The intercollegiate teams of the Yale Polo Club started off 2015 with mixed results this past weekend, as the men’s squad rode to an easy victory over Brown, but the women’s team faltered on its home arena against Skidmore. For members of the Yale teams, though, the opening games were not nearly as important as the venue the matches were played in.
Five years after the University closed down the stables portion of the Yale Armory and forced the Yale Polo Club to a temporary location off campus, the organization has finally secured enough alumni funding to find a new home. The new facility in Bethany, Conn., which opened two weeks ago and hosted its first competitions this weekend, will give the program unlimited arena time as well as the ability to train indoors — and to many members on the team, it signals the rejuvenation of the Yale polo program.
“Already in the two weeks since we moved into the new barn, I feel as though the team dynamic has changed,” women’s player Lucinda Denney ’17 said. “Having an official home base that is ours, and one that is so amazing, has made everyone really excited about the future of the program.”
The Yale Polo and Equestrian Center, which is a standalone 501(c)(3) organization unaffiliated to the University, purchased the new property for $1.35 million this past December. Though fundraising is still going on, approximately 20 alumni donations and a large matching gift from the Orthwein family helped raise enough money for the purchase.
Liz Brayboy ’84, vice president of the YPEC board and former Yale polo player, said that alumni donations and operating revenues have been the Yale Polo Club’s only source of income for the past five years, making members of the organization grateful for the alumni support.
“It is impossible to thank these alumni and all the other volunteers enough,” men’s player Charles Horner ’16 said. “They are the reason the program still exists today.”
In addition to the advantages given by indoor practices and unlimited time, the Yale Polo Club will benefit from a larger arena designed specifically for polo, unlike its former facility, the C&S Ranch. The new arena will also feature walls, which are important to the strategy of indoor polo, according to men’s captain Manuel Valle ’15.
The new barn belongs solely to the YPEC, whereas the club formerly rented two hours of arena time per day from the C&S Ranch. In order to manage the property and its horses, the organization hired former US Polo Association administrator Ed Armstrong to be coach and manager of the program.
Armstrong will oversee every program the YPEC offers, including programs for graduate students, high school students and adults in the Connecticut community, as well as three levels of training for undergraduates. All of these programs, though small, provide revenues that will help finance Armstrong’s salary, Brayboy said.
“I’m from Massachusetts, so I was familiar with the [Yale] program, and I’ve played there before,” Armstrong said. “I’m looking forward to the competition, and seeing how the kids handle it.”
Armstrong and Brayboy both said that Yale’s intercollegiate teams, which compete in a division of the US Polo Association, will have a new competitive advantage because of the barn.
Brayboy noted that many teams, including Harvard, do not have an indoor arena. Armstrong said that nicer facilities may improve the selection of players who choose to play polo at Yale.
“[The new barn] will help tremendously, because some of the schools that have good facilities have been able to get people to go to school there and consider it because of the polo program,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong, who previously lived in Virginia, added that a similar situation happened at the University of Virginia many years ago, and many students with polo experience now consider the Virginia polo program as a reason for enrolling there. At Yale, he said, most players enter the program with either only riding experience or no experience at all.
Horner added that the new arena will also add benefits unrelated to the team’s skill level, such as a heated equipment room and a viewing area above the playing arena. He also said that with more space, the team’s 16 horses will be kept more comfortable year-round.
“All the horses have large stalls with their own water access and lights,” Horner said. “There is a pasture for them to go out during the day, which keeps them happy.”
In addition to Brown and Skidmore, Yale’s teams plan to play Princeton and Harvard before their preliminary regional tournament at the end of February.
The new barn is located at 79 Rainbow Road in Bethany, Conn.