The American International Polo Foundation (AIPF) sent an American team to Imphal, Manipur, India, November 22-29 to compete in the 11th Manipur Polo International Invitational at the Mapal Kangjeibung, the oldest living polo ground in the world. “I arrived at Heathrow in London to meet Nate [Berube], Liv [Berube] and Kegan [Walsh] for the first time,” Nick Johnson commented. “We hit it off straight away! The trip has been full of laughs and lifetime experiences seeing a whole new culture! After thirty hours of traveling, we found ourselves on horses only a few hours later after touching down in Manipur.”
American players Jorge Vasquez (2), Nate Berube (2), Nick Johnson* (3), Kegan Walsh (3) and Brennan Wells (2) started out strong in the competition, assimilating well to the hardy Manipuri ponies’ distinctive style of movement and training. “All the players really showed their talent and skills!” Nick Johnson said. “You have to be able to ride, to get a tune out of the Manipur pony and I felt we all did really well at this. I played back, and we put Nate at the three position, he worked really hard at blocking and picking for me. Then, we had Jorge, Kegan and Brennan rotating in the one and two positions.” USA defeated India in their first match in a hard-fought victory 3-2. The U.S. team then went on to defeat defending champions England. In their third match, USA tied with Argentina 4-4, qualifying both teams for the semifinals. In a nail-biting finish, India B defeated USA 7-6 advancing to the final. Although disappointed that they will not play in the final of the competition, USA players undoubtedly had a once in a lifetime experience. “It’s wild to come play where polo was discovered!” said Jorge Vasquez. “To play the way they do—it’s a completely different game, but amazing! The people are amazing and they really embrace the fact that they gave the world the sport.”
“Participating in the 11th Manipur Polo International Invitational has been a breathtaking experience. The people in Manipur have been very hospitable and the polo is extremely competitive. I’ve really enjoyed riding the Manipur ponies and have had a great time meeting new people from all over the world. ” – Brennan Wells
Out of the six teams that competed in the 11th Manipur Polo International Invitational (Argentina, England, India A, India B, Morocco, USA) India B and Argentina have successfully defeated their opponents to move on to the final on November 29.
*Nick Johnson is a member of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos courtesy of ©Kelly Wells