advertising the foundation. “All my idea,” she said, grinning. “Riding, of course, is my passion. It’s always been around me, and my mom and her foundation have also always been around me. It’s one thing to hear about, and another to actually see, the poverty. I asked my mom if I could go to Haiti to the school, and it was the most shocking experience of my life to see it hands-on. When we came back, I asked my mom “why don’t we combine our love for the sport with the Foundation and that’s when we created the Step by Step team.”
The Step by Step show jumping team spans all levels, ages and countries. Included on the squad this summer in Calgary were 17-year-olds Emanuel Andrade of Venezuela and Jose F. Bonetti of the Dominican Republic, and 15-year-old twins Jackson and Spencer Brittan from Texas. Andrade had an especially successful summer, with two second-place finishes in 1.40m and 1.30m classes aboard Oxford and C Jack Sparrow Z, and a win in the $5,000 Cardel Homes Barrage 1.35m riding La Fe Forli at the National. He also had two wins with C Jack Sparrow Z and two seconds on Ad Vangelys and La Fe Forli at the Continental. The Brittan twins had a win and a second place in 1.40 Jr/Am competition at the Continental.
Florentino, the head trainer at Stransky Mission Farm in Wellington, FL, explained, “If we go to a horse show in Calgary or Colorado, the foundation gets in contact with local foundations to see how it can help. Right now, Liliane is making all the contacts so that next year, it can be done locally here in Calgary. I hear last year they had some terrible floods. I remember the year we went to Colorado, they had had some wildfires and a lot of people lost their horses, so we chipped in.”
The younger Stransky’s job includes being ambassador and recruiter. “Usually, other riders say, “I love your jacket, where is it from?” and I tell them, “ Daniela Stransky” .“It’s nice that they ask and they’re intrigued. It’s exciting, and that’s why I like going to new horse shows, to spread the word.”
For someone so young to have the empathy to come up with the idea of riders helping the underprivileged is highly commendable. “I think it is so important,” she continues. “It keeps you humble. It keeps you in touch with what’s important. Yes, this is a sport. But even by donating a little of what you win is amazing. I think it should be a mandatory thing to do, to give back. It keeps people more down-to-earth.”
Currently, the Step by Step Foundation is helping raise awareness and funds for projects and programs in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Argentina, and Florentino’s own Dominican Republic, while RidersGive.org also helps animals in need. “It’s important to help out people who don’t have the means and the opportunities,” said Florentino, who had three top-five finishes at Spruce Meadows this summer. “Through the Foundation, through our riding and winning, [money] goes toward the Foundation and they know where to put it, where to help. I’m glad to be doing it, because I’m doing what I like. If I can help someone else, have at it.”