First annual Philadelphia Polo Classic draws 3K to Fairmount Park

The first-ever Philadelphia Polo Classic was a huge success, with thousands of spectators spending the day in Fairmount Park for an event about more than just fun.

Spectator Richard Demaria is a neighbor of one of the polo players, Kareem Rosser, who is a graduate of the program Work to Ride. He went on to be the captain of the first all-Black team to win the National Interscholastic Polo Championship.

"I’ve had a lot of people sign this for him," said Demaria, while holding up a homemade sign cheering on Rosser and his brother, who was also competing. "I mean it’s a great day out here. Come out for a really great cause that obviously helps people, lifts people up. I’m most eager to meet Lezlie, as a matter of fact, because I have an envelope with a couple checks in it for her."

Lezlie Hiner founded Work to Ride in 1994. The long-term program at Chamounix Equestrian Center is a nonprofit community-based prevention program that supports under-resourced urban youth through activities focused on horsemanship, equine sports and education.

"It takes a special kind of kid to be in our program because it’s very rigorous and it’s a different kind of program. We want them to stay until they graduate high school. That’s one of the big goals, is to get kids to finish high school and we just use horses as the medium to do it," said Hiner.

All proceeds from the annual Philadelphia Polo Classic will benefit Work to Ride. In fact, the nonprofit started a Facility Capital Campaign in 2019 to raise the funding to expand youth programming with facility improvements, the Chamounix Equestrian Center and a new indoor equestrian arena.

Esteban Penados, 19, played in the Philadelphia Polo Classic and graduated from Work to Ride last year.

"I’m originally from Guatemala and my mom gave up everything she had to give us a life here in the U.S. and she was lucky enough to find the program," said Penados. "I’ve been able to travel to Florida, Colorado, New York, Virginia, Maryland—all types of states, playing polo, meeting all types of people, and it’s a huge privilege."

Penados said Work to Ride offered him much more than free lessons in horseback riding, show jumping and polo.

"Lezlie always put me on different horses that she felt would challenge me in different ways. When I was ready for a more challenging horse, she would give me a more challenging horse and there’s a lot of fear involved. I was terrified of challenges, but you learn to push through that," said Penados. "With that you also gain a lot of respect from the horses, as well, showing them that you’re eventually not afraid and you can work with them. They trust you and they begin to respect you."

As it turns out, the graduates of Work to Ride have also gained the respect of the community that raised them.

"They do it themselves. I’m proud of them all," said Hiner.

"This is beautiful. I’m glad that they brought this to Philadelphia. I’m glad that so many people came out to support. I’m glad that Miss Lez is getting the support and attention she needs to keep going," said Kim Moore, one of the polo player’s third grade teacher. "For him to call me and say Mrs. Moore, I want you to be here, it’s beautiful. It warms my heart. I’m so proud of them."