By Erica Gandomcar
The USPA Women’s Committee and I would like to wish everyone Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.
This has been quite a year for women’s polo, not only here in the United States but globally as well. The growth and support for women’s polo has been a team effort from everyone in the polo family across the world. In fact, women polo players in the U.S. now make up a significant 38% of the registered members. Some might say our sport is struggling, but I believe it is evolving and adapting for the better. I believe the future is bright, and stemming from a determined past.
The USPA has been in existence for 127 years, and has helped the growth of American polo from its roots. I believe there will always be growing pains, but there is also potential for us all to improve the Association, and ultimately the beauty of the game. I grew up in the polo industry and actively volunteered over the last three years within our Association as a Governor, Women’s Committee Chair, Nominating Committee member, Marketing Committee member, Women’s and Arena Handicap Committee member and various advisory boards. During 2017 in particular, my observations are that our sport is not struggling, but instead undergoing an important evolution. I have felt privileged to be a part of that evolutionary learning process and continue to strive to make improvements. I certainly could not have done it without the support of each one of you. I listened, I watched and I learned.
For the first time in 127 years, the United States Polo Association helped to achieve a milestone for women players by supporting two USA women’s teams to travel to Argentina and England by invitation from each country’s Associations. We learned from the experience and understand we have room for improvement. Also of note this year, the USPA helped Houston Polo Club (Houston, Texas) and the Virginia Polo Center (Charlottesville, Virginia) in hosting the arena and outdoor open tournaments while also supporting a Women’s Team USPA to compete at a professional level in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship™. I was very impressed with the Houston Polo Club’s hosting of the event, and all other flights of women’s competition that week. The online streaming of games and interviews of players offered great exposure to generate more public interest and potentially plant seeds for future players. From Florida to Oregon and everywhere in between, women’s leagues and tournaments are the driving heart beat that fuel the fire and help sustain our sport. Thank you to the grass roots clubs for creating those players!
Another important contribution from the USPA over the last few years has been the establishment of a women’s handicap system at the suggestion of many, including Sunny Hale, to alleviate a compression issue that was also recognized as an issue in England and Argentina. Each country is making adjustments as we compete with and against each other. All of these efforts combined are signs of great progress, but it was not without the help of many associated with the game including the women pioneers of polo, the ones who broke barriers and thought outside the box.
It was only 45 years ago that women were allowed to play competitively by the USPA. After returning from competing in the First Argentine Open for Women, I can report it was an impressive representation of women’s international polo competition that attracted players from around the world. It was built and supported by some of polo’s best players and organizations with significant corporate sponsorships. The quality of horses offered to visiting players was notable as well. The Argentine Open is trying to set a new standard of hosting such an event in terms of games played in parallel with the men’s Argentine Open, publicity generated and venue chosen for the final. Given it was their first, they too have room for improvements, but that is what makes our sport so great: we adapt and we work together.
My conclusion is, we have come a long way in 45 years not only for women’s polo, but polo in general. As we move forward, I believe it is important to remember the past and those who have paved the way. Sunny Hale, Vicky Armor, Louise Hitchcock, Sue Sally Hale, Lesly Anne Masterton, Claire Tomlinson and Caroline Anier are just a few of the greats!
As the young polo players emerge, it is important that we all remember and celebrate the polo pioneers, they were the ones who helped make polo possible for many young players around the world, and set the stage for today’s highly competitive polo. Their determination to play and passion for the game paved the way for the future, and we must never lose sight of why we are all here; for the love of the sport, the horses, the people, the traditions and family.
Warmest holiday wishes and prayers for our California families,