In April of 2018, the USPA Junior Polo Committee created an innovative program called the Young Player Opportunity (YPO) Grant in order to assist youth players ages 14-19 seeking a unique opportunity to improve in the sport of polo. Youth players applying are encouraged to get creative and seek opportunities not readily available to them. Creating a detailed plan with a workable end goal demonstrates forethought and guides players to develop presentation skills. In 2018, the YPO Subcommittee received a wide variety of requests ranging from clinics and mentorships to overseas tournaments. The YPO Grant program provides support for opportunities that will cultivate, train, develop and educate youth players.
GRACE MUDRA: A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME-OPPORTUNITY
Grace Mudra (center) with fellow youth players from all over the world.
Grace Mudra, age 16, of Bellville, Texas, has been playing polo as long as she can remember and has been riding since before she could walk. She recently jumped at an opportunity to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to compete in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) as one of five international female participants in the polo showcase. Though Mudra and her family have been involved in polo for many years, she pointed out that trying to grow and find the right opportunities to play has been a challenge. She feels it is important to see other female players compete as participation and interest in women’s polo is expanding across the globe. She noted, “I love that girls around the world are getting more involved in polo and it is finally becoming a part of the sport people are interested in.”
The showcase game demonstrated the international reach of polo as junior competitors from the United States, Colombia, Italy, United Arab Emirates, England, Scotland, Australia, Argentina and Chile mounted up for the match at the Campo Argentino de Polo, organized by the FIP. In additional to time spent in the saddle, Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres opened up their farms for the group of young players to get a glimpse of the innerworkings of a high-goal operation and breeding program. Other events included practices, a tour of the Olympic village and several lectures with the YOG participants. “The YOG gave me a different perspective on my everyday polo. To see how players from other countries around the world play and put everything they have into the sport is inspiring,” said Mudra.
Mudra also had the opportunity to play with local Argentine girls, including Juana Criado, daughter of former 9-goal player Lucas Criado. Being in Argentina highlighted the sheer size and popularity of the sport for Mudra, “being in Argentina was one of the best weeks of my life–hands down! Seeing the level of polo and all of the 10-goal professionals and their amazing horses was incredible. There are so many opportunities to grow your polo here.”
JACK WHITMAN: FAST-TRACK TO POLO SUCCESS
Jack Whitman, age 14, fast-tracked his polo development by applying for a grant to train in Aiken, South Carolina, to become fully immersed in polo. Whitman was encouraged to try polo by his mother, a hunter-jumper rider and was bit by the “polo bug” after his second introduction to the sport about two years ago.
“I began in the arena and after playing the outdoor season, a friend of mine suggested that I go down to Florida to watch the high-goal. It was awesome seeing the level of polo and I was really excited to keep playing and improving,” said Whitman. “While I was in Wellington, I balanced homeschooling, something that is very important to me and my family, with my passion for polo. I would get up early to go to the barn to take out sets, brush and ride as many horses as I could. I watched every high-goal game I could and even got the chance to sit in the team tent at a couple of the games. These players were definitely my idols. One of my favorite players became Jared Zenni* (6) who is a Team USPA member. I got to play with him in the Polo Training Foundation & Team USPA coaching chukkers along with Felipe Viana* (6) and Costi Caset* (5) who I watched play all winter in the high goal as well. When Kylie Sheehan* asked me to groom for her at the Daily Racing Form’s pre-2018 U.S. Open [Polo Championship®] Final practice, I got to wish the whole team good luck the day before they made the biggest upset in U.S. polo history. This is something I will never forget. I got to go over to Jared after the final and congratulate him on winning and take a picture with him. I thought that maybe if I work hard enough I can be in his shoes one day. I know that he started playing polo in youth tournaments just like me. When I asked him for advice he told me to try to push myself to take advantage of as many polo opportunities as possible.”
After spending time in Wellington, Whitman and his father embarked on their tour of National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) qualifiers, carefully scheduling work trips to coincide with tournaments. He played in eight qualifiers in 2018 including, International Polo Club Palm Beach, Aiken, Louisville, South Bay, Bluewater Creek, Maryland, Nashville and Atlanta.
Whitman applied for a YPO Grant to mentor with professional polo horse trainers Kylie Sheehan and Gabriel Crespo in Aiken, South Carolina, during the fall season. His proposal was to help him work towards his short-term goal of qualifying for a NYTS National Championship and long-term goals of making Team USPA, winning an Intercollegiate Championship and eventually representing the United States in the Federation of International Polo (FIP). His experience proved to be a success, attributing his quick progression in skill to playing and practicing on a regular basis with legendary American players Adam Snow, Owen Rinehart and Tiger Kneece.
His attention to developing his skills as a rider are impressive for a 14-year-old, “[Sheehan] taught me a whole new level of riding and horsemanship. She helped me understand the balance of the horse, the mechanics of the canter and halt-canter transitions so I could ask for lead changes effectively and get better acceleration and turns out of a horse when I’m playing. I learned to sit up more to get the horse on her hind end and how to not just ride a horse well but to make it better.”
*Jared Zenni, Felipe Viana, Costi Caset and Kylie Sheehan are members 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.
The 2019 YPO Application is available online here. Applications may be submitted anytime throughout the year and will be reviewed at the nearest Review Date listed below:
Applicants born between 1/1/2000 and 1/1/2005 are eligible to apply for the USPA’s 2019 YPO Grant. All applicants must be USPA Registered Polo Players or Student Members in good standing and must show proof of U.S, Citizenship and reside in the U.S. more than six months per calendar year. A U.S. Passport or Birth Certificate will be accepted as proof of U.S. Citizenship. All funded YPO opportunities should have a designated mentor (selected by the applicant) who will be available to answer questions during the approval process as well as during the review process. For detailed application criteria and funding guidelines please refer to the 2019 YPO Funding Guidelines. For further questions, please contact Amanda Snow at firstname.lastname@example.org.