Kareem Rosser was in my life long before Maison d’Etto became a tangible reality. At that time, I was in my early thirties and completely horse-obsessed. When people say “horse-obsessed” I think it conjures up the idea of riding, but for me, it was all of it, the riding, the competition, the atmosphere, and especially the scent of these magnificent animals and the healing that they offered through their large bodies, kind eyes, and their iconic smells. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression myself, I also appreciated how transformative working with horses can be for humans, which is why I was drawn to Kareem Rosser and the community prevention program that he is a graduate of and ambassador for, Work to Ride. Founded in 1994 by the inimitable Lezlie Hiner, Work to Ride is a nonprofit community-based prevention program that aids under-resourced urban youth in Philadelphia through constructive activities centered on horsemanship, equine sports and education. Watching Kareem come up through Work to Ride’s polo program alongside his talented brother Daymar convinced me that when I figured out my life’s work (which I knew would have to do with horses) that Kareem and Work to Ride would be a part of it.
Seven years later, Maison d’Etto is a reality and Kareem is not only a Work to Ride success story, but an accomplished author. Today, on Giving Tuesday, I couldn’t be more honored to present Kareem and his memoir CROSSING THE LINE to our community and to support the nonprofit that gave Kareem and so many other youths a fresh and confident start.
Beginning Tuesday, November 28, you will receive a signed copy of Kareem’s book, Crossing the Line, with a qualifying purchase. We will also be donating 20% of all sales to Work to Ride from 11/28. Throughout the month of December, Maison d’Etto will donate 50% of our sales on the limited edition artist-designed holiday wrapping paper to support Work to Ride.
We consider ourselves lucky indeed to support an organization that has touched—and bettered— so many lives.
BL: Kareem, it's an honor to speak with you today. Your story and that of Work to Ride made a profound impact on me and has stayed in my heart since our first meeting in 2016. Like you, I, too, found solace in horses. Even though we grew up in different environments, our love for these majestic creatures brought us together and united us. At that time, my company was a mere idea, and something very different than today, but I knew I wanted to share your story with the world. Can you start by sharing where you are from originally, and where you live now?
KR: I'm originally from West Philadelphia, where I was born and raised. After completing my college education, I returned to Philly in 2016.
BL: For those who have not had the privilege yet to read your memoir, Crossing The Line, tell us a little bit about your story and the impact that Family, Work to Ride, and Polo have had on you.
KR: In my memoir, Crossing The Line, I delve into my family's journey of overcoming poverty and navigating the daily challenges of violence in Philadelphia.
BL: You are now a father. Congratulations, how has that changed you?
KR: Becoming a father to my two-year-old daughter, Zara, has been a remarkable journey. Watching her grow is incredibly rewarding, though it means I have less time for hobbies like riding.
BL: Does Lezlie have a pony earmarked for your daughter?
KR: Yes, I plan to introduce Zara to riding in a few years. I look forward to sharing this passion with her.
BL: Becoming a mother changed my riding and added an even more complex layer of anxiety. Has becoming a father impacted your riding or the risks you take with the sport?
KR: While I'm more cautious and aware of risks now, especially as a father, there are moments when my competitive spirit momentarily overshadows the inherent dangers of the sport.
BL: We share a similar history of anxiety being everpresent in our lives at a very young age, and both found reprieve in horses and getting lost at the barn. You reference bouts of debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, and depression throughout your life in Crossing The Line. How have you learned to live with, cope, or find refuge?
KR: My childhood was marred by trauma, losing friends to violence at a young age. Horses provided a sanctuary, the only place I felt truly safe. It wasn't until I began therapy a few years ago that I learned to manage and overcome my anxiety. I'm immensely grateful to my therapist for helping me find the language to understand and articulate my feelings.
BL: I have my theories, but I would love to know yours – why do you believe horses have such a calming and healing effect on humans?
KR: Horses have a commanding presence that demands your focus, helping to clear your mind of any distractions. Their ability to connect with humans is a unique, healing experience.
BL: When do you feel the most free?
KR: The barn has always been my sanctuary, where I feel most free.
BL: What brings you a sense of peace?
KR: My peace of mind comes from knowing my family and friends are safe.
BL: Which person do you most admire?
KR: My mother is my greatest inspiration. Her strength in overcoming a challenging upbringing and raising six children alone is extraordinary. Her resilience is the source of my own determination.
BL: What is one thing you can’t live without?
KR: My family is my life's cornerstone. The joy and strong bond I share with my mother and siblings are irreplaceable.
BL: What is your earliest scent memory?
KR: My earliest scent memory is walking into a barn. That smell instantly calms me, making any barn feel like a second home.
BL: Indeed, one of my favorite quotes from your memoir is
KR: “All good barns, no matter how fancy or modest, smell the same: a tinge of dust and damp, the warm scent of horse manure and hay, and the sweet, comforting musk of the animals themselves. That smell meant home to me; it made me walk a little easier.”
BL: I love that you frequently reference your scent memories in the book. They helped to transport me even deeper into your world and life. I want to share a few more here:
On describing Kareem’s arrival to the state of Virginia for the first time.
“We stood for a moment, stretching and rubbing our eyes. Back home in Philly, it was still icy, gray, and freezing, but here in Virginia, the air was sweet and mild, the sky was brilliant blue, and the seventy-five acres of rolling hills that surrounded us on all sides were covered in the softest, greenest grass we had seen for months.”
Kareem’s discovery of Work to Ride
“Back in the park and mesmerized by the ponies, my brothers abandoned their bikes and crept up the path toward the barn, absolutely sure they were going to get shouted at and chased off at any moment. They stuck their heads through the barn door, taking their first deep breath of that sweet, acrid smell of hay, and manure, dampness, and mud, and the unmistakable warm, musky scent of the horses themselves.”
The first time Kareem touched a horse
“Horses are softer than you think they're going to be; their coats are silky and smooth, the hair on their muzzles feels like velvet, their sensitive ears twitch and shiver under your fingers. They smell good, too. Like sweet hay and molasses from their feed, like tender grass and clover. They have an animal musk, but it's the muk of a prey animal, not a predator, honeyed and warm.”
BL: I have always wanted to collaborate on a scent with you, and as you know, each scent takes on the name of the horse that inspired it. If you had to choose one horse to bring to life as a fragrance to tell an olfactive story about, would it be Angel or Cholo? Or is there a new horse that has swept you off your feet?
KR: If I could create a scent, it would combine the essence of two significant horses in my life: Angel and Cholo. Both played pivotal roles at different stages of my journey.
BL: What is your favorite scent or smell?
KR: I've always been fond of the scent of Christmas trees; it's a smell I never want to part with after the holiday season.
BL: What’s next for Work to Ride? How can people learn more about supporting Work to Ride?
KR: My current focus is on finalizing Work to Ride’s $15 million dollar capital campaign to begin constructing a new indoor riding facility. We've raised 10.2 million dollars so far and aim to complete the arena by fall of 2024. As Work to Ride is a nonprofit, donations are tax deductible! We appreciate support of any size.