Ponies in Fairmount Park: Philly’s first polo tournament coming in the fall

Kareem Rosser and Nacho Figueras on their ponies

West Philadelphia's Kareem Rosser (right) and Ignacio ''Nacho'' Figueras of Argentina will captain the teams in the first Philadelphia Polo Classic, to be held in September at Fairmount Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

For the first time ever, polo matches will be played in Philadelphia next fall.

The inaugural Philadelphia Polo Classic will be held on Sept. 24 in Fairmount Park. It is organized by Work To Ride, an organization that introduces under-resourced kids in Philadelphia to horseback riding and equestrian sports.

Work to Ride was the first all-Black team to win the National Interscholastic Polo Championship in 2011. But the team has never competed on its own turf.

“We have not played any real matches here,” said Kareem Rosser, standing outside the Chamounix Stables in Fairmount Park. Rosser was the team captain in 2011 and is now a professional player.

“We have ridden and practiced here, but it’s going to be the first time that Philadelphia’s had a polo match on this soil here, to our knowledge,” he said.

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Kareem Rosser of West Philadelphia rides Louisa at Chamounix Stables He will captain one of the two teams in the first Philadelphia Polo Classic to be held in September at Fairmount Park
Kareem Rosser of West Philadelphia rides Louisa at Chamounix Stables He will captain one of the two teams in the first Philadelphia Polo Classic to be held in September at Fairmount Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Kareem first got involved with Work to Ride when he was 8 years old. Now 29, he is the author of the recent memoir “Crossing the Line,” about his difficult upbringing in West Philadelphia. He said the opportunity to play polo through Work to Ride gave him a “second chance at life.”

“I was born into a zip code that was plagued by violence. Resources were scarce and people were struggling every day,” he said. “Where I grew up, a lot of kids don’t make it to the age of 18.”

“Now I am fortunate enough to travel the world and ride horses and play polo,” he said.

Kareem Rosser of West Philadelphia says the Work to Ride Program introduced him to the world beyond his neighborhood. He will captain one of the two teams in the first Philadelphia Polo Classic to be held in September at Fairmout Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The event this fall will include at least two rounds of championship play, as well as VIP and family-friendly activities all day. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell expects about 3,000 people to come into Fairmount Park to watch.

“The opportunity to bring an event like this to Philadelphia is just beyond our wildest dreams,” Ott Lovell said. “But it’s not that surprising, because when you know the organization behind it, Work to Ride – this small, scrappy, incredible, extraordinary organization that has always punched above its weight.”

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The tournament will be co-captained by Rosser and Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras, an internationally recognized polo champion from Argentina, dubbed the “David Beckham of Polo.” He has been an admirer of Work to Ride since he learned about the organization in 2006.

“Fast forward 16 years, seeing what that has done for a guy like Kareem, who has become a man,” said Figueras. “This program really shaped his life and gave him confidence, and gave him tools to be the man that he is today. It’s inspiring to me.”

Officials announce details about the first Philadelphia Polo Classic to be held at Fairmount Park in September. Pictured are (from left) City Councilmember Curtis Jones, Argentine polo champion Ignacio ''Nacho'' Figueras, West Philadelphia polo champion Kareem Rosser, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, and Leslie Hiner, executive director of Work to Ride
Officials announce details about the first Philadelphia Polo Classic to be held at Fairmount Park in September. Pictured are (from left) City Councilmember Curtis Jones, Argentine polo champion Ignacio ”Nacho” Figueras, West Philadelphia polo champion Kareem Rosser, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, and Leslie Hiner, executive director of Work to Ride. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Figueras has been playing polo professionally since 1994. He says the Philadelphia tournament will be one of the very few in the world played in an urban park.

“When Kareem approached me with this idea, which has been in the works for a few years, we stressed that having it close to the city would be a very special thing,” he said. “I think it brings a lot more attention. It’s going to make this event much more impactful and bring more awareness to these programs. I think it’s an amazing thing to be able to play so close to the city.”

The annual Polo Classic may be the first step toward wider acceptance of the sport in Philadelphia. The founder of Work to Ride, Leslie Hiner, is planning to construct a major indoor horse arena in Fairmount Park, at Work to Ride’s home base at Chamounix Stables.

Horses at the Work to Ride program's Chamounix Stables in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia
Chamounix Stables in Fairmount Park is home to the Work to Ride program. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The arena is expected to cost $10 million, of which Hiner said she has raised about $7 million. As soon as she gets closer to her goal, Hiner will begin construction, perhaps right after the tournament wraps in the fall.

“We’re going to probably be the premier host site on the East Coast for high school polo. The arena’s going to be much bigger than the standard arenas, which is why it costs so much,” Hiner said. “It’s going to be fantastic. We’ll have people coming in from all over the country.”

Leslie Hiner is the executive director of Work to Ride at Chamounix Stables in Fairmount Park
Leslie Hiner is the executive director of Work to Ride at Chamounix Stables in Fairmount Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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