With 60 ponies on hand, the Poloafrica Development Trust in the Free State is giving more people the opportunity to take part in equestrian sporting activities, like polo.
A Laureus Sport for Good Foundation project, Poloafrica aims to make the sport more inclusive and change the perception that it is only for the elite.
Based in Uitgedacht Farm on the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, Poloafrica uses the love of riding, polo and ponies as a way to encourage boys and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to work hard vocationally, at school, and at the life skills lessons provided on the farm.
The ponies are used for young people aged between six and 21.
Poloafrica founder, Catherine Cairns said the majority of the development polo players in the country belong to the programme and they’re doing well.
“Poloafrica teams have numerous wins to their credit in tournaments in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.”
According to Poloafrica’s website, it also provides opportunities for talented underprivileged adults to flourish as equestrian professionals – whether in playing the game, caring for the animals, schooling ponies or coaching others.
“Recently the scope of equestrian activities offered by the programme has broadened, with the introduction of dressage and show jumping,” said Cairns.
“Poloafrica serves eight villages in the surrounding farming community, with a few children visiting during the holidays from across the Lesotho border.”
The children in the programme learn a variety of life skills such as art, singing, needlework, bee-keeping, carpentry, welding, acrobatics, self-defence, computer skills and spoken self-expression.
They also receive extra tuition in maths and English, two subjects which present a challenge to rural children in South Africa today.
The programme also places importance on having empathy for the animals, good attitude and teamwork. To be a Poloafrica scholar, children must be registered at school.
Adults in the community also benefit from the employment opportunities offered by the programme.
Breaking the barrier
Poloafrica is in line with the government’s Transformation Charter for South African Sport.
The charter looks to unleash the sporting potential of black youth by encouraging broader community involvement, the creation of development programmes at grassroots levels and the delivering of facilities to disadvantaged communities.
“Poloafrica’s strategy delivers against these exact objectives,” said Cairns. “The programme provides beautiful, first class riding and polo facilities in an under-served area, with extensive community involvement. With little help it has already developed a robust pipeline of promising young riders and polo players from one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country.”
Closing the gender divide
Poloafrica also tries to break down the gender divide.
According to the organisation, a cultural shift in the mindset is necessary for the girls on the programme to develop the same sense of purpose in life and confidence in sport as the boys.
The trust uses riding and other sports and life skills to encourage girls to become more independent. “In recent holidays the FLY (First Love Yourself) project was designed especially for the older girls to foster self-worth,” said Cairns.
“Girls on the programme are encouraged to learn practical skills that traditionally are only done by men, such as welding and carpentry. Equally, the boys on the programme are encouraged to learn skills such as needlework and cooking.”