Photographs by Tessa Marie Images
Black cowboys were Kareem Rosser’s first heroes. He’d see them riding down the streets of his otherwise bleak West Philadelphia neighborhood. “People aren’t aware that there’s a rich culture of black cowboys inside the city,” says Rosser. “Some of my neighbors even had horses in their backyards.”
When he was 8 years old, Rosser started riding lessons on a pony named Aja. “I was a timid rider,” he recalls. “I was terrified of falling off.”
The image of an ecstatic young Rosser astride a horse graces the cover of Crossing the Line: A Fearless Team of Brothers and a Sport That Changed Their Lives Forever (St. Martin’s Press, 304 pages). “Of all the stories around polo that I’ve experienced in my career, this is by far the most inspiring,” says Argentine polo player and international champion Nacho Figueras of Rosser’s compellingly unique memoir. Rhodes scholar and former White House fellow Wes Moore has called
Crossing the Line a truly special book. “It will not just leave you with hope, but also ideas on how to make that hope transferable,” Moore wrote. “Kareem’s remarkable story is one that should be read and understood by all.”
In what amounts to a superhero-like narrative, Rosser details his journey from 8-year-old city kid to national polo champion. “We were the first African-American team to win a national championship,” notes Rosser, who has also ridden at Radnor Hunt.
Rosser and his brother Daymar got there with hard work, diligent practice and the support of Work to Ride, a Philadelphia nonprofit that teaches horsemanship to inner-city kids. Fittingly, Rosser is donating a portion of his book’s proceeds to the organization. The funds will benefit the horses. Most are aging out of polo or have issues related to poor training or abuse. Some have trouble stopping or turning, while others are afraid of polo mallets. “The horse is 90 percent of the game, and it’s harder to compete with horses like that,” he says. “We figured it out and made it work.”
Almost every day after school and on the weekends, Rosser and his siblings were at the Work to Ride barn in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. He’d ride two to five horses a day, improving his skills, grooming the animals, and learning about saddles, bridles and bits. “I got my first polo lesson when I was 9 or 10,” he remembers. “When I first hit the polo ball, I was hooked.”
Rosser was no natural. “We spent a lot of years losing badly,” he says with a laugh. “There were games that we lost 30-0 or 25-5.”
Ultimately, all the practice paid off, and Rosser got bigger and stronger in his teen years. By sophomore year of high school, he and his Work to Ride team had hit their stride. “We were so good we could compete at collegiate levels against Cornell, Yale and UVA,” he says.
In 2011, Rosser and his team claimed the National Interscholastic Polo Championship. The team’s captain, he was named the Polo Training Foundation’s player of the year. Matriculating at Colorado State University, Rosser won intercollegiate championships. His brother followed suit, captaining the Roger Williams University team when it won the National Intercollegiate Championship in 2017.
The Rosser brothers even landed a gig as Ralph Lauren models. Nattily dressed in authentic American equestrian style, they headlined a 2019 advertising campaign. “The reaction was incredible,” Rosser says.
Now 28 and a financial analyst in Philadelphia, Rosser’s heart is still with Work to Ride, where he sits on the board of directors’ executive committee. This spring, he’ll lead the public phase of a capital campaign aimed at raising $10 million to refurbish the organization’s facility. “There are a lot of kids who come from where we come from, and we want to give them hope,” he says. “Maybe they play polo, maybe they just ride a horse. If we did it, so can they.”