Neku Atawodi-Edun is an entrepreneur, start-up expert and professional polo-player who’s just re-entered the local women’s circuit, after taking time off to raise a baby. As we gear up for the Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo Cape Town tournament at Val de Vie Estate in March, we get a crash course in the ponies-and-pounds sport she so loves.
Atawodi-Edun was born in Nigeria and is West Africa’s first professional female polo-player. Now living between Lagos and Cape Town, she’s also Director of Investment and Mentor Relations at NPO Mest, The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology which works in Ghana, Nigeria and SA.
She says she’s played a few exhibition matches to warm up again for the professional polo circuit and rebuild her “string” of six. The term refers to the team of horses a single player needs in order to get through the six seven-minute chukkas (periods) comprising a polo match. With each chukka, the player adapts to the temperament and style of the new horse. It’s a rarefied sport with a high price-tag, especially if you have your eye on the European circuit, as Atawodi-Edun does.
“I need horses that allow me to bring out the best in myself – and a good one starts at $20 000. If I want to play in Europe, I need to be really well mounted and play really well. Not many women have a large enough string of horses, so they truck them between Spain, France and England,” she says.
Atawodi-Edun is a graduate of Equestrian Sport Science in the UK and says she’s long been fascinated by the biomechanics of horses and athletes. She believes polo is the only equestrian sport where horses “are at their most natural”.
“The running and turning very close together – it’s the way they behave in the wild,” she explains. “It’s the closest you can get to flying – riding at top speed on a horse makes you feel as if you have wings, like Pegasus. Our horses lend us their legs.”
She’s also working on attracting new sponsorships, a process she says can be financially taxing, but which is essential. “I’m working on becoming the best player I can be. I believe I can get back to my ultimate ambition, to my strongest riding ability, and playing high-level women’s tournaments. I’d love to play grounds like the Cathedral of Polo in Buenos Aires, which has only allowed women to play since 2017,” says Atawodi-Edun.
*The Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo Cape Town takes place on 2 March at Val de Vie Estate in Paarl. The theme is “Colourama”. Visit www.vcmasterspolo.co.za for tickets.