Work to Ride: Polo that’s not just for mad dogs and englishmen

When you fall of the horse you HAVE TO get back up!  is what Karen Hiner says to kids that come to “Work to Ride”  ‘Even if you’re not gonna keep riding immediately, you MUST STILL  get back on the horse!’  Getting back on the horse, ‘doing the work’ and ‘staying with it’ are part of the mantra at “Work to Ride” a program in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia.  Founded in 1994, at the Chamounix Equestrian Center.  It’s a  non-profit community-based program that aids disadvantaged urban youth.

Not everyone comes from the mean streets, but some of these youths do.  In 1999 Lezlie Hiner invited them to come and muck out stalls, turn out the horses, exercise them.   If the kids learned to take care of, and Shepard the animals properly of course, then she would teach them to ride….and more, maybe even develop a Polo team.    Lezlie did just that. but  she also helped  the kids get to and from practice and helped them with their homework.  Lezlie designed the program as a long-term commitment for  7 to 19 year-old youth who must commit to a minimum of one year of participation.  The kids must remain through high school graduation, and return to Chamounix to mentor new participants. Most of these kids have never played a sport or even mounted  a horse, so fear is a common obstacle for new participants. “When you first start, it’s scary because everything is new. Once you fall off once, that’s scary. It takes you awhile to get over it, but you eventually move on,” star Polo player Kareem Rosser said.

Today these gifted young Polo players compete in the national interscholastic polo division, and regularly play teams representing Yale, Cornell and the University of Connecticut.Hiner, never having had kids of her own, is the “mother” to all these kids, she’s happiest about keeping them off the streets, giving them something positive to do, helping them create some self-esteem.  Caring for animals and mentoring others does a world of good for people. “When the kids are at the barn they can lower their street antennae and just be kids,” she says. “They don’t have to look over their shoulders and worry.”Although the barn has become a second home to many of the kids, they do eventually have to return to their neighborhoods. This past October 14-year-old Mecca Liles-Harris, a starter on the polo team, was murdered, along with her mother and mother’s boyfriend, in her West Philadelphia home. The crime remains unsolved.But with the persistence, tenacity and belief in the dreams of these kids, Hiner and team  have given youth a chance to branch out and discover a sport that once seemed closed to them because of race and economic barriers. Those barriers shouldn’t exist for kids or anyone, and Work to Ride succeeds in tearing them down.

If you have the dedication, the tenacity required to play polo (oh and you clean alot of stalls and help out at "Work to Ride" ) there are alternatives to Philly's mean streets. Polos isn't just for mad dogs and Englishmen!

Work To Ride Accomplishments & Acclaim

  • 1999 Work to Ride made history with the first African-American Polo team in the nation.
  • 2003 Work to Ride was featured on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
  • 2004 Work to Ride was featured in Sports Illustrated by acclaimed sports writer Gary Smith.
  • 2005 & 2011 & 2012 Work to Ride Eastern Regional Interscholastic Polo Tournament Champions
  • 2005 Work to Ride’s Jabarr Rosser was voted #1 National All Star player.
  • 2006 Work to Ride was featured on HBO’s Real Sports for an update on the 2003 airing
  • 2007 Work to Ride featured on MSNBC’s “The Today Show.”
  • Work to Ride included in The Horse exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History , NY, NY
  • 2008 –  2012 WTR team compete in the Unicef Cup & Emir of Katsina Charity Shield, Nigeria, Africa
  • 2009 Most Caring Coach Award, USA Today
  • 2010 Sydney Rutledge and Teeny Jeannie win DVPTP  small pony championship
  • 2011 Cowtown/WTR wins National Interscholastic Polo Championship becoming the 1st African American team to do so
  • WTR’s Kareem Rosser and Daymar Rosser #1 and #3 National Interscholastic All Stars
  • WTR’s Kareem Rosser awarded Polo Training Foundation Male Interscholastic Polo Player of the year 2011
  • WTR’s Kareem Rosser featured on ESPN’s E60 October 2011
  • WTR’s Kareem Rosser selected for the Team USPA 2012
  • WTR’s Kareem Rosser plays for USPA in Junior Tournament at Metropolitan Polo club, Tianjin, China
  • 2012 WTR’s Daymar Rosser, Brandon Rease and Julia Smith make SE Regional All Star Team

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