August 2017 Issue - page 6

Page 6
August 2017
PENNSYLVANIA EQUESTRIAN
Harris is First Female African American High Goal Polo Player
By Suzanne Bush
Life comes at you fast. And
that’s just perfect for Shariah
Harris, who made her debut in
the sport of high goal polo this
summer.
Speed is as much a part of
polo as…well…stomping divots
at halftime. “I love the speed,”
the Cornell University student
says, laughing. Polo ponies (not
always ponies, but the alliteration
works) race down the 300-yard
field at lightning speed, chasing a
ball that’s traveling at upwards of
100 miles per hour.
Fear? She’s immune. “Once
you go out there and do your
thing,” she explained—her thing
being total focus on the action and
the ball, “the nerves go away. I tell
everyone to try it, because once
they try it they become addicted.”
Harris was a substitute on
Postage Stamp Farm’s high-goal
polo team at the prestigious and
very tony Greenwich Polo Club in
Connecticut this summer. Her road
to polo started with a wrong turn
near Philadelphia’s Mann Music
Center. Her mother got a little bit
lost, and turned down a road that
led to the Chamounix Equestrian
Center. Instead of a dead end, this
road opened to a world of possibil-
ities, as Harris and her two siblings
begged their mother to take a look
at what was going on at the stable.
Chamounix’s Work to Ride
(WTR) program offers young
people the opportunity to learn to
ride and to care for horses. The
young people commit to work-
ing—hard--at the stables. It’s a
grand bargain, as the city kids get
involved in sports while discover-
ing within themselves reserves of
courage, strength, teamwork and
competitiveness they didn’t know
they had. Harris was just nine
when she started at Chamounix.
“I think my first day we learned
how to clean stalls and how to
groom and tack a horse.”
“I Wanted to be Like Them”
WTR stresses discipline, and
aims to get kids engaged in positive
activities that develop life skills
and self-esteem. The combina-
tion has yielded success on many
levels, and the WTR polo team has
been featured in
Sports Illustrated
,
on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant
Gumbel and The Today Show on
NBC. The team has competed in
Africa and Argentina, and won
the National Interscholastic Polo
Championship in 2011 and 2012.
Founded in 1999, WTR’s polo
team was the nation’s first Afri-
can-American polo team.
Kids can choose from several
equestrian disciplines at Chamou-
nix, but polo was the one that
most appealed to Harris. “When
I watched the boys practice and
play, I remember thinking I
wanted to be like them,” she said.
“I wasn’t scared; and that’s what
helped me get better.”
She rode for two or three
years, she said, before she played
in an actual polo match. “It was
pretty fun. We lost the match, but it
was fun. And it was very competi-
tive, which was perfect for me.”
Not every competitive eques-
trian has what it takes to play polo.
The sport is demanding, and both
physically and mentally challeng-
ing. Harris is studying large animal
veterinary science--on a full polo
scholarship--at Cornell University,
and she thrives on the challenges
polo offers. In her freshman year
playing polo for Cornell, she was
recognized as a Northeast All Star
at the Intercollegiate Regional
tournament in March. She also
received top honors as the Polo
Training Foundation Female Inter-
scholastic Polo Player of the Year
her senior year in high school.
From Chamounix
to Greenwich
It was in her travels playing
with WTR’s team that Harris met
Annabelle Garrett, the Postage
Stamp Farm team’s patron. She
had suffered a back injury earlier in
the summer and couldn’t compete
in some of the scheduled matches
at Greenwich. She invited Harris
to play for her. Yes, it was an in-
vitation that ultimately shattered a
very expensive glass ceiling, given
the fact that Harris would be the
first African-American woman to
play in high-goal polo. But Harris
is much more than a symbol. Her
academic achievements, coupled
with her single-minded drive to ex-
cel at polo are far more important
data points in her young life.
And then there is her fearless-
ness. When she first started learn-
ing to play polo, she had her share
of mishaps and unanticipated
dismounts. But nothing deterred
her from continuing to learn. “I
don’t remember being scared to do
it,” she said. “The speed is the best
part. You of course have issues be-
cause you’re dealing with horses,
but they love it too.”
Harris applied that same
sense of focus and determina-
tion to her stint with the Postage
Stamp Farm team. And she saw
an opportunity to learn things she
could take back to her collegiate
polo team. “I learned how to read
the plays ahead of time,” she said.
“You have to read body language
and envision how the play is going
to evolve before it happens. The
anticipation part is what I picked
up.” While the Postage Stamp
Farm team didn’t win, the expe-
rience, Harris said, was wonderful.
An Ancient Game
The sport of polo has survived
for more than two thousand years,
its history reaching back to the
sixth century BC in Persia. Despite
the surfeit of noisy, sensory-over-
loading electronic games that are
proliferating in schools, parks and
even playgrounds, polo is actually
gaining in popularity. The sound of
horses thundering down the field,
the thwack of a mallet hitting the
ball and the raw speed—these are
what inspire Harris and her fellow
players. They’re part of history and
a unique tradition.
She said that everyone who
has graduated fromWTR still goes
back to work with, and to inspire,
the kids. What would have hap-
pened if her mother had not made
a wrong turn 10 years ago? “I
honestly have no idea what I would
be doing now,” she said.
Postage Stamp farm team: Kris Kampsen, Brandon Phillips, Patron Annabelle Garret, Jao Ganon and
Shariah Harris.
Photo credit: Lezlie Hiner
1,2,3,4,5 7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,...28
Powered by FlippingBook