Discovering a life-long affinity for polo through the Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) program at the historic Yale University, Liz Brayboy brings both passion and decades of expertise to her newly appointed role as I/I Chair. Coaching for a year at Garrison Forest School before going on to receive her MBA from Columbia University, Brayboy returned to invest in her alma mater’s program as a beloved coach, alumni advisor and Board member. A first-generation polo player, Brayboy experienced first-hand the accessibility to the sport which I/I provides, playing all four years and managing the club program for three. Following the sudden passing of former I/I Chairman David Wenning in November 2019, the USPA I/I Committee identified Brayboy as a champion for the program and restructured leadership to unveil three condensed subgroups: Tournament & Regular Season, Funding & Awards and Program & Club Sustainability. Supported by subgroup chairs Cindy Halle and Miranda Luna, Brayboy is leading the way with many strategies to achieve longevity for I/I programs.
Originally from upstate New York just outside of Saratoga, Brayboy lives in Connecticut with her husband, only half an hour away from Yale polo club’s facility. In addition to trail riding with her two retired polo ponies, playing golf and biking, Brayboy continues to stay active on the field playing at Giant Valley Polo Club (Hamden, Connecticut) during the summer. Drawing upon her years of professional consulting and notable success revitalizing Yale’s polo program, Brayboy’s commitment and depth of knowledge are the ideal combination needed to strengthen the future of the I/I program.
How did you become involved in polo and transition into coaching?
“Growing up I had always ridden horses and during the summers I played at Owl Creek Polo Club which was run by Paul Kant, Skidmore Polo’s coach at the time. My brother who was a graduate student at Yale University introduced me to his friend my freshman year who was already playing at the club. I played all four years at Yale and my sophomore year I took on managing the program and ran it through my senior year. After graduating with a Bachelors in Psychology I briefly coached at Garrison Forrest School before moving to New York City to attend Columbia Business School.
Returning to the Yale program over two decades ago, I started helping out with the interscholastic team as a club member. When Yale decided to close the armory I was involved with helping to find a new location at an off campus western reining and roping facility where I was an interscholastic and beginner instructor. We have been at our current location for almost six years and I am now president of the Board.”
Liz Brayboy works the ball downfield. ©Debbie Napp.
What does I/I polo mean to you?
“I would never have had the opportunity to learn how to play the game if it hadn’t been for intercollegiate polo and that’s where I/I shines. It allows people to get involved in polo who would never have the resources or access to play otherwise. As the manager of Yale Polo, I worked with board members George Haas and Bill Ylvisaker and learned a lot about the history of polo from Yale alumni Jimmy Mills who played with the Igleharts, Phipps’ and Winston and Raymond Guest. This helped me understand the role of intercollegiate polo as a backbone for the USPA and polo in the United States and really led me to be passionate about the program at Yale. Steve Orthwein Sr. who I worked with as part of our Board gave a significant contribution to help Yale buy the facility where we are located now. He was such a great mentor to me in working with the USPA and understanding that loving the sport means also taking the time to give back. Seeing I/I polo not only as the future of polo, but also the past helps frame my perspective.”
“Liz is one of the hardest working volunteers in the USPA. Her passion for and experience with I/I polo make her the clear choice to lead the program. She has a great understanding of the I/I ecosystem and its strengths and challenges as well as a clear vision of where the program needs to go to keep it viable and growing in the future. I have no doubt that I/I will thrive under her leadership.” – Stevie Orthwein, Chairman of USPA Polo Development, LLC
What was the thought process behind the structural change to I/I leadership?
“A strategic planning group of six to seven people was put together to address the needs of I/I. The role of chairman which David Wenning had taken on was a really large role and a lot for one person. What we wanted to do was look at how we could streamline the committee structure and create something that is easier to manage instead of the former structure of nine subcommittees. We now have three segments: Tournament & Regular Season (Cindy Halle), Funding & Awards (Miranda Luna) and Program & Club Sustainability (Liz Brayboy). Cindy [Halle] and Miranda [Luna] have worked a lot together and Miranda is from the west coast representing the perspective of a younger demographic. The idea is that the three subgroup chairs will work together as the leadership and I will be the point person as I/I Chair.”
Why did you decide to accept the position as the new I/I chair?
“With the proposed restructuring of the I/I Committee into subgroups the role of I/I Chair becomes more manageable than in the past. Having support from two knowledgeable chairs like Cindy Halle and Miranda Luna should allow for more time to set direction and address some of the key issues facing I/I polo at this time. While I will be the point person for the Board and management, this structure and the terrific USPA staff members should make for a more streamlined operation.”
Liz Brayboy takes the field with her team at Skaneateles Polo Club in Skaneateles, New York. ©Lezlie Hiner.
What qualities or experiences from your past make you most suited for the position?
“When I graduated from business school I went to work for a bank, an insurance company and then for Deloitte, consulting for 10 years as a project manager. After leaving Deloitte I went out on my own as a consultant and I worked with a couple of startup companies. I’ve also done a lot of consulting with large corporations and my role often is to be a project manager and facilitator. I think a lot of what I/I needs right now is leadership and facilitation, which is the ability to identify what needs to be done and in certain cases delegate and in others drive it. We have an excellent group of staff and chairs and I believe we’ll have a good set of committees so we need to keep them all driving towards our goals.
I’ve also done a fair amount with the USPA, I’m on the Board and Staff Committee, I’ve been part of the Regional Host Tournament Committee and now the National Host Tournament Committee, and part of the USPA Polo Development, LLC Advisory Board. Because I have been involved with many groups and regularly attended the USPA meetings I feel I have fostered valuable connections with the governors and leadership in order to effectively communicate and execute our goals.”
“The USPA and the I/I program could not have a more qualified, dedicated and knowledgeable leader than Liz Brayboy. As president of Yale Polo she was instrumental in bringing Yale Polo & Equestrian Club back from the brink of losing their polo program to now running a very successful, healthy polo program. She knows firsthand what it takes to manage and grow I/I programs no matter what condition they are in. The I/I program is in very capable hands with Liz.” – Leighton Jordan, USPA Northeastern Circuit Governor
What do you hope to accomplish or improve for the future of the I/I program?
“One goal would be better visibility and integration of I/I within the overall USPA. Those of us who are part of I/I love it and are passionate about it, but we need to do a better job of figuring out how to introduce people to I/I and what the innovation points are.
Another goal is figuring out how to increase the number of I/I alumni involved with the USPA on USPA committees. We do not want to lose players completely after college, but instead position them to become involved again later in life. We need to capitalize on the passion of the players and parents and both the Funding & Awards and Program & Club Sustainability subgroups are expected to tap into recent I/I alums to participate in the decision making and direction setting process. One of the goals of the I/I leadership is to encourage participation in the broader USPA by recent alumni, not just as players, but as volunteers contributing to the success of the organization. There are a lot of hard-working volunteers involved with the USPA and we feel this is an excellent way to introduce I/I graduates to opportunities to serve.
The third piece is addressing the current concerns that people have about the impact of COVID-19 on polo programs. Some of our priorities have shifted based on how each collegiate club has been affected and we are reviewing on a case by case basis which clubs will need advice or support navigating during this time.”
What would you like the membership to know as you step into the position?
“This really is a new role as I/I Chairman. The streamlined committee structure, addition of two chairs to support the ongoing activities of I/I and the experienced staff should allow us to drive the understanding and shared passion for I/I throughout the larger USPA. I particularly wanted to be in charge of the Program & Club Sustainability subgroup because it gives the leadership an opportunity to take a new focus. I will receive input from both Tournament & Regular Season and Funding & Awards who know what the issues are which I can then use for strategic planning. I want the membership to understand that I/I represents both the future and the history of the sport in the United States. It is our job to ensure that others see this as clearly as we do.”