During the 2020 USPA Fall Committee, Board of Governors and Annual Member Meeting, USPA Chairman Stewart Armstrong announced that the chairs of the Armed Forces (Karl Hilberg), Safety (Dr. Thor Norregaard) and Junior Polo (Chrys Beal) Committees would be stepping down. Each making an extensive contribution to their individual committees over the years, the outgoing chairs welcomed their incoming chairs to assume leadership and play their part in carrying forth the mission with a new perspective. New incoming chairs include Mark Gillespie for the Armed Forces Committee, Dr. James A. Ulibarri for the Safety Committee and Tiger Kneece for the Junior Polo Committee. Learn more about each chairman below, their previous accomplishments and the vision for the committees’ future during this transition of leadership.
ARMED FORCES COMMITTEE
Karl Hilberg. ©David Murrell
Karl Hilberg, Commander U.S. Navy (Retired) served as the Chairman and Co-Chair of the USPA Armed Forces Committee for five years from October 2015 to October 2020. Hilberg learned to play polo at Westchester Polo Club (a.k.a. Newport Polo Club) in 2000 while a student at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He has played polo at a number of clubs in the United States, as well as in Egypt for three years while serving at the U.S. Embassy. He has been a member of the USPA Armed Forces and Arena Committee since 2011. In addition to volunteering with the USPA, Hilberg is also a board member of the Polo Training Foundation. In the fall of 2012, he founded the Texas Military Polo Club in Poteet, Texas, and he is also a founding member of the Central Texas Polo Association (CTPA), a regional association made up of three area polo clubs: ATX Polo Club (Manor, Texas), Texas Military Polo Club (Poteet, Texas) and Two Wishes Polo Club (Lockhart, Texas).
Mark Gillespie pictured center, winning the 2016 Nimitz Cup with Army.
Mark Gillespie, retired Army officer and West Point, Airborne, Ranger and French Commando graduate, assumed the role as new Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee in October 2020. Building on the Committee’s hard work and previous accomplishments, Gillespie envisions including the following initiatives moving forward as chairman: Adding active duty polo players from each service branch to the Committee to improve the connection with the Armed Services, Reserve Components and the Armed Forces Sports Council; recruiting new active duty and active reserve players who can benefit professionally from polo’s ability to improve situational awareness as well as from establishing friendly relationships with foreign military polo players through international military polo events, and also continuing to recruit retired, former military and family members into the USPA; developing innovative ways to train new military polo players at and near military bases as well as a establish one or more permanent sites for scheduled military polo clinics and training; developing more opportunities for international military polo events worldwide in cooperation with FIP’s new international Military Polo Committee and the International Committee; supporting women’s military polo endeavors nationally and internationally; and finally, continuing to develop and expand domestic and international military polo events as well as develop new avenues of sponsorship to help support military polo activities (exploring potential cooperation with Patton Legacy Sports, a 501(c)(3) entity).
Gillespie served in a variety of demanding roles in staff positions and commanding combat units as well as an Assistant Professor at the United States Military Academy West Point and a senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. After retirement, he continued to serve the country as a defense contractor in both Afghanistan and Iraq supporting U.S. military forces in the field in a wide variety of capacities and still supports defense efforts through scouting out high technology useful to the United States government.
Gillespie initially honed his equestrian skills on West Point’s equestrian team and learned to play polo in graduate school while attending Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He further developed his polo skills while learning to be an instructor under the mentorship of Major Hugh Dawnay, the chief coach of the British military. On active duty, Gillespie organized many international military polo matches in India, Argentina, Chile, Great Britain, France and Germany as well as coached West Point’s equestrian team. He has extensive experience captaining, coaching and playing on many international polo teams in places such as South Africa, Nigeria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, El Salvador, Austria and Germany. In addition, he successfully spearheaded the Federation of International Polo to approve an international military polo committee and is the USPA’s committee representative. Gillespie is also the founder of the Army Polo Club in Centreville, Virginia, and has represented the USA at international equestrian competitions such as at the World Championships of Tent-Pegging in East London, South Africa, as well as military competitions in Windsor, England.
JUNIOR POLO COMMITTEE
Governor at Large and NYTS Chair Chrys Beal, pictured with Sophie Grant and 2019 NYTS Girls Championship Best Playing Pony Sydney.
Fueled by her passion for youth polo, Chrys Beal has dedicated countless hours of service as the Junior Polo Committee Chair. Established in 2013, the National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) program has been one of the cornerstones of the Junior Polo Committee during her tenure. Beal guided the program from its inaugural year through its expansion into two divisions, mixed and women’s, and now its recognition as one of the premiere junior events in the country. Her guidance was instrumental in the creation of the Young Player Opportunity (YPO) Grant program, chaired by Carolyn Stimmel. “Watching young players improve individually and as team players has been very rewarding,” Beal said. “I have enjoyed working with the dedicated volunteers and staff on so many positive polo opportunities for junior players in outdoor polo.” As NYTS chair, Beal will now focus her efforts entirely on the NYTS program and the further development of the women’s division at NYTS Championships.
Junior Polo Committee Chair Tiger Kneece
Tiger Kneece is a former 7-goal American polo player who now resides in Aiken, South Carolina. During his 25-year tenure as a professional polo player, Kneece won the coveted U.S. Open Polo Championship®, USPA Gold Cup®, Monty Waterbury, Silver Cup® and National Copper Cup®. His talent on the field led him to playing opportunities across the world including in Canada, Mexico, England, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa and Australia. Exceling at training polo ponies, Kneece hosts a polo school aptly named “Polo Adventures” where introducing people to the sport of polo is the main focus. Working in tandem to run the Aiken Polo Club (Aiken, South Carolina), Kneece serves as Polo Manager and his wife Susie as Director of Marketing. Kneece has also played an active role in the National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) program, hosting one of the largest qualifier tournaments each year in Aiken and working as a coach at the NYTS Championship. Aiken Youth Polo is home to a girls’ and open interscholastic team, a men’s and women’s USC Aiken team and a group of young up-and-coming players. Through the various programs offered by the USPA and serving on the Junior Polo Committee, Kneece hopes to make an impact in growing the USPA membership and elevating the level of young American players polo.
USPA Safety Comm Chair, Dr. Thor Norregaard
DR. THOR NORREGAARD
In 1982 Dr. Thor Norregaard moved to the United States from Denmark to accept a research position at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and spent the next 20 years as a faculty member. In 2009 he accepted a position at the University of Missouri to develop a functional neurosurgical training program.
Dr. Norregaard entered the equestrian world riding dressage, and once his children were old enough to ride, they all three began competing in eventing. He also spent several years importing warmbloods from Europe. Dr. Norregaard’s first experience with polo was while vacationing with his children at Casa de Campo in 2003 and he was instantly hooked. Upon returning to the U.S., he immediately looked for a polo club in his region, acquired a string of polo ponies, and began playing at the Myopia Polo Club in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he played until moving to Missouri in 2009. Marrying his wife Julia in 2009, Dr. Norregaard met her while tailgating at the club.
In 2007, Dr. Norregaard joined the Safety Committee under the leadership of Dr. Tim Nice. He was heavily involved from the beginning and became chairman several years later. His focus was always on preventing traumatic brain injury by developing the best possible helmet for the sport of polo. Over the years Dr. Norregaard has worked with researchers at Virginia Tech, University of Missouri, as well as the team at NOCSAE, and multiple polo helmet manufacturers to develop what is considered to be the safest polo helmet on the market today.
Dr. Norregaard reflected on his time on the Safety Committee with gratitude. “Serving has been a privilege through which I have gotten to know the dedicated and caring members of the USPA,” Dr. Norregaard said. “It is only through the support of our membership that we have been able to achieve this high standard of safety for our players. I am grateful for the tireless work of our dedicated Safety Committee members and I especially want to thank Lindsay Dolan for always keeping me up to speed and providing unmeasured support to our organization,” he continued. “Also to Carlucho Arellano for championing our efforts both within the organization and on the field. I will always treasure the opportunity to serve this unique organization which promotes the sport that we all love.”
DR. JAMES A. ULIBARRI
Like many kids growing up in Wyoming, Dr. James A. Ulibarri was raised on a ranch and used horses for cattle work. After attending the University of Wyoming, Dr. Ulibarri ultimately went to medical school as well as an orthopedic surgical residency at the University of Wisconsin. Finally, he finished training with the Spinal Surgery Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh. He then spent two years at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville prior to returning to Wyoming.
Dr. Ulibarri became involved in the game of polo shortly after returning to the west. His daughter attended a lesson and because she was the only student present he also joined in. Dr. Ulibarri plays at the Big Horn Polo Club in Sheridan, Wyoming, and has also played at Flying H Ranch Polo Club (Big Horn, Wyoming). Sustaining several injuries over the years and witnessing and treating those of his friends has challenged Dr. Ulibarri to think critically about equine sports injuries and prevention.
Dr. Ulibarri was surprised and honored to be asked to Chair the Safety Committee following Dr. Thor Norregaard. Dr. Ulibarri has treated the polo community at both Flying H and Big Horn Polo Clubs on and off the field which has given him an opportunity to expand his breadth of knowledge and experience evaluating and treating on the scene injuries. “Dr. Thor Norregaard is an engaging and remarkable character who has fortunately agreed to continue to advise the group,” Dr. Ulibarri said. “The work he has done with development and implementation of helmet standards was critical for this exciting sport.”
Looking ahead to the future, Dr. Ulibarri conveyed his vision as he steps into his new role. “The next logical step for the Safety Committee is to get a clearer picture of injury occurrence through data collection and surveillance in the U.S. clubs with the ultimate goal of prevention,” he continued. “I am optimistic about this role and hope I can be as effective as Dr. Norregaard for the sake of the USPA and its members.”