World-renowned polo champions came to Fairmount Park to participate in Philadelphia’s first-ever Polo Classic aimed at benefiting local youth through the Work to Ride Program.
On Saturday, history was made as thousands of spectators gathered at Edgeley Field in North Philadelphia to witness two inaugural polo matches.
West Philadelphia native and polo champion Kareem Rosser was one of the main players behind the scenes and on the field.
Rosser learned about horses and started riding at 8 years old as a Work to Ride student and went on to become a decorated intercollegiate polo figure and global polo star.
He credits the Work to Ride Program and his upbringing as being a big part of his professional success. Growing up, he got rides from West Philadelphia’s Black cowboys and was usually surrounded by horses in some way. Some of his neighbors even had horses in their backyards.
Rosser chronicled his journey from West Philadelphia to some of the world’s most elite polo fields in a memoir, “Crossing the Line: A Fearless Team of Brothers and the Sport That Changed Their Lives Forever.” Today, he hopes that his efforts and Philadelphia’s groundbreaking Polo Classic will give hope to children where he comes from.
“I’m beyond excited. I have so many different emotions going through my body right now. But the word really is just excited and overwhelmed in the best way possible,” said Rosser. “Riding both changed and has saved my life. It took me away from the impoverished neighborhood that I grew up in and exposed me to a completely different world. It showed me that there was life outside of the neighborhood that I grew up in, and it acted as a vehicle for me to propel myself to a better situation.”
Rosser is a board member of Work to Ride, and captain of the first all-Black team to win the National Interscholastic Polo Championship. He also served as a team captain for the inaugural pro polo match in Philadelphia.
“Work to Ride is going to give young people an opportunity. It’s going to give them the exposure they need. It’s an organization that allows people to dream and it turns dreams into reality. It allows kids to believe that they can be whatever they want in this day and time and that’s so important,” Rosser said.
Work to Ride is a community-based equestrian program that has been empowering under-resourced Philadelphia youth since its inception in 1994. All proceeds from the Philadelphia’s Polo Classic will benefit the local nonprofit housed at the Chamounix Equestrian Center in Fairmount Park.
The proceeds will support the growth of the Work to Ride program, which offers horseback riding lessons, summer camp and a polo program.
“I hope this turns into a multiday event that just draws in Philadelphia and people from around the world. And we have already done that. But I’m hoping that it continues to just attract good people who want to make a difference,” Rosser said.
“It’s a historic day because there’s not many places where you’ll see this many people of color on the polo field. So it’s a significant thing personally,” he said. “What we’re doing, it’s incredible because this is a sport that has predominantly white players. It’s very rare where you see this many people of color, where they are able to access this and do this. So it’s a proud moment.”
The first polo match was played by members of Philadelphia’s Work to Ride Program. The Polo Classic was presented by Mars Equestrian and B&D Builders.
Rosser’s brother Daymar Rosser is also a polo champion. Daymar played during the feature match on the opposing team led by captain Nacho Figueras.
Figueras has been dubbed “the David Beckham of polo” and is considered one of the most famous polo players in the world.
Figueras shook hands with fans after the match and on the eve of the polo classic during a reception at which Rosser received the “Soul of the Lion” award from DAOU vineyards, he expressed his appreciation for having so many people come to Philadelphia to support a worthy cause.
Former Work to Ride student Tasha Harris said the program “definitely” increased her confidence in life. Although she hasn’t ridden in some time she said she would love to get back on the saddle after watching the matches.
Her sister Sheree Harris is also a Work to Ride alum, and her brother Marc Harris participated in the Philadelphia Polo Classic.
“Participating in Work to Ride took me out of my comfort zone and gave me the opportunity to learn things that I would have never learned before,” Harris said.
The inaugural Polo Classic in Philadelphia was an important day for many reasons, she said.
“It’s extremely important. I think it gives kids from Philly and maybe any other major city the chance to see that there’s things outside of their hometown, their block, their three-mile area, that it’s a lot bigger than they are. They can learn a lot more,” Harris said. “It’ll open up their interests and get them interested in things that they never thought that they may be interested in. And just creating a new well-rounded culture for the city.”