Two hours from Manhattan, in a small hamlet in Suffolk County, one man is leading the change in America polo. Bob Ceperano is the manager of Bethpage Polo in the Park – one of New York’s prime polo fields – and a well-known polo coach in the region. Since 1999, Ceperano has been a running a “Work-to-Ride” program at Country Farms Camp and Equestrian Center in Medford, Long Island. This program, first established in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, seeks to aid disadvantaged urban youth by teaching them about horsemanship.
Many of Ceperano’s students are hoping to play professionally. Among them are Monique, 16, Emma, 15, Stavros, 12 and Blake, 9. They have been playing polo every week and participating in competitions for the past two or three years. Being around horses is one of the main reasons why they enjoy spending time at the farm. Before playing games they spend hours working on the barn, caring for the horses and tacking them up. Ceperano says this teaches them about responsibility.
Most parents want their children to play sports. According to the International Platform on Sport & Development, it is a way to teach them about teamwork, fair play, and adherence to rules. Ceperano’s ambition is to make those goals achievable with polo, and he makes his lessons as accessible and affordable as possible. Monique works part-time on the barn, in exchange for reductions in class fees. She also teaches the younger kids how to care for horses. “A child who rides is a child off the streets,” is the motto behind the Work-to-Ride program.
James Gordon Bennett, founder, editor and publisher of the New York Herald, brought the sport of polo to Long Island in 1876. Interest in the sport grew exponentially and by the 1930’s polo was in the midst of a Golden Age: crowds of 30,000 attended international matches at the Meadow Brook Polo Club on Long Island, the country’s oldest polo club.
In recent years, the club has been accumulating debt, and in the summer of 2013, Bob Ceperano won a bid to lease its fields. He hopes that ties he has built with the local community will help him develop Meadow Brook into a fully functioning club. He hopes more people will want to come and watch games and want to learn the sport themselves. For the kids at Country Farms, Polo is now an important factor in their decisions for the future.