Appropriately nicknamed “Speedy Yahyai” by his grooms (after the cartoon mouse Speedy Gonzales) for his blistering pace both in life and on the field, USPA Border Circuit Governor Tony Yahyai transitioned completely from one end of the polo spectrum to the other, adopting the game later in life with lightning speed and energetic intensity. Originally from Iran, Yahyai has called San Diego, California*, home for the past 32 years, working as a commercial insurance broker while managing real estate properties across the country and internationally. A master of efficiency, Yahyai expertly balances the many tasks competing for his attention by maintaining a strict schedule between the hours of 5:00am and often as late as 10:00pm. Motivated by pure passion for the game, Yahyai is encouraging his wife and their two sons to take up the sport, as well as anyone else who shares his genuine fascination and boundless enthusiasm.
Humorous and animated yet intentional with his time, it is Yahyai’s tireless persistence that has rendered him successful, from sales to martial arts. A true international advocate, he is heavily invested in growing his circuit through the development of Affiliate Member Clubs south of the border, branching into Mexico as founder and club president of his own Club Polo Cabo in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. From purchasing his first horse to his current string of 32, Yahyai has continued to surround himself with quality support, constantly learning and growing throughout his 16-year journey. Catching up with Yahyai, he recounted the amusing story of his unlikely introduction to polo and his focused efforts to restore the Border Circuit, proving that a determined attitude is never to be underestimated and limitations are only self-imposed.
What made you want to become a Circuit Governor?
“In 2016 Dan Coleman resigned as the Border Circuit Governor and nominated me as a candidate to replace him, which was approved by the Chairman. This year when we had the election, the vote was almost unanimous and I was reelected.
When I started the sport of polo 16 years ago I thought the game was so wonderful that I made it a point to spend the rest of my life trying to promote it in the United States and other countries. Now that I’m semi-retired from my career, I’m putting my time and own money into traveling to spread polo and get anyone else who is interested set up with their local club. I even invite people to come to my own home in San Diego where I have a half-size arena, seven horses and my groom who has been with me since day one. Becoming a circuit governor was the one ingredient in the recipe which was needed for me to become more effective and proactive at promoting polo especially in the Border Circuit (Arizona, New Mexico as well as numerous Affiliate Member Clubs in Mexico, Central and South America). Because I own a club in Mexico, I know many of the clubs and players in both Mexico and Central America. For me, it made all the sense in the world to have this position because it enables me to be effective on both sides of the border.”
What is your equestrian background and how did you become involved in polo?
“Coming from Iran where polo was played over 2,500 years ago, I always read about the history of polo, but I was terrified of horses. I loved them, but I kept a comfortable distance. About 16 years ago, I was passing by San Diego Polo Club in Del Mar, California, which I lived three miles away from, and the announcer was saying they had a polo school. My wife looked at me and said, ‘you’re in excellent shape, try it, they say they have a horse that’s as comfortable as a sofa!’
Mark Register was my first instructor in the arena and he was the reason I didn’t quit right away. I felt safe on the horse, but the problem started when he gave me the mallet! I’m a severe lefty, but Mark told me I had to play the game with my right hand. I got off the horse, dropped the mallet and headed to my car to leave when he shouted after me, ‘where are you going?! Get back on the horse! We have a professional polo player who is left handed and plays with their right hand no problem.’
Two weeks after starting lessons I bought my first horse and two weeks after that I bought a second horse while riding six days a week in the arena. Graham Bray was the club manager at the time and I heard he was an expert rider so I depended on him to teach me. He took me to the arena and took the stirrups off the saddle. After five minutes of me being all over the place in the saddle he put the stirrups back on and I felt like he gave me a set of legs. In just two weeks he taught me how to ride and nobody could believe the transformation. I went from night to day. Now, at almost 65, people see me on a horse and question if I’m really the same person!”
“I’m very persistent in life, once I decide I want to do something I won’t stop until I accomplish it one-hundred percent and that’s what happened with polo.” – Tony Yahyai
How has your college education prepared you to be successful in this role?
“I studied electrical engineering and double majored with computer science and mathematics. I started in San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, but then I ended up at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. When I was in school everybody was trying to get me into the world of sales, which I hated, and then insurance which I also hated. Two industries that I despised I ended up working in for my career. I did them both very well which allowed me to make good sums of money to be able to afford to do other activities like polo. Now I love insurance and sales! I teach everybody to sell and that’s what I’m doing with these clubs, teaching them to be financially independent.”
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
“Before I started playing polo martial arts was always my favorite hobby. When my son was seven or eight years old he insisted that he wanted to learn martial arts, so I went to sign him up at the local taekwondo school. I told them that I liked the sport, but I was too old to do it. The next thing I know I’m doing martial arts and taekwondo for the next seven years. I quit when I was a candidate to get my second-degree black belt. Right now, I have a gym at my home so every morning I get up to be in the gym at 5:00am. I work out for an hour and a half five days a week doing martial arts and weights.”
What is the biggest goal you hope to accomplish for the Border Circuit?
“First and foremost, I want everybody to continue to be unified, work together, play together and pull their resources. I’m trying to create a series of tournaments among the clubs and sell that idea to sponsors and brands. This will generate some money that can be split between the clubs to help pay some of their expenses, so they don’t have to rely on the USPA and the Polo Development Initiative Program for money. I’m all about self-sufficiency and independence, so a club has to be able to take care of themselves financially, and I want to help them be able to do that. I am currently in the progress of helping clubs in Mexico and Central America to become Affiliate Member Clubs and by early 2019 I will have about 16 clubs between the two sides of the border that I’m going to be overseeing.
I also want to get the Border Circuit operating on a high-performance level and to make it a polo destination in the United States. I don’t like to be known as good, I like to be better or best, so I’m always aiming for 100% with whatever my objective is and I work very hard to achieve it. I want to show with action how great the Border Circuit is and is going to be!”
If you would like to get in contact with Tony about your club he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Yahyai’s Affiliation with Club Polo Cabo and Azteca Polo Club within the Border Circuit qualify his eligibility to serve as a Circuit Governor, even though his residence is outside of circuit boundaries.