Not one to be considered a shrinking violet, Neku Atawodi likes riding with the boys. In fact, she recently competed on the men’s team at the Miami Beach Polo World Cup in Florida.
At only 25 years old, Neku is considered to be a fierce competitor on and off the polo field. She is a savvy business entrepreneur, owning the Bamboo Lounge, a hotel in Nigeria, named after her polo team, Bamboo Polo.
A philanthropist, and an inspiration to women equestrians, as well as young boys and girls, Neku is the founder of Ride to Shine, (www.ridetoshine.org), a charity which teaches African Orphans to ride horseback and play polo. With strong ties to Nigeria, she has helped open doors for these young equestrians and has given them a chance at a productive future.
Writing Horseback: How did you become involved with horses?
Neku: I first started riding at age 5, and then I became fascinated by the sport of polo when I was 9, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I had the opportunity to start learning how to play at the Epsom Polo Club in England. There, in exchange for lessons from David Anderson, I worked at the stables with all of the horses, and also practiced every day and competed in many matches at the club. I also have a BSc Equestrian sports performance (Hons) from the University of Brighton in England.
Writing Horseback: From the outside, looking in, polo appears to be an elite, male-dominated sport. How did you become interested in polo? As a black woman, how are you accepted on the polo field?
Neku: The first hurdle I had to cross was convincing my protective father and uncle that I could handle playing the sport – they thought it was too dangerous for me. My coach in England gave me my first chance at learning to play and from there I was in good hands. The actual sport does not discriminate and it’s becoming more acceptable for women to play thanks to lots of women in the game. We are all aiming to show that polo is for every person that can dedicate enough to the sport.
Writing Horseback: Tell us more about your charity, Ride to Shine.
Neku: In 2011, I founded Ride to Shine, an organization that gives African orphans the opportunity to learn to play polo. I love my kids and instill in them the attitude of learning to fish as opposed to giving them fish. We also love teaching them the importance of good sportsmanship, exercise, and ambition. We want them to know their dreams can come true and that their aspirations are not out of reach.
Writing Horseback: In an effort to bring polo to a wider audience, please share your words of advice for those interested in learning more about the sport.
Neku: It’s such an exciting sport and those who enjoy the rush of a game will love the excitement of a polo match. In terms of playing, those who are dedicated to what their interests are will appreciate all of the effort that goes into learning how to play this beautiful sport that we give so much of ourselves to, and gives us so much more back in return.
Watch for Neku on the polo field in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, California and Bridgehampton, New York, later this year.