A Polo Player Concentrates on Core Values

saraSara Rotman spends almost as much time in an airplane seat as she does on a horse.

The founder and chief creative officer of MODCo, a fashion branding and media agency in New York City, Ms. Rotman also is a competitive polo player and team owner. She has homes in New York City and Los Angeles and owns a ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif. From October through April, she flies to Argentina regularly to play polo at events such as the charity tournament Portillo al Pie, which took place in late October in Buenos Aires.

Ms. Rotman never thought the fast-paced sport of polo would be her passion. She originally competed in dressage, an equestrian sport focused on skill and control. Dressage competitions involve nine progressive levels each with multiple tests, or riding figures, similar to the compulsory figures that used to be part of competitive figure skating.

When Ms. Rotman’s dressage horse had a career-ending illness, she retired him to a farm in upstate New York. “I would sit in his stable and brush him and pet him,” she says. A polo player who was watching, mystified by her behavior, went over and said, “I have all of these horses. Please stop crying. Just ride mine.”

In 2006, Ms. Rotman started riding the man’s polo ponies. “Then he put a mallet in my hand,” Ms. Rotman says. “I was like, what is this sport? Six weeks later I was flying to Argentina to buy polo ponies.”

Dressage horses are large, warm blooded, heavy boned and powerful, Ms. Rotman says, “but in a slow, direct way.” In polo, she says, “the ponies are small, thoroughbred and hot blooded.”

Polo is all about power and speed. “A horse can run 3 miles flat out during a chukker,” Ms. Rotman says, referring to one of the game’s periods of play.

A polo match is divided into six chukkers, each lasting seven minutes. Breaks in between are three minutes long, with a 15-minute half time. There are four players from each team on the field; players score by driving the ball into the opposing team’s goal.

A polo match is physical. A player may use his or her mallet to block or interfere with an opponent’s swing by hooking the other player’s mallet.

“It’s kind of like hockey,” Ms. Rotman says. “We try to get our knee in front of the other player’s knee and physically push them off the field with their horse.”

In her 10 years playing polo competitively, Ms. Rotman has suffered three concussions, a broken back, torn ligaments and numerous bruises. “You anticipate a good injury every so often,” she says. “There are eight people and horses on the field, plus two refs. The horses are running very fast and changing directions quickly, plus a solid plastic ball is traveling at around 100 miles per hour.”

The Workout
Sara Rotman competed in the 2013 Eddie Moore tournament at Mashomack Polo Club in Pine Plains, N.Y. ENLARGE
Sara Rotman competed in the 2013 Eddie Moore tournament at Mashomack Polo Club in Pine Plains, N.Y. PHOTO: ALEX PACHECO
“In dressage, you are in the saddle. In polo, your butt rarely touches the saddle,” Ms. Rotman says. “You have to squeeze your knees and engage your inner thighs at all times to control the horse. And you’re leaning way the heck out to the side of the horse, twisting and throwing your reins to change directions,” she says. “Your core is your primary aid for stability.”

During the U.S. season, which runs Memorial Day to Labor Day, Ms. Rotman practices with various clubs, including the Santa Barbara Polo Club, the Greenwich Polo Club in Connecticut, and the Southampton Polo Club in New York three times a week. She often plays in two matches a week, either in Santa Barbara or New York, with her team, Dark Horse Polo.

She says practicing Pilates has helped her maintain a strong core and flexible spine. “Your back and hips lock up from riding,” Ms. Rotman says; hours in an airplane seat can have the same effect, she says.

“In polo, you need range of motion and fluidity,” she says. “Also, I find when you are flexible, it decreases your chance of injury when you fall off the horse.”

Ms. Rotman takes classes using a Pilates reformer at Uptown Pilates in New York City’s West Village and at Simpatico, a Pilates studio in Montecito, Calif. When she can’t get to a studio, she does a Pilates routine at home on a mat.

She says as she plays more fast-paced polo matches, it becomes more important to maintain cardio endurance and leg strength. When she is in Santa Barbara, Ms. Rotman likes to hike or run up the Cold Springs Trail to Montecito Peak. The hike up takes about 45 minutes. “My motivation is the view from the top,” she says. “You can see all of Santa Barbara and the Pacific.”
Ms. Rotman suffers from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. “I’ve become psychotic about eating organic, non-GMO foods,” she says. “Part of the reason I have my own ranch is so that I can raise my own chickens and grow my own vegetables.” She avoids legumes, bread and pasta. “That was a loss, as I’m a pasta-loving fool,” she says.

Breakfast is Greek yogurt, a banana and a whole-milk latte. Grilled salmon or steak and sautéed spinach are staples for lunch or dinner. She drinks at least four liters of water when she flies.

Cost & Gear
Stabling a horse costs anywhere from $350 to $750 a month. “That is only a fraction of the costs necessary to keep a horse healthy,” she says.

A custom saddle costs around $600, and Ms. Rotman spent $3,500 on custom riding boots made by La Casa de las Botas. When playing polo, she wears softball gloves made by Franklin.

Ms. Rotman couldn’t find riding jeans she liked so now she manufactures her own, under the Dark Horse apparel label. Pilates classes cost from $95 to $125 a class. She buys Lululemon cropped tights and Under Armour sports bras and tank tops.

The Playlist
Ms. Rotman listens to music when she hikes and says her playlist is “all over the map,” including DMX, Peter Gabriel, the White Stripes, Etta James, Fifty Cent and Slayer.

Write to Jen Murphy at workout@wsj.com


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