Rodeo professional maintains hometown roots
SILOAM SPRINGS — Rodeo has been a part of Savannah Pearson Stricklen’s life since she was young, and now she competes professionally while also working as a special education teacher in Lincoln.
The Cincinnati resident has continued her life in the classroom and the rodeo arena since a fire took her home in February, thanks to support from the community.
For as long as Stricklen can remember she has been riding horses. Interest in the subject came because of her father Phil Pearson, who roped for the American Quarter Horse Association in the 1980s, Stricklen said.
“He quit roping before I hit the rodeo scene,” Stricklen said. “So we really didn’t get to compete together, but we still rode horses (together).”
Growing up, Stricklen participated in the play days at the Siloam Springs Rodeo and other local rodeos in the area as well as the youth division of the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association, she said. As a teenager, Stricklen got a three-year-old mare named Bella and began competing in barrel races.
“I started competing on her when I was 14,” Stricklen said. “I’d say and she’s been my pro rodeo horse. She’s what opened the doors to professional rodeo.”
Stricklen obtained her professional rodeo card when she turned 18 years old and began competing professionally as a barrel racer in the WPRA, she said. Stricklen competes in WPRA rodeos in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, as well as competing in other rodeos in Arkansas and North Texas.
“We were mapping some out (recently) to Woodward, (Okla.), Weatherford, (Okla.), Strong City, Kan., trying to figure out where we wanted to go in the next few weeks,” Stricklen said.
Stricklen also said she was looking at rodeos in Louisiana that are co-sanctioned with her circuit. While Stricklen has not mapped out her entire season, she said one of the first rodeos she plans to got to will be in Abbyville, Kan., on May 21-22, she said.
Presently, Stricklen has won twice in barrel racing in the Rodeo of the Ozarks, first in 2016 and again in 2019, she said.
While Stricklen does not compete in many amateur rodeos, she will still compete in the Siloam Springs Rodeo because it is her hometown rodeo and she is a member of the Siloam Springs Riding Club, Stricklen said.
Plans to compete in Siloam Springs this year will center on whether Stricklen’s mare Bella is up to it. Bella is 15 years old and is on the downhill slope of her career, Stricklen said. Stricklen has two other horses she is training to rodeo, but she did not say if they would be ready to compete this season.
Right now all rodeos are being coordinated around Stricklen’s teaching schedule at Lincoln Elementary School.
When Stricklen started going to college at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., she didn’t plan on being a teacher. Stricklen was going through the speech pathology program, which she did not enjoy, she said. She spoke with her advisor, who recommended Stricklen consider becoming a reading specialist.
“So I got my degree in special ed and I love it,” Stricklen said.
Pearson was not surprised since many students who were in special education classes would flock to Stricklen when she was younger. Stricklen even had one student she took care of from the time they were little until they graduated from high school, Pearson said.
With two classes left for Stricklen to take before she gets her masters of education in reading, she splits her time between work, riding her horse and doing her own homework, Stricklen said. After she gets her masters, Stricklen will weigh her options as to what she will do next.
“I am not positive, but I might apply to a doctoral program to become an educational examiner for special ed students,” Stricklen said.
When Stricklen married her husband Chais Stricklen in September 2018, she not only got a spouse but a stepson, Keaton Stricklen, 8. Keaton Stricklen attends Lincoln Elementary and may learn to rope one day, Stricklen said.
She met her husband Chais Stricklen when she needed to have someone ride a horse for her that she was having trouble with.
When Stricklen went to pick the horse up and asked how much money she needed to pay, Chais Stricklen said she just needed to let him take her on a date. She agreed, and the rest is history.
Chais Stricklen also competes by cutting horses, a cooler weather sport, while Savannah Stricklen’s rodeos are held during the summer, she said.
On Feb. 14, the Stricklens had a house fire. The fire started when the pipes on Stricklen’s washing machine froze over during the cold weather, Stricklen said. Her husband Chais Stricklen was using a little propane torch to thaw out the pipes, she said.
“He was in the opening to go under the house. Some sparks came off of it and hit some insulation and it happened to be in the wall that my closet was in and once it got through the wall it hit my clothes and it was just gone from there,” Stricklen said.
The Stricklens lost a lot of stuff, but also received a lot from the community, Savannah Stricklen said.
The community came together and held a benefit for the family and raised more than $10,000, she said. The riding club also gave the Stricklens $500. Along with other donations, the Stricklens received around $25,000, she said.
Rebuilding the house should take only a few more weeks, according to the timetable, Savannah Stricklen said.
As Stricklen prepares for this season’s rodeos she is grateful for the support of her community during the trying time of the fire, she said.
“We have the most amazing community,” she said.