Despite the USPA’s 126-year history, it was only in the last 44 years that women have been officially allowed to play competitively. The USPA Women’s Committee recognizes the many female influences throughout the “Sport of Kings” and sought a way to annually recognize one woman within the sport. Both the Polo Training Foundation and the USPA Intercollegiate/Interscholastic programs award Female Player of the Year awards. This new award however, is not just for players. Members of the USPA Women’s Committee feel polo is not only about the players but those who support and help grow our sport. The committee members nominated women they felt served as role models—women whose selflessness, passion and drive have contributed to the sport for the greater good of the polo community.

The United States Polo Association Woman of the Year significantly advances the mission of the USPA, as well as the Women’s Committee—to encourage and increase the participation of women in all aspects of the USPA, to improve the standard of women’s polo throughout the United States and to facilitate the communication and networking of women in polo all over the world.

The inaugural award in 2016 was presented to Lezlie Hiner, founder of the Work to Ride Program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This year the USPA Women’s Committee elected to posthumously honor Sunny Hale. Sentiments from the USPA Women’s Committee and friends of Sunny best express the impact she had on all who knew her:

“She would have been honored to be recognized as the Women of the Year by her peers, and to be remembered for her perseverance against all odds. She deserves this award for her achievements as a horsewoman, educator, and author, in addition to her contributions to polo as a seasoned professional who was respected by many at every level,” said USPA Women’s Committee member and friend Joanne Smicklas who accepted the award in Sunny’s honor. “She would hope others would be as passionate as she was as an advocate of recognizing our partners in the game, the horse. Finally, she would have hoped to be an inspiration to other women to remain determined to achieve their goals with grace and dignity.”

Sunny Hale. Photo Credit: David Lominska.
Sunny Hale. ©David Lominska

“To have been selected by the greatest player ever in the history of polo to play on a traditional man’s(coed) team in a man’s (coed) sport is one of the greatest things Sunny did for polo,” said USPA Governor-At-Large and Women’s Committee Member Maureen Brennan. “The fact that Sunny was selected over all of the other men available at her handicap level is not only evidence of her talent, but supported her message that the only barriers that prevent us from manifesting our dreams are the ones we allow others to place on us. She had an amazing ability to achieve her goals within systems that would not ordinarily be open to her mission. She was relentless and could create a plan and execute whether it was on the field or creating an international women’s tournament series.”

“I think all of her ‘firsts’ are what impacted polo,” claimed newly appointed USPA Women’s Committee member Cecilia Cochran. “First woman to win the U.S. Open, first woman to create a women’s tournament league, first polo woman to get inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, first woman to create the American polo horse registry; there are so many that one can’t even list them all.”

“Sunny not only was a polo hero but she impacted the everyday human, the non-polo player. She was a global icon. Her passion for encouraging others to follow their dreams was just as infectious as her laugh. Her voice will never be forgotten or fade out,” said USPA Women’s Committee Chairman Erica Gandomchar-Sachs.