Good equipment plays a huge role in the ability of a sports team to succeed. For UK’s polo team, that equipment just happens to be a 1,000-pound animal that is just as much a part of the sport as the athletes themselves.
Polo ponies make polo one of the few sports where teamwork isn’t just for humans.
“It definitely takes playing a game a step further because not only do you have to be in control of yourself, but you also have to be conscious and in control of the horse,” said Libby Graham, a psychology and sociology junior who is in her third year on the team.
She is also the team’s fundraising chair and said that the care and devotion between horse and player is what really defines the sport. That relationship is also what makes the sport challenging.
UK Polo Club President Ben Lynch said this relationship adds a unique element to the sport that can be one of the harder parts of the game.
“If you do not have the right horse for the job or they are not prepared, a team can really struggle,” said Lynch, a, equine science and management junior. “It can be difficult at times because they all have unique personalities that you need to understand to get the most out of them.”
Based out of the Commonwealth Polo Club, the varsity UK polo team has seven returning members and three new players this year. For these 10 players, the sport doesn’t stop when they leave practice. Players are responsible for all the care and wellbeing of all the horses, from feeding them, to exercising them daily. Completely student-ran, the students organize establish own practice schedules, make their own travel plans and organize their own games.
“This definitely makes us different from a typical team, but it also gives us a lot more freedom than a typical team,” Graham said.
Two of the team’s players, Lynch and Eva Crossman, the women’s team captain, traveled internationally for polo recently. Crossman traveled to Manipur, India, to represent the USA in an International Women’s Statehood Tournament. Lynch was chosen to compete for the U.S. Polo Association against a team of university players from the United Kingdom, which the U.S. went on to win. Lynch’s hope is that his team at the university will also experience success this year.
“The yearly goal for every intercollegiate program is to win their regional tournament and advance to the national finals which are held in Santa Barbara California this year,” Lynch said. “I think we have a both very good men and women’s teams that could make a run for this.”
Lynch said the hope is to continue to develop the university’s polo program into a program like those at the major predominant schools such as Cornell University. His teammates agree that team spirit is the key to developing the program further.
“For me, playing with a team is incredible and I’m lucky to have really great teammates that are really supportive of each other,” Crossman said. “To me that’s the best part of it all, really, being able to try to accomplish something as a team rather than individually.”
The team will head to the University of Virginia the first week of March to compete in the regional tournament. Both the men’s and women’s team have received a bye for the preliminary rounds, allowing them to head straight to the regional competition. In all games, Crossman promises dedication from the team.
“I can promise you that we’re going to work hard and support each other as a team and give it what we’ve got and try to enjoy everything that UK Polo throws at us,” she said.