Prather’s worry wasn’t an idle one. Soon after he began caring for a stable full of horses in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park as part of a program called Work to Ride — which was founded in 1994 and provides disadvantaged urban kids an opportunity to learn about horsemanship and play competitive polo — Prather discovered the importance of always being on his toes. “I was not afraid of them, and I didn’t recognize how powerful they are and how quickly they can go from being gentle and giant to quick and furious,” Prather says. One day, he moved to give one of the horses he was responsible for a hug — a horse, by the way, he had a real bond with — and the horse “freaked out,” knocking its head into Prather’s, stunning and dazing him. “Maybe it was my jacket, or I moved too quickly, or it didn’t like the horse next to it. From that moment on, I realized I had to be more cautious around them,” Prather recalls.
As far as lessons go, it was an important one, given that it had to do with self-preservation. But it was also just one of many, many lessons learned and benefits Prather and scores of other city kids have earned through their participation in Work to Ride and especially through playing polo at the highest levels — in fact, last year the team became the first African-American squad to win the U.S. Polo Association’s National Interscholastic Championship. Even better, the team recently won the championship again for the second straight year.
“What I can say that it has done for me is provide simple exposure to life that I would never have had,” says Prather, who recently received his master’s degree in criminal justice from New Mexico State University and was a member of the first African-American team to compete in the polo national championships, back in 1999. Prather says the attention the team received when it first started competing in polo, a sport that is primarily played by upper-middle-class or wealthy white people in this country, helped open the door to educational opportunities that he needed both because of where he lived and because his dyslexia made reading and writing especially difficult. “A lot of who I am today is because of polo,” he says. Which makes the reward seem more than worth the possible risk of a scrape or a moment of fear around a horse.