‘Unbelievable:’ Richfield polo team takes 3rd at nationals

RICHFIELD — Good relationships are usually a recipe for success, and a Richfield team’s chemistry has taken them to new heights.

“They all have their own personality, and every single horse is different. The horses here, I love them to death. I mean, I would do anything for them,” said Sydney Weise.

Weise spends countless hours at Hillside Farm in Richfield, taking care of the horses and playing with them.

“You’ll never ride horses that are alike, and it’s really cool,” said Weise.

Emma Sbragia has bonded with the horses for eight years.

“You really get to know them, and it’s just really cool to like, feel them underneath you, feel them, like, just pushing you,” said Sbragia.

The polo team was a dream come true for Margie Paur, Hillside owner and coach.

“The white horse I’m on today, she like, once she hears me hit the ball and she sees it in front, like, her ears go forward and she just, like, takes off. Other horses, when they hear the ball crack, they’ll actually turn their body towards it. They follow the play, too, so it’s like it really is another teammate on the field,” said Sbragia.

“It’s been unbelievable that these kids started riding maybe, at 8 years old or 6 years old, and now they’re 18 and they’re going on to colleges and they’re going to do this again in college or as adults. I would have never guessed,” said Paur.

The ride hasn’t always been easy.

“Our first years, we lost a lot, and sure, it was a little discouraging, but it didn’t stop them. They were very determined,” said Paur.

“Last year we got last at regionals, and then we worked so hard over the winter and summer to improve and to get better. Then we come back, we win regionals, which is incredible and then get to nationals,” said Weise.

Nationals were held at the University of Virginia, where they finished third, creating lifelong memories in the process.

“It’s nice to finally, like, our names are up there in the arena, like, champions, and it’s just really cool to actually, like, be part of something that people will know about,” said Sbragia.

People got to know Sbragia’s name rather quickly. She was named MVP of the tournament.

“I wasn’t expecting it. Like, when they called my name, I was like, ‘did they just say my name?’ Like, ‘wait a minute. We lost. We didn’t win,’” said Sbragia.

Weise won the sportsmanship award.

“It was our second match and this girl was like, falling off a little bit — and I kind of rode up next to her and I noticed that she was falling off. I grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back on the horse, and so she actually ended up getting a breakaway for the other team, so I wasn’t happy about that,” said Weise.

Paur said she was very happy and proud of what the team did in Virginia.

“For half of our kids to win half of the awards is unbelievable. Just unbelievable,” said Paur.

Sbragia and Weise are moving on to college, but they’ll remain close to Hillside, leaving a legacy behind.

“The younger kids do look up to these older kids. That’s great, but the younger kids also see themselves as a new team forming, and that’s terrific too because there’s always going to be happening — there’s always going to be this evolution,” said Paur.

Sbragia will play collegiate polo at La Crosse, while Weise will play at Cal Poly in California.

As for the horses, they’ll continue to play and then live out their lives at Hillside, a forever home for horses.

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