Casually gathered around El Sur Polo Club’s barn in Wellington, Florida, on a Friday morning drinking from a shared cup of mate, the members of Cessna Polo Team exude a friendly familiarity and undeniable camaraderie after only a few months together. The intricacies of crafting a balanced high-goal team relatively unknown to those outside of the polo community, the selection of a winning combination of ingredients (including compatible personalities, horse depth and playing ability) is the first strategic step towards a successful season. Jumping at the opportunity to participate in high goal himself, USPA Chairman ‘Chip’ Campbell III’s leap into the 22-goal GAUNTLET OF POLO™ as Cessna team owner is simultaneously reinforcing the Association’s reasoning for lowering the handicap, allowing for new faces to make their high-goal debut. Joined by Team USPA member Felipe Viana, Ezequiel “Gallego” Martinez Ferrario and Felipe “Pipe” Marquez, Campbell has struck a harmonious chord, surrounding himself with determined teammates to reach the C.V. Whitney Cup Semifinals in their first season together.
Introduced to the world of polo as a child by his stepfather, Campbell’s budding hobby was cut short after only a couple of years at age 12 when his mother divorced. Finding his way back to the sport by chance, Campbell’s love for the game was reignited later in life at 40. “I went for almost 30 years without riding a horse and then came back into the sport just by happenstance,” Campbell said. “I was visiting my in-laws and I saw my childhood friends who I rode with all playing polo and said to myself, ‘I can do this! I was better than they were when I was 10!’” Within two months he was all in, purchasing a truck, trailer and four polo ponies, and traveling to the mecca of polo in Argentina in search of a new challenge. “By then I had the means to participate in a meaningful way so it was worthwhile for me,” Campbell remarked. “Now 14 years later I’m playing at the highest level I’ve ever played, in the U.S. Open Polo Championship®, so that is pretty good for me personally.”
“Any time you get on a field against a 10-goaler like Hilario Ulloa, for me that’s a big deal. Those are the little things that I value and get out of this experience that make it worth me spending the money. It isn’t often you get on a field in a competitive environment with one of the top players in the world.” – Chip Campbell
Recognizing a unique opportunity in the 2019 season with the inaugural GAUNTLET OF POLO™, Campbell and good friend and fellow USPA Officer, Secretary Stewart Armstrong, each decided to put together a team, simultaneously exposing new talent to the highest levels of play while getting to enjoy the ride themselves. “I’m 54 years old, but I’m still relatively fit and healthy for my age and I still feel like I can move around pretty well on the field,” Campbell shared. “If I can carry my 2-goal handicap with these guys and play at this level where I can contribute and be part of the team, that’s very personal to me. I wanted to participate in these tournaments before something happens that might prevent me from doing so and take advantage of the opportunity now.” Introducing a few horses from his own Clearwater breeding program to the intensity of high goal, Campbell is grooming his string in preparation for the day they will be passed down to his son, 2-goaler Camp Campbell.
Receiving a third-party sponsorship through his personal friendship with the former president of Textron Aviation, manufacturer of Beechcraft and Cessna Aircraft, Campbell was able to secure Cessna as the official team sponsor and make his high-goal dreams a reality. “He came to stay with me in Sheridan, Wyoming, this past summer and was exposed to polo for a weekend. Seeing the opportunity to advance their brand not only in the equine world, but in the polo community, he actually called me out of the blue and asked to sponsor our team.” As the president of Campbell Companies of Louisiana, managing partner in several real estate and oil/gas partnerships, and heavily involved in the land and timber business, Campbell has a vision for what increased corporate sponsorship could do for American polo. “It helps further what we are trying to accomplish in the USPA as far as legitimatizing the sport, bringing sponsors in and creating a business atmosphere with commercial interests for the tournaments that promote the value of these cups.”
Intentionally anchoring his team with the selection of a strong captain, Campbell enlisted Argentine 7-goaler Gallego Ferrario whom he had played with previously in Argentina and built a compatible team around him and his game. Considering Colombian 6-goaler Felipe Marquez, team manager Gonzalo Tevez was uncertain because he did not have any horses in the United States, but was confident the team and his friend Ferrario could help mount him. “Ferrario used to go to Colombia to play and that’s how he met Pipe 10 years ago,” Tevez said. “Pipe was in business at the time, but when they met he told him that he wanted to play polo professionally. Ferrario told him to come to Argentina, so Pipe went and spent the season living with him and playing at the club.” Having never played in the States before, Marquez embraced the huge opportunity to improve as a player and capitalize upon the experience, bringing his best horses from Colombia and Argentina. “My team believed in me and told me to bring the ones from home that I felt comfortable with and that worked best for me,” Marquez shared. “I brought six from Colombia and three from Argentina and fortunately they have been good.” Rounding out the team, Campbell was determined to find a strong Team USPA member, bringing in 6-goaler Felipe Viana. “He’s the one who we knew the least, but he exceeded our expectations and fit very well with the team,” Tevez said. “We couldn’t be happier with him.”
“This is our home and the [winter in South Florida is the] time for us to improve. When we get help from a team owner who brings American players onto their team, it’s our chance to play with the pros and learn from them. Every time we wear our whites is when we improve.” – Felipe Viana
Since taking the field in February, Cessna has progressed in the short months they’ve been teammates, propelled by their collective desire to give their best effort. “When we got the opportunity to come here Gallego made it a priority and brought his best horses from Argentina,” Tevez revealed. “Felipe Viana came to Argentina to spend some time with us and although he wasn’t looking for horses, he found three or four that he really liked and made an effort to buy them. Marquez also brought everything he had from Colombia.” Hungry from the onset, they enlisted the coaching of Michel Dorignac and have continued to train three to four times per week as a team, their chemistry growing as a result. Overcoming a few obstacles inherent over the course of a long season including minor horse injuries, Viana separating his shoulder, and an arm injury for Gallego requiring a substitute (Argentine Polo Association President Eduardo Novillo Astrada) for one game, Cessna has banded together allowing their setbacks to push them forward in their pursuit. “Our team overcoming those things and remaining competitive to win or come very close are all things that draw you together and create that team bond,” Campbell said. Echoing his sentiments, Marquez commented on the positive energy of the group as they have become closer since spending a lot of time together. “For me it’s been an amazing season so far with these guys. The best thing about the team are the good vibes you feel at the stable. Everybody is doing their job and trying to accomplish the same goal.”
“We are very aware that some of these other organizations are repopulating their string over the course of the season. We don’t have that luxury so we are the underdogs, but we are doing the best we can and that makes it much more gratifying when you do enjoy success.” – Chip Campbell
Although falling short of the trophy in the C.V. Whitney Cup and the USPA Gold Cup®, Cessna has entered the final leg of GAUNTLET OF POLO™ with fervor, winning their most recent bracket game against SD Farms in the CaptiveOne U.S. Open Polo Championship®. Playing an active role in the positive impact the GAUNTLET has already had on the sport, Campbell is proud of the progress being made to elevate the level of play for young Americans. “Look at Mia Bray, Matias Gonzalez, and Felipe Viana,” Campbell remarked. “There are more Americans playing in this tournament than there were last year and 16 teams participating where there were only four or six teams in the same tournaments last year. This should inspire young players to come into the sport if we as the USPA can give them a platform where there’s ease of entry.” Enjoying the remainder of their time together, the team members of Cessna are looking forward to the prospect of playing again next season if everything works out. “It’s certainly my intent. I will only put a team together with teammates that I like to be around and I certainly like this group.”
Tune into the USPA Polo Network on Tuesday, April 9 at 4:00pm ET to watch Cessna take on Santa Clara in the CaptiveOne U.S. Open Polo Championship®.