There is evidence that shows women’s polo is growing around the globe and gaining support. Since the beginning of 2019 several more women’s leagues, and tournaments have been created and repeated with new tournaments on the horizon. The global calendar is showing healthy signs of expansion, offering younger and veteran players opportunities to raise their handicap, while also beginning to provide professional players consistent employment. Live streaming game videos, promotional video’s, thoughtful video interviews of individual players, a documentary film about the Manipuri Women in polo, and The Women In Polo Show produced by the US Polo Assn. continue to educate audiences around the world. These were all elements the late Sunny Hale had hoped to achieve. We’re all grateful she helped set the wheels in motion for a healthy foundation of growth.
For the first time in U.S. women’s polo, the 2019 Women’s Florida Circuit offered a series of tournaments on various levels from late February to mid April. The process was an experiment that offered lessons in what worked, and how best to improve the Circuit for 2020 based on schedules within the season. Several of the Women’s Circuit tournament finals were successfully aligned with charities like Susan G. Komen Florida raising breast cancer awareness, and attracting several corporate sponsors locally and nationally. This past Florida season also featured two female substitutes in the Gauntlet of Polo 22 goal series. Curtis Pilot enlisted Mia Bray while Jeff Hildebrand recruited Malia Bryan. Both young women contributed to their team’s success, and demonstrated they were able to participate at the highest level of mixed polo in the U.S. thanks to the support of the team owners, and high goal pros like Gonzolito Pieres, Facundo Pieres, and Sapo Caset.
On an international level, Argentina has created a full spring and fall calendar of women’s tournaments. England is maintaining six very competitive 18 goal plus tournaments including a 28 goal International test match between England and Argentina that featured very sophisticated playing strategies, and excellent horse riding abilities with horse power to match. The US saw a second hosting of the Women’s East Coast Open at the Westchester Polo Club in New Port, Rhode Island, and Myopia Polo Club in Hamilton, Massachusetts. These tournaments inspired women players of Kenya to create it’s first ladies 16 goal, 5 chukkas tournament in Kenya where they competed against the Zambia Ladies Team. The Kenyan women prevailed 8-6. The Kenyan women’s team expects to have a higher goal team organized for next year with six goal players, Tiva Gross and Sally Jellis participating. Also, as of this year, the Kenyan women have officially adopted a women’s specific handicap, and assigned their 35 participating female players a women’s handicap to help them compete in other countries abroad.
There were more tournaments in China, South Africa, and Austrailia along with established tournaments in Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand, France, Spain, and Switzerland. And, for the first time ever, the Santa Barbara Polo Club will be hosting an 18-20 goal Women’s Pacific Coast Open this September. The highest level of women’s polo ever played in California in part due to the participation of international players, Hazel Jackson, Lia Salvo, Sarah Wiseman, and Clara Casino who all play in tournaments around the world. Their presence will raise the level of competition, ultimately raising the level of play for all the players participating.This last March, Egypt held it’s first ever Ladies tournament hosted by Farouk Younes at his farm in Abuseir, presenting the winning team with the Princess Ulvia Abbas Halim Cup, the first Egyptian lady player. The Egyptian Polo Federation has listed the Ladies Tournament in their 2019 calendar and beyond. During the same month, The US Open Women’s Polo Championship hosted a record eight teams in Florida at Port Mayaca Polo Club, and a finals at the International Polo Club, US Polo Assn Field One with players from around the world participating. Everyone in the polo community contributed. The US Polo Assn. and the USPA generously helped the International Polo Club organize a lovely tournament draw party. And, with the help of the non profit Women’s International Polo Network, US Polo Assn. advocated for a young and determined Cedar Croft Farms team to participate in the Open.
Cedar Croft Farms was one goal shy of the 18 goal minimum recommended, but nearly beat two favored teams with plenty of experience. Their impressive participation proved the value of supporting the young up and coming players who simply needed an additional boost given by the US Polo Assn. along with the blessings of the United States Polo Association, and the US Open Women’s Polo Championship tournament committee allowing a 17 goal team the chance to play. Thankfully, individuals like Richard “Doc” Fredericks, Adrian Wade and Curtis Pilot offered all their support to help field the team too. I personally hope more individuals like Fredericks, Wade, Pilot, and Jeff Hildebrand, corporate sponsors, and national Associations will see the value of supporting young talented players, and offering opportunities for them to play and improve.
Thanks to Haley Heatly, she has given the WIPN permission to republish an article she wrote for the May 2019 Polo Players Edition following the US Open Women’s Polo Championship.
Underdogs – The USPA Women Battle in the Women’s Open
This past March, eight elite teams formed with the world’s top female players descending upon Wellington, Florida in the height of the season to play the famed U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship. Amongst the household names in women’s polo, three Team USPA members, Kylie Sheehan, Julia Smith and Mia Bray joined forces with Alyson Poor to form an All-American team. With the support of U.S. Polo ASSN, WIPN, Richard “Doc” Fredericks, Cedar Croft Farms, Coach Adrian Wade and many personal connections the four players entered into the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship draw.
The Cedar Croft Farms team, rated at 17 goals in women’s outdoor ratings, drew San Saba rated at 22 goals as their first opponent. The determination and teamwork displayed by the Cedar Croft Farms team made up for their handicap differential, holding San Saba to the final chukker before losing by a narrow one goal margin, 5 to 6.
Their second match against Cross Fit El Cid mirrored their first game, with Cedar Croft Farms holding their own against the higher rated team. With the score tied midway through the fourth chukker, the four girls of Cedar Croft Farm doubled down on defense. Their strategy throughout the game had been to play simple polo and not leave the back open. Poor’s strong defense in the back and discipline to remain in her position carried Cedar Croft through the match while Sheehan pulled the team forward. With less than 40 seconds remaining, opponent Tiva Gross sunk a neck shot through the goal, pushing Cross Fit El Cid ahead by a single point to win the match. Smith enjoyed playing with Sheehan, Bray and Poor attributing their success to their selfless attitudes on the field. “It was a great opportunity to prove to ourselves and others that we were able to be extremely competitive in the Open despite our handicap. We were all so willing to work for one another on the field which contributed to our success and made our games so much fun to play!”
Though their record was not as the players hoped, the experience and support received from the polo community proved that their efforts were not in vain. Richard “Doc” Fredericks owner and founder of Flying Cow Polo Club and Cedar Croft Farms stepped in and backed the team, willing to give the young team a chance to prove themselves against the best players in the country. He also reached out to friend Adrian Wade, requesting that he take the helm as coach of the team. Flying Cow Polo Club and WIPN share a similar mission in providing avenues for women entering into the sport in an accessible and approachable way. WIPN supported their effort in backing a team, giving Flying Cow Polo the visibility they need to bring more women into the sport.
When Sheehan heard a spot remained for an eighth team several weeks before the tournament, she was eager to take advantage of the opportunity to play women’s polo at its highest level. “Erica Gandomcar – Sachs, and Dawn Jones were the driving force behind it. They helped us find the additional support from the US Polo Assn. we needed, and encouraged me to enter the team,” said Sheehan. They knew she would have to be creative when creating a team since the majority of the higher rated players and rental horses were spoken for, leaving her to search for at least two players who were able to mount themselves. With the nudge of confidence from Erica and Dawn, Sheehan set off to search for three players hungry to play in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo. Drawing on her Team USPA connections, she first reached out to Bray whose enthusiasm for playing polo in any tournament, in any level is vividly apparent. Smith and Poor joined suit shortly after and the Cedar Croft Farms team came to fruition. On paper, the team fell short of the handicap requirement, but Erica and Dawn petitioned to allow the team to enter the tournament. Once approved, the team got to work preparing for their first match.
“Our mentality in the tournament was “we have nothing to lose,” said Poor, “Playing in this level of polo and against the best woman in the world has been such a learning experience for me. I hope that this exposure will give all of us what we need to get picked up on teams in the future. I can’t say enough good things about Mia, Kylie and Julia on and off the field. We all stayed positive and kept pushing each other which is why I think we did so well. We had incredible support off of the field too. My dad is always there on the sidelines, pushing me to play and supporting me along the way. Our team would not be here without Erica and Dawn fighting for us to be allowed to play.”