Pleasures of Polo

Eduardo Miguel Galang Lopez, or Ed, was only seven years old when he first competed as a polo player. It was, he said, “a friendly match.”

Describing his father, Berty Lopez, as a “polo addict,” Ed not surprisingly grew up around horses in a ranch in Santa Rosa, California. Both his parents played polo in the local polo club and, yes, in Argentina, the world’s polo capital.

Ed, only 22 years old and a student of Human Resources in De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, regularly goes to the gaucho country to play, train and watch professionals compete. He has also played and trained in Australia. His is a life that many would consider “very social” but he points out, “I wish others would see there is more to polo than the glamour that has been attached to it.”

Just recently in the Southeast Asian Games, Ed was part of the team that earned for our country the silver medal in polo. It won the admiration of the hometown crowd, who had all watched the tournament in Calatagan,Batangas.

I recently interviewed Ed in his grandmother Chona’s home in Makati. Ed, who was busy both in school and in polo, obliged the Daily Tribune in between reading his notes and practicing for the tournaments all taking place at this time of the year when the polo fields are dry and green.

ED in action, astride the horse “Quezon.”

Stick and balling

Daily Tribune (DT): When did you start playing polo?

Eduardo Galang Lopez (EGL): My first game was in 2004. I was seven years old. It was just a friendly match. So it was in the Wine Country Polo Club in California. That’s where I grew up and I was born there. And I grew up on a ranch in Santa Rosa, California. My dad and my mom were both playing polo. In that polo club and then, in Argentina.

DT: But how could you play polo when you hadn’t even learned yet by then?

EGL: When I was six, I learned how to ride a horse. And I was hitting the ball a little bit. It’s called stick and balling. You just ride the horse down the field and hit the ball a bit. But the level of polo I was playing was very slow. It was like grassroots level. I was playing polo with people my age. And we were kind of just having fun at that time.

DT: So, when did you start riding?

EGL: I started riding around five years old. Because I grew up in a ranch and in our backyard, we had a riding ring.

DT: Why did you grow up in a ranch?

EGL: My dad is not a city guy. He is a polo addict. He is obsessed with it. So he decided to buy a ranch in California. We had 14 horses in the backyard. On weekends, you take them down the road. Maybe like 20 kilometers to the polo club and we play there.

DT: What happened after the first game?

EGL: My parents sent me to Argentina and then to Australia to compete. We were still children at the time. That was from 7, 8, 9 to 12 years old. In Australia, I was 16, 17, 28, 29 or that’s every year.

LOS Tamaraos teammates Augustus, Cole, Ed and Fiola Johnson.

Godfather Gus

DT: How old were you when you came home to the Philippines?

EGL: I was nine. That was in 2006.

DT: So, you kind of grew up in the Philippines also.

EGL: Yes. I went to La Salle Zobel. I repeated Grade Three, I was there until 4th year high school. Then I went to La Salle Taft and now I am in La Salle Benilde.

DT: So, how has it been like since you arrived? Tell us about your rise in polo.

EGL: When I arrived here in the Philippines, I met up with my godfather. His name is Gus Aguirre. He and his brother, Cole Aguirre, are my best friends. They’re good friends of mine. They have some horses. I grew up seeing them because of polo. So, they were just my close friends. When I had my confirmation when I was in Grade Seven, I chose Gus to be my godfather. He’s my idol. He was the captain of the Philippine polo team.

DT: To what team do you belong now?

EGL: Los Tamaraos. Albert Aguirre owns it.

DT: Who’s like the big boss of Los Tamaraos?

EGL: Gus Aguirre and Cole. They run the show. Gus is 26, Cole is 28. They’ve been around horses since they were five. They’ve been doing it a bit more than me.

FLASHING his signature smile.

The horse

DT: What does it take to be a polo player? Aside from the training, I mean, what else is important?

EGL: The most important thing is the horse part. The horse sets the pace of the game. If you have a fast horse, (you have the advantage). If the ball changes direction, and you pull on your horse a bit, and you put your legs forward a bit, and you slow it down and you can go to another direction, you outpace everyone. So, it’s about the knowledge of the horse and getting the horse to play its best.

One really needs to invest in a lot of knowledge and time in the horses. And once you have good horses, you can concentrate and relax because you’re not worrying about the horse running fast enough while the other horses are huffing.

DT: Oh, you were with the Philippine team. Who were you with?

EGL: We were Tommy Bitong, Santi Juban, Gus Aguirre and me.

DT: How were you chosen? Who chose you?

EGL: That’s a good question. There was a coach, Louie Castillejo. I guess Iñigo Zobel, Greggy Araneta…

DT: How was it like playing those games? What were the challenges?

EGL: The challenge was we only practiced as the main squad twice. We played against Malaysia twice the week before the actual tournament. But the whole team went to Argentina but mostly with substitutes. It was me and Santi Juban who were together. Gus Aguirre was in Australia. Tommy Bitong was in Batangas. When we got back, we had to learn to jell with Gus and Tommy in a span of two practices. So for us to get second place was okay. But it’s not so good because like what I said, it’s a horse game. Brunei flew in their horses but they didn’t win. But they did the right thing by bringing in their horses. Malaysia was given horses by Mr. Zobel. It was the first time they used those horses. Mr. Zobel wanted the competition to be fair so he gave them good horses. Us naman, we have good horses.

WITH his silver medal at the 2019 SEA Games.

DT: Who are your favorite polo players?

EGL: In the Philippines? Gus Aguirre and Cole Aguirre. I also like Iñigo Zobel.

DT: What should be the attitude of a polo player? Can one be hot tempered?

EGL: It depends. Some people play better when they are hot-tempered. But here is a saying in polo — stay hot-blooded, but coolheaded. Stay cool so you can think but play with fire.

DT: Let’s wind up. What is your personal philosophy when it comes to polo as a sport?

EGL: You know, this polo is perceived as a rich man’s sport. But think about the other side. Like the horses getting up early in the morning. Or being in Batangas or a ranch in Argentina. Getting together with your team and learning about horses. It’s about taking care of horses, and communicating with them. It’s about team work. It is about discipline, the rigors of training and getting ready for a tournament. This isn’t just about the polo player but the trainer, the one who feeds the horses, and all the other people who contribute to making the team win. People too need to see that the most important side of polo is the horses. That’s the beautiful side of it.

COMPETING for a tournament cup. (From left) Augustus Aguirre, Cole Aguirre, Santi Juban, Ed Lopez, Iñigo Zobel, Tommy Bitong, Alfie Araneta and Martin Espain.

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