You might not expect to find a 12-year-old city kid from Philly playing polo in the green fields of rural Rothsville.
Mark Harnley was at the annual Work to Ride benefit at Lancaster Polo on Sunday, proving, along with his teammates, that polo isn’t some stuffy sport played only by British royalty.
It was the second to last match of the season for Lancaster Polo, and the weather couldn’t have been better with bright blue skies and a refreshing breeze. The young team from Philadelphia’s
Work to Ride program took the prize on Sunday, scoring 7 to Destiny Stables’ score of 4.
There was a fundraising lunch provided by nearby Caruso’s in Rothsville with an array of pasta dishes, subs, and salads, for a donation of $20, along with a silent auction of artwork, a saddle, and other items. At half-time, the kettle horse gave visitors a chance to see what it was like to hit a ball with a mallet from the back of a metal horse.
“It takes a while to learn to play polo,” said 12-year-old Harnley, who has been in the Work to Ride Program since he was 8. “I love the teamwork and the speed. I have learned a lot.”
Another player was 14-year-old Gigi Velasquez, who started with Work to Ride more than three years ago. The young player admitted that she loves horses and learning to care for them is gratifying. When it comes to playing polo, she too liked the freedom of racing across the field trying to score a goal.
“It keeps me occupied and disciplined,” said Velasquez, adding that it takes a lot of patience to learn to care for the horses, get them ready to play, stay on the horse, and then manage to score a goal while hitting a small white ball with the side of the mallet.
Work to Ride program alum Kevin Jones, 28, started playing polo when he was 13.
Oh yeah, and after you manage to score, you have to remember to head to the other end of the field to score the next goal. That’s because the players switch sides after each goal.
“It takes a while to learn the rules of polo,” said Work to Ride alum Kevin Jones, 28. “I didn’t start until I was 13, so these kids have an advantage to start so young. Work to Ride was a great program for me, and I like to try to get to games when I can.”
As Jones explained, a polo match consists of four players on each team, typically playing six chukkers or periods that last seven and a half minutes. The horses and players take a break in between each chukker, changing horses, then take a longer half-time break after the third chukker. A mounted umpire dressed in black and white accompanies the players to make calls.
The Lancaster Polo Club was started in 1940 by Lancaster County cattle dealers who were challenged to a polo game by a team from York New Salem. The four bought mallets and helmets, enlisted the coaching services of Charles Little and practiced at the old Lancaster Fairgrounds. They won that first match and the Lancaster Polo Club was born. For many years, they played at a field that is now Overlook Golf Course.
Lancaster Polo Club held its annual Work to Ride benefit game at Forney Field in Rothsville Sunday — it was the second to last match of the season. Photos by Laura Knowles.
Then one of the four, Ben Forney, built a field on his farm in Rothsville in 1956, so that they had a new place to play. Forney was so dedicated to the sport of polo that he played well into his 80s and was featured in Sports Illustrated as America’s oldest active polo player. Forney died in 1988 at age 84. Several years ago, Warwick Township renovated the fields to keep Forney’s legacy alive.
For the Work to Ride players, polo has brought them opportunities for growth and advancement. Work to Ride graduates receive help with college enrollment and most choose to return to Chamounix to mentor new participants. Some players have even been able to get college scholarships to Ivy League schools like Harvard where they can play polo.
Work to Ride was founded in 1994, as a non-profit community-based prevention program that aids urban youth through constructive activities centered on horsemanship, equine sports, and education. The program is housed at Chamounix Stables, located in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.
Work to Ride provides activities that promote discipline, self-esteem, motivation, social development, life skills, academic achievement, and physical fitness through year-round equestrian programs.
Work to Ride players, Kaela Prescott, 17 (left), a high school junior, and Gigi Velasquez, have found the program to be helpful in their academics as well as learning about horses.
Mark Harnley was at the annual Work to Ride benefit game at Lancaster Polo on Sunday — it was the second to last match of the season.
Bob Shreiner, Robbie Zekany, and Pete Spatafora from nearby Caruso’s restaurant in Rothsville attended the game and a fundraising lunch provided by Caruso’s.
“I have always loved horses, and my mom told me about the program. I knew it was something I wanted to do,” said 17-year-old Kaela Prescott, a high school junior who has found Work to Ride to be helpful in her academics as well as learning about horses.
Next Sunday will be the last polo match of the 2019 season with Patron Appreciation Day on Oct. 6. At 2 p.m. there will be a Blessing of the Animals for the horses and dogs by the pastor of nearby Jerusalem Lutheran Church.
Lancaster Polo begins at 2:30 p.m., with gates opening at 1 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, with children under 12 free, going to support polo in Rothsville. For more about Lancaster Polo and becoming a sponsor, visit the club’s website at lancasterpolo.org or Facebook.
Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at email@example.com.