Polo was once the sport of kings, played only by the wealthy leisure classes. Today, although the sport certainly requires investment of time and money, the people who play have different backgrounds and occupations. People of all ages and abilities can play polo. The range goes all the way from England’s Prince Harry to the local veterinarian, real estate agent, blacksmith or carpenter. Polo players are not all men, either. Women make up the fastest growing segment of the polo playing population. And of course, children of all ages are introduced to the sport as early as four years of age. Polo is, in fact, one of the only contact sports in which men and women regularly play together on an equal basis. And it is probably the only contact sport where all family members (husband, wife and children) of one, two or three quarters can compete together on the same team.
Some polo players are professionals, who make their living playing polo, teaching, or training and selling horses. Other players are dedicated amateurs, who spend most of their spare time riding and playing. Still other players are more casual, playing on weekends or occasional weekdays after work. Whatever their level of commitment, all polo players share the special world of polo; a world with its own language, its own worries and preoccupations and even its own set of celebrities. They are united by a shared passion for horses, a shared commitment to the sport, and a shared connection to the traditions of the past.
BUILT FORD TOUGH BY MARTIN FORD MacCARTY
It is human nature to fall for myth of the self-made man, the underdog who triumphs over adversary, as a result of his or her fortitude, hard work, and courage. It is a story we have been conditioned to embrace; however this image is almost always a shadow of the truth. I recently had to confront this myth in my own life, when I was named Men’s Intercollegiate Polo player of the year, part of me wanted to attribute that success entirely to all my hard work, to all the early mornings at the barn, and the long days spent developing my skills. However I have always been cognizant that, any success I have had as a polo player and in life owes much to the people around me. What is so amazing about my story is not what I accomplished on my own, but instead how many people were there to extend me a helping hand along the way. The truth is that my polo career has been consistently marked by acts of supreme generosity, starting practically from day one, and my abilities as a polo player would never have developed half so much without people around me.
I began playing polo in the Full Moon Polo School, which was run by Sam Morton, who taught countless kids to love the sport of polo for all the right reasons - asking for nothing in return, but the satisfaction of watching the kids have fun. After several years of in the polo school, I was rapidly outgrowing my two old horses and clearly it was going to be difficult to progress much further. But just then family friends Lee and Melanie Taylor gave me 4 incredible polo mares for me to learn on. These mares were the foundation of my string for years to come. I am certain that if it weren’t for that unbelievable gift I never would have become the player I am today, because those 4 patient wonderful horses taught me to love the sport of polo. They carried me to some great victories as well many painful defeats. I will never forget the moments of euphoria, excitement, and heartbreak I shared with those horses.
The generosity of those around me did not stop didn’t stop with Sam Morton and the Taylors, but continued on. Not a week of my life has gone by without someone sacrificing their time or resources to help me evolve as a polo player. From my father who spent years developing my skills as a horseman, to my mother who was a constant source of encouragement and support, to all the players who took time to explain my mistakes and help me learn. Special acknowledgment must be extended to Skey Johnston who has done more than anyone to champion my polo career. Skey Johnston mounted me for years and also gave me the opportunity to play competitive fast polo, when he invited me to play at the Flying H Polo Club. This exposed me to top players such as Julio Arellano and Hector Gallindo. The years I spent playing with professionals of this caliber, as well as the wisdom and advice they liberally dispensed was instrumental in the progression of my polo abilities. All in all I have no doubt in my mind that my potential as a polo player could never have been fully realized without the support and sacrifice of so many generous people.
I write this not to detract from the importance of hard work, quite the opposite in fact. I worked very hard to become a skilled and competitive polo player, as attested to by countless early mornings at the barn. But there were always people in my life, like those mentioned above, willing to reward my hard work with opportunities and support. This only served to reinforce my proclivity to work hard and taught me from an early age that success comes to those willing to strive for it and that an opportunity is only worth it, if it comes after sacrifice and perseverance. This lesson translated far off of the polo field; it served me well in my academic career, and continues to serve me well as I start my professional life. This lesson is a gift I will always be grateful for; even more so now that my polo playing days are on hiatus while, I focus on my career.
It has been hard for me to give up polo, it has been the focus of much of my life, and not knowing when I will play my next chukker can be disconcerting to say the least. However I know that one day I will be able to get back in the saddle and return to the sport I love. And I look forward to the day when I am able to reward a hard working young player with help and opportunity, just like I was by so many people. I would never have become the player or person I am today without such incredible support, and I can only hope I might someday be able to make a similar impact on another. This is because I believe that the best way to show my gratitude to the countless people who were so supportive of me is to pay their generosity forward. If in reading this you are reminded of a young hard working polo player you know, please take any opportunity to reward their hard work, if you are in the position to do so. Not only will you be helping them to reach their full potential as a player, it will help to foster the development of values that will serve them well in all aspects of life, and eventually pay dividends to the sport we all love.
Polo Team and Polo Strategy: A Polo PrimerThe Rules of the Game By Pam Gleason, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER OF “THE AIKEN HORSE”