By Mekhi Abbott,
Special to the AFRO
‘It’s like hockey on horseback’
A perfect illustration of the sport of polo. However, even though one can start to picture what playing polo looks like after reading that quote, most black people couldn’t imagine themselves riding on the back of a horse and still can’t picture themselves on the ice playing hockey. Eric Brown, Miguel Wilson, Kevin Scott, Dale Johnson and event coordinator Susan Smallwood– amongst many others, are changing this narrative.
“My wife got me into
], the first time I played I got whooped by a girl who was 8 or 9 years old,” said Brown.
Brown, now 52, started riding horses when he was just 5, but he didn’t start playing polo until he was 40. After almost 20 years of being removed from horseback riding, he got back to his pastime after having been pushed by his wife.
Brown grew up in Virginia. His family is from Culpepper, and he used to work under a horse trainer in Chantilly. He grew up training horses and actually had his own horse when he was younger. He attended Howard for a year before finishing up college at James Madison University. Although he has deep roots in Virginia, he is an avid traveler.
He has visited Spain, Portugal and Mexico. He has done a lot of dressage training – a form of horse training in Europe. His preferred way to vacation, or excursion if you will, is on horseback.
“I prefer to see the countryside on the back of a horse. You see things you simply can’t see from a car window.”
Miguel Wilson, 56, is a native of the Chocolate City. His father is from the Dominican Republic, but his mother is also a native Washingtonian.
“I went to one camp when he was 8 years old and he was hooked from there. I fell in love with horses.”
His great grandmother paid for him to take horseback riding lessons in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. During almost every summer in high school and college he would work as a riding instructor at Mas Halo summer camp, located in Virginia.
But the trainer that had the largest impact on Wilson was Joe Walker, whom Miguel more affectionately referred to as Uncle Joe.
“Uncle Joe gave me my first pair of leather riding boots. Uncle Joe was one of the first people to purchase a warmblood horse back in the ‘80s, way before it was the most popular horse for sport. He purchased that horse for 30k.”
Wilson attended two historically black universities; he attended Bowie State for four years before heading down south to finish his last year of school and obtaining his bachelor’s from Clark Atlanta. While at Bowie, he was also a part of ROTC through Howard, and subsequently served as a military officer for 6 years.
In 2011, Wilson filed for bankruptcy. His son, Miguel Wilson Jr., showed an interest in horseback riding, so Miguel Sr. came up with a plan: he started a foundation called Ride to the Olympics.
“I started doing a lot of things with the youth in Atlanta… exposing inner city kids to horseback riding.”
His son actually trains professionally now in Texas. But his father’s philanthropy didn’t stop there. He started an event called the Atlanta Fashion and Polo Classic. He does events for kids in PG County. He’s done events with Steve Harvey’s foundation.
Perhaps the biggest and most impactful thing he’s done was back in 2019 when he created the first and only HBCU polo team in the nation at Morehouse.
Johnson, the youngest of the group, got into the sport the latest.
The 37-year-old Oakland native has deep family ties to horses – his grandfather raised horses and had a ranch, and his grandmother was a sharecropper. In fact, his grandfather founded the ranch after Juneteenth, and it served as a home to black cowboys who were former slaves. He now owns two horses himself, a male horse named Denver and a female horse named Sunny.
“Although I personally got into the sport later in life, horses always were a big part of my life and my life story.”
An avid traveler himself, he has ridden horses on multiple different continents, and even had the opportunity to both ride with Eric Brown in Spain and play polo with Miguel Wilson Sr. in Atlanta. Interestingly enough, Dale Johnson is also a model for the United State Polo Association (USPA).
“I actually went on a business trip to Argentina, which is actually the polo capital of the world, and I saw these polo boots that I fell in love with. That’s really what solidified it for me.”
Horses typically weigh around 1,000 pounds and a polo field is roughly the size of ten football fields in square footage. These men are playing a sport in which they have to be in shape themselves, while also having to know how to control the horses, move on a dime, and swing a mallet and try and hit a fiberglass ball into a goal. Oh, and keep in mind that the opposing team is quite literally kicking and elbowing to try and gain an advantage. The margin for error is low and the degree of difficulty is extremely high.
“It’s a full body workout,” says Kevin Scott.