The United States Polo Association would like to celebrate and honor the life of a great pioneer, advocate and friend to the sport of polo. Sunset “Sunny” Hale, a passionate ambassador for the players and horses of polo, passed away on February 26, in Norman, Oklahoma, after a battle with cancer at the age of 48. Considered to be one of the greatest female polo players in the world, Sunny was an avid supporter of women’s polo and role model for many women in the sport.
Sunny grew up in a polo playing family. Her parents, Alex and Sue Sally Hale, had five children that were raised around horses: Brook, Stormie, Dawn, Sunset and Trails. As the first woman to be registered in the USPA in 1972, Sue Sally raised her children to be not only great equestrians, but to advocate women’s equality and inclusion in the sport of polo.
Sunny was instrumental in helping to create a women’s handicap within the USPA and can be credited with winning the first USPA Women’s Open Tournament Championship in 1990 at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, alongside her sister Stormie, mother Sue Sally and teammate Carolyn Anier. She helped to revive the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® in 2011 and most recently competed in the 2016 tournament, making it to the final with San Saba.
Sunny broke boundaries in the sport when she achieved a 5-goal handicap. She was hired as a professional on the Outback team in 2000, becoming the first woman in history to win the U.S. Open Polo Championship® competing alongside Adolfo Cambiaso, Lolo Castagnola, Phil Heatley and Tim Gannon.
“She was instrumental not only in women’s polo but polo in general,” USPA Women’s Committee Chairman Erica Gandomcar-Sachs said. “Just a small list of accomplishments from memory are coming up – her creation of a qualifying tournament (Women’s Championship Tournament) to give young players and new female players a chance to feel like they were part of something has been vital for developing players, the creation of The American Polo Horse Association that gives credibility to our sport throughout the entire equestrian community, she was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, she won multiple player of the year awards and too many major tournament wins, MVPs and BPPs to list. Then to think that she was done with all of that she started writing books! She truly was an amazing human being.”
Somebody once said, ‘Think big about small people,’ and that’s just what she did.”
Having been involved in the governance of the USPA for many years as a Governor-at-Large (2009-2015) and Women’s Committee Chairman, Sunny inspired others to follow their dreams and to challenge the status quo.
“Sunny was a leader in polo. Her passion left a remarkable positive mark on everyone she met,” said USPA Chairman Joseph Meyer, “Whenever I asked Sunny to help, she was there as a friend and Board Member for the Association. Her accomplishment as the highest-rated woman player is a testament to her drive. Her vision for polo pony registration and women’s polo will live on, and she’ll always be remembered. She has been a major inspiration to many young players, and made huge contributions to the sport and the USPA. She will be greatly missed by all.”
“It’s a struggle for me to find only a few words to describe a life this big. I am not alone in having the honor of calling Sunny my friend and mentor,” said USPA Governor-at-Large Maureen Brennan, “We lost our beacon today and the standard by which we measure ourselves. Sunny’s accomplishments and horsemanship are unparalleled, but it was her genuine ability to make all that she encountered feel valued and capable that separates her from others. Conquering the dream was not just a tag line but her authentic life. I am beyond grateful to have had Sunny in my life and owe so much of my success to her influence.”
The entire USPA family would like to express our sincere condolences to Sunny’s family and friends. Her love for polo, animals and others lives on through the programs she has founded and the young players she has inspired. She would often give affirmation to others by saying “Great job, you were 10-goals today!” This encouragement and positivity towards others is one of the qualities that made her so loved by many. Sunny will always be 10-goals in all of our hearts.