West Philadelphia native and polo champion Kareem Rosser is on a mission to give back to the program that changed his life.
Rosser, 29, grew up in an area of West Philly often referred to by natives as “The Bottom,” where in the early 2000s, an accidental discovery by his brothers eventually led him to a local program called Work to Ride.
Launched in 1994, Work to Ride is a nonprofit community-based program that focuses on helping under-resourced urban youth through horsemanship, equine sports, and other educational activities.
“My brothers were out on a bike ride one afternoon in Philly. They were riding through Fairmount Park when they accidentally went down Chamounix Drive, which ended where the stable (Chamounix Stables) is in Fairmount Park,” Rosser recalled.
His brothers then met Lezile Hiner, founder and executive director of Work to Ride, who made an offer: if they stayed in school, she would teach them to ride horses.
“They met Lezile, who handed them an application which they later brought home to my mom that she later filled out for the Work to Ride organization,” he said. “At that time, I was seven or eight and always wanted to do what my brothers were doing.”
After his brothers attended, Rosser eventually tagged along and grew very close to the program. Work to Ride offers riding lessons and horseback riding camps, as well as an interscholastic polo team that is open to middle school and high school students.
“My exposure to horses before was seeing some of the local Black cowboys riding around in the neighborhood,” said Rosser. “I didn’t pick up a polo mallet for the first time until I was 10.”
Rosser excelled in the program—which eventually opened doors to significant educational opportunities.
“The sport itself allowed me to attend Valley Forge Military Academy on an academic scholarship, where I played polo there,” he said.
Playing polo for almost two decades, Work to Ride has led Rosser to reach exposure on a national level.
He captained the Work to Ride Polo Team in 2011, which led to the first ever all African-American team to win the National Interscholastic Polo Champion.
In 2015, he also led his Colorado State University Polo Team to the National Intercollegiate Polo Championship and was named the Intercollegiate Polo Player of the Year.
After graduating in 2016 from Colorado State University with a degree in economics, Rosser eventually joined Work to Ride as treasurer of the board to help raise funding for the organization and its future success.
That includes a $10 million endowment capital campaign, raising $8.1 million to date.
With the help of his team, Rosser has organized an annual fundraiser to sustain the growth of the nationally recognized program. On Sept.24, Rosser and his team will host the inaugural ‘Philadelphia Polo Classic’ which is expected to attract more than 3,000 guests. With a series of family fun events and polo matches, all proceeds will support the growth of Work to Ride.
“We’ve been raising money to build a new indoor riding facility on our current site so that we’re able to operate year-round,” Rosser said.
Overall, Rosser hopes the program can lead the way for those growing up in similar underprivileged circumstances to have the same opportunity.
“I’m excited to get Philly involved. We want those who are in the city to know this jewel that’s in their backyard,” said Rosser. “Regardless of where you come from or how much money you have, you’re invited to attend the Philadelphia Polo Classic. It’s an event for all.”