This fall semester the Texas A&M polo club has been adjusting to the changes in its season’s schedule.
President Ashley Dillard has been at the forefront of the decision-making in figuring out how to go about practices.
“For Rec Sports, we have some guidelines where we have cohorts, riders are capped at 10. We have them separated between levels from intermediate to advanced,” Dillard said.
As of Oct. 2, riders have been able to get back on the horse and play inter-team scrimmage games.
“That’s really exciting because before that we were only really able to ride and hit the ball, but now we can play defense and help each other, which is an assistive place in polo,” Dillard said.
Dillard said due to the uncertainty the team faces, they are just thankful to be back to riding.
“Our horses have been pretty happy, and our riders are happy to be back on,” Dillard said. “We are very lucky to be riding this year.”
Annie Flory, a team officer, is one of many riders who are hopeful for the future.
“Hopefully next semester things will open up a little more but everyone is just so happy, especially just club members, to be able to be back around the horses.It has just been awesome,” Flory said.
For Flory, riding has been a form of getting away from the obstacles 2020 has brought thus far.
“It has been a great place to get away from things and hang out around horses, whether it’s a study break or emotional break,” Flory said.
The team is hoping for a competitive season in the spring, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
“We are hoping we can host, but we are not sure because a lot of other teams like UVA, Cornell, Texas Tech and TCU,— schools that are our biggest competitions — they are not really allowed to travel either, just like we are, so we are just doing a lot of in-club scrimmaging and really just working on fundamental skills this semester,” Dillard said.
Despite the current team member’s inability to compete, the recruitment of new riders is an ongoing process. Junior and women’s team captain Hannah Reynolds said she has seen a smooth transition with recruitment going online.
“Our club has had a smooth transition with recruiting new members due to virtual informational and social media,” Reynolds said. “For team recruitment there are programs through the USPA, and our coach Mike McCleary regularly scouts for young talented players.”
Practice has relatively stayed the same, but now they have different cohorts they are in, Flory said.
“Currently, we have been riding about four times a week through the club,” Flory said. “I personally teach the beginner cohort, so right now we are just learning a lot about the foundation and how to ride horses instead of actually playing polo.”
Reynolds said even though things are different, Rec Sports has done an amazing job with the regulations and guidelines so that their club can remain open.
“We are back-to-back National Intercollegiate Champions so we are practicing and scrimmaging within our cohorts so that we can hopefully be back in full swing in the spring,” said Reynolds.
The club is hopeful for a return of the season in the spring. In the meantime, the Aggies have been focusing on building their fundamentals of the sport, Flory said.
“For club sports, we are spending a lot more time just working on ground manners and how to actually build a relationship with the horse as opposed to just riding or playing polo,” Flory said. “Now being able to play has built a better foundation of creating a relationship with the horse instead of just focusing on the sport.”
Dillard said the team is grateful and hoping to have continued success in the future, after both mens and womens teams won national championships in 2018 and 2019.
“We have a lot of talented team players and a really wonderful coach, Mike McCleary,” Dillard said. “He’s been coaching for roughly 40 to 45 years. He’s led A&M to a lot of national championships and has produced a lot of really good players.”
Reynolds said the team is focusing on its motto to get through the challenges facing them.
“Texas A&M Polo Club strives for excellence, leadership and community,” Reynolds said. “We are thankful for Texas A&M as a whole with helping us through this difficult time and look forward to this season as well as the next.”
*By Christi Koellner @KoellnerChristi