Aug 05, 2016 8:27 PM

Shariah Harris Kati Perri
Shariah Harris riding Kati Perri in the Polo division at the 2015 Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

2016 has been an exceptional year for Shariah Harris, among numerous accolades and awards, she has secured a spot on the Cornell University women’s polo team beginning this fall. A product of the renowned Work to Ride (WTR) program directed by Lezlie Hiner and based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, her life collided with polo at the young age of nine. Since then, she has steadily been working her way to the top, marked by not only a talent for the sport, but a love for horses and a determination to persevere.

Harris began her polo career in the Work to Ride era of Kareem Rosser, a Team USPA member and recent Colorado State graduate, along with his younger brother, Daymar “Gerb” Rosser and Brandon Rease. At an impressionable young age, Harris recalls her reasons for joining the program, “I always remember watching them cross the street and practice on the fields and I thought, I really want to do that. I was always a sporty person, so I decided, I wanted to play polo too.” Polo became a family affair and she joined the program alongside her two siblings, older sister She-ree and younger brother, Marc.

Harris’ first two-and-a-half years at WTR were spent in the Saturday program for beginners, learning and perfecting her riding skills. At 12 years old she progressed to the Sunday program where Hiner began teaching polo. At the time, the WTR competing girls team was at capacity and the two sisters patiently waited for their chance, honing their skills and strategy. As girls graduated from the program, Harris garnered a spot on the team which she competed on for three years. After her sister graduated and a few other girls dropped out, however, she found she was the only girl left. Harris was then bumped up to the open team (both male and female). Harris captained the Junior Varsity Open team when Rease graduated and later became captain of the Varsity Team when Daymar Rosser graduated, a leadership position she held for three years.

Work To Ride Team Shariah Harris
2015-2016 Work To Ride Open Team: Malachi Lyles, Marc Harris, Julio Penados and Shariah Harris

Despite Harris’ prowess on the polo field and commitment to the program, it wasn’t until high school that she began to consider college options and an extended polo career. “Back in ninth grade, I wasn’t really thinking about where I wanted to go to college. We played at Cornell every year and that’s when Karen Eldredge [former assistant Cornell University polo coach] approached me. I told her I had not researched any colleges and she encouraged me to consider Cornell. I looked into it more, and thought to myself, I kind of like this school, but then realized it’s kind of hard to get into! All my tokens were not on Cornell, because there was a possibility I might not get in, but I am really happy that I did!” she beamed. The top female recruit her year, a long list of universities were courting her for their programs—Cornell made an offer that was hard to refuse, a full-ride scholarship!

Cornell Polo Team Work to Ride Shariah Harris
Work to Ride and the Cornell Interscholastic Polo Team pose after a match at Cornell in Ithaca, New York.

Come September, Harris will join a program that boasts back-to-back 2015 and 2016 National Women’s Intercollegiate Championship titles. Two of the championship starters have graduated, Elena Wicker and Anna Winslow, a Team USPA member, which will leave a void to be filled. “Well, I’m hoping we can win again, I definitely want to do that,” exclaims Harris. “I’m just ready to learn and contribute to the team in any way I can, I’m just ready to play!” She has already met several of her teammates, some of whom, including Emma Eldredge, she grew up competing against, the rest she became acquainted with this past April at the National Intercollegiate Championships at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut.

Shariah Harris Cornell Teammates
Anna Winslow, Emma Eldredge, Shariah Harris and Hannah Noyes at the 2016 National Intercollegiate Championships

The first in her family to pursue a bachelor’s degree – she is a force to be reckoned with both on and off the field. Aside from her polo pursuits, Harris plans to major in large animal veterinary science. Inspired by her love for horses and a childhood spent watching Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, she hopes to focus her efforts on equine medicine. “I’m usually the one to dress wounds, give shots and walk the horses when they are colicing. When they have abscesses, I clean them out,” said Harris. With nine years of practical horse care at WTR under her belt, she looks forward to exploring the technical side of veterinary medicine.

Shariah Harris
Shariah Harris riding Late Starter in the Field Hunter division of the Thoroughbred Makeover last fall.

When asked what she looks forward to most about attending Cornell, Harris answered with an exuberant, “definitely being on the polo team!” With a tangible excitement in her voice she continued, “Also just the environment of the school. I remember visiting for one of their ‘Cornell Days,’ and when we toured the campus, I just felt like I belonged there.”

On the cusp of a new phase in a promising future, keep your eyes peeled for more great achievements from Shariah Harris. Recently announced as the Polo Training Foundation’s Interscholastic Female Player of the Year, she will be celebrated at an award ceremony in Greenwich, Connecticut during the East Coast Open. Her advice for up-and-coming kids who would like to one day play polo in college, “time and dedication—you have to put the effort forward.” Echoing the values of her coach and mentor Hiner, “If you’re not dedicated, you’re not going to last, if you’re scared to get dirty, you are not going to last and if you’re not going to work you are definitely not going to last.” Yet another shining example of the opportunities that Hiner and the Work to Ride program have provided to many inner city Philadelphia youth, we look forward to following the career of this exceptional young woman.

Shariah Harris Kati Perri
Shariah Harris riding Kati Perri in the Polo division at the 2015 Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover