GREENWICH, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — Polo is a sport usually associated with wealthy country clubs and not considered diverse.
On Friday, the first African-American woman played in the highest polo league in the United States.
When Shariah Harris took the field for the Postage Stamp Farm team, she became a pioneer in polo, breaking barriers in the white-, male-dominated sport.
How did she arrive on American polo’s biggest stage? Her mom took a wrong turn. Literally.
“We got lost in the park, and she made a right-hand turn to a dead-end road and saw the stables,” Harris, 19, told CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.
What she found was Work to Ride, a program helping inner-city youth who would’ve never touched a horse find their calling.
“Summers, we’re up there every day, all day,” Harris said. “Eight a.m. to nine at night. You come up after school and ride exercise horses, sometimes tutoring. It’s a full commitment.”
“It’s fas, it’s risk-taking, it’s dangerous, and anybody can play it,” Harris said of polo. “The girls can play with the boys.”
Polo became Harris’ passport to a new life. She earned a scholarship to Cornell, where she led the polo team to the national finals. And she was named the U.S. Polo Association’s National Player of the Year.
“When I tell people I play polo, they’re like, ‘Thats not a sport. The horse does all the work,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Uh, maybe you should get on and try it. … You’re controlling a thousand-plus pound animal, and you have to hit the ball and make sure you don’t run anyone over.”
Polo is called the sport of kings — and now queens. On horseback. the great equalizer is talent.
“It’s not a big surprise that she has this opportunity,” said Kareem Rosser, a polo player who also got his start with Work to Ride. “It just shows what the program produces. To see her out there, it means so much as another Work to Ride graduate and as a bigger brother to her as well.”
Lezlie Hiner, executive director of Work to Ride, said he’s proud of Harris.
“I’m speechless. To have her doing this is like the best,” she said, tearing up. “She’s just awesome.”
Harris will play in her first public match Sunday, July 9 at the Greenwich Polo Club.