Nov 23, 2020 4:44 PM

Kareem Rosser Valiente

Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Kareem Rosser* thought he and his siblings would always be stuck in “The Bottom”, a community and neighborhood devastated by poverty and violence. Riding their bicycles through Philly’s Fairmount Park, Kareem’s brothers discovered a barn full of horses. Noticing the brothers’ fascination with her misfit animals, Lezlie Hiner, founder of the Work to Ride stables, offered them an escape route: an after school job in exchange for riding lessons.

“Work to Ride saved my life and my family’s life, as it took us away from the drugs and violence we faced in our community here in Philadelphia,” Kareem told CLICKPOLO. More than 20 years have passed since he started playing. In that time, he has travelled all over the world playing polo, was part of the first all African American team to win a National Interscholastic Polo championship, and recently wrote his own memoir, “Crossing the Line”.

What’s your story with polo?

"I began playing polo in Philadelphia. I started riding at a non-profit organization named Work To Ride that serves underprivileged kids in Philadelphia. I began riding with my siblings. My older brother, a younger sister, and a younger brother, who are doing the program."

When did you start playing?

"I’m 27 now and I started when I was 8 years old. The program taught me to ride, to care about horses, I learned everyday responsibilities and skills and, what’s more important, it saved my life, my family’s life, and the lives of many kids as it took us away from the drugs and violence we faced in our community here in Philadelphia. I played polo all over the world: in Argentina, in England, in China and all over the US."

What can you tell us about your book “Crossing The Line”?

"I’m incredibly excited to share my memoirs with the world because my story has been highlighted for a very long time, but each time it was only bits and pieces, so I’m looking forward to sharing the details of my life. Growing up in West Philadelphia and the struggle that my family and I had. At the same time, to talk about what it meant to me, my siblings and the other kids in the Work to Ride program. To tell how hard it was to play polo without resources. Most of the horses we received are donated so most of them have some sort of problem.

In my book I talk about the struggles of a young boy in the Work to Ride program and at my home in Philadelphia, and what it took for us to become national polo champions. Myself, my younger brother and a friend of ours were the first all African American polo team to ever win a National Interscholastic tournament in the U.S. We were extremely excited about that, so I talked about that process in the book. I hope to inspire a generation of people, particularly African Americans who aren’t involved in the sport at all."

Kareem Rosser at Great Meadow Polo Club

What were most important tournaments you played?

"The 2011 Interscholastic that I played with my brother Daymar and our friend Brandon. We made history, it was incredible to us and many other people, as the sport of polo is played predominantly by Caucasian people. It was important for us to break a barrier to let black people know that there are people who are black that play polo and that, regardless of where you come from and your life circumstances, there’s an opportunity for you to participate in the sport. It gave us more exposure to the world of polo, and people got to know about the Work to Ride."

How important is Interscholastic polo?

"I would say it is very important in the US because it gives high school students a chance to play polo who normally wouldn’t have and it’s also more affordable than the traditional polo you often see in the U.S. It has been a good feeder program, especially for a lot of high-goal organizations, as it inspires kids to reach the next level. It’s been a great model in the US Myself and many other kids of the Work to Ride program have come from the Interscholastic program."

There are not many African American players. Do you feel special?

"I’m aware African Americans are very few. I feel special as I’m almost essentially a pioneer. I would like to inspire people who come from a similar background as I do, there is a door open for them. Not just black folks, but everyone."

How do you balance work and polo?

"Unfortunately, I haven’t been playing as much polo as I would like, as work has taken over. Right now I'm working more than playing polo, but I hope one day very soon I can be playing polo again. I’m four years into my career in Finances, and it's very time consuming. Spending time in the office and learning, hoping someday I make enough money to be able to afford my own team."

Kareem Rosser Work to Ride

How do you see polo in Philadelphia?

"Polo in Philadelphia has a lot of room to grow. There are a couple of clubs that are not far away from the city, lower goal clubs which are perfect for the community, the people in the area, and the Work to Ride program."

Do you have an idol or someone you admire?

"I definitely admire quite a few people in polo. I would say Adolfo Cambiaso, Mariano Aguerre and the Pieres brothers. Those are the names that come immediately into my mind. They are true horsemen. Their consistency of playing high-level polo for so many years is admirable."

What does polo mean to you?

"It means so much to me. It changed my life and gave me a second chance, so whenever I think of the sport I think about the opportunities and the doors it has opened for me. I’m very grateful. It is a unique sport, as you are not only competing with other humans, but you have horses to take care of as well. That is one of the special parts. To bond with the horses and play a team sport. I hope I can play until I can no longer ride anymore."

*Kareem Rosser is a Team USPA alumni. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.