Inspired by visionary Stewart Armstrong’s persuasive passion for polo, Clifton Yandell was moved to undertake the role of USPA Central Circuit Governor for a second time, previously serving from 1992-2000. Growing up on the back of farm horses in Vance, Mississippi, Yandell’s limited interest in polo grew in his early 30s when he was invited to try polo school with a friend. Gradually becoming more immersed in the sport, Yandell has played up to 22-goals and in countries across the globe including Jamaica, Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Canada.
Majoring in Economics at Vanderbilt University and attending the McCombs School of Business (University of Texas) for a year, Yandell traded in the country for the city and moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he worked as a trader in the Chicago Stock Exchange for 30 years. Active in USPA leadership throughout the 90s as a member of the Executive Committee and Board of Governors (1994-2000), Yandell has experienced first-hand the strides being made with the formation of the Chicago Polo Association. Founding Due West Polo Club and participating in tournaments hosted by neighboring clubs, Yandell has taken an interest in pouring into the next generation by teaching and mounting many talented young players. Emphasizing the power of a clear vision, Yandell’s decision and over 30 years knowledge in the sport is sure to benefit the health of the Central Circuit for years to come.
Orchard Hill’s Yandell prepares for a backshot. ©David Lominska
What is your equestrian background and how did you become involved with polo?
“My grandmother raised Tennessee Walkers and there was a barn and a pasture right by our house. We lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere and we had Shetland ponies and carts and would ride the horses around the property.
When we were 12 or 13 my dad gave us a Jeep and after that we really didn’t concentrate on riding horses. My sister did, but as soon as we got more reliable transportation, we abandoned the horses. My neighbor also had horses and played polo so that’s how I was first exposed to it.
About fifteen years later in 1986 my friend knew a guy who played polo and he wanted someone to ride with him at the polo school run by John Kuhn. I didn’t have a latent desire to play polo, but it just kind of happened. Then the other guy stopped playing after a year, but I just continued going.”
“In returning to the USPA I’ve encountered a group of people who appear to be very dedicated to enhancing polo and making their vision come true. Everybody is trying to reach a common goal.” – Clifton Yandell
What attracted you to return to the role of circuit governor at Stewart’s recommendation?
“I didn’t think I would be back in this role again, but I believe Stewart Armstrong is a great chairman. When he called I thought he was just calling me to see who a good candidate would be, I didn’t realize he wanted me to be a candidate. One of the reasons I agreed to it was because of his passion to promote polo and commitment to the sport’s future. I wanted to be a part of his vision.”
Clifton Yandell played for Orchard Hill in 1999. ©David Lominska
What is the biggest goal you hope to accomplish for the Central Circuit?
“My ambition is to continue to grow polo in the Central Circuit where we can, maintaining it where growth is not currently possible, and providing support to the Chairman of the USPA. I want to serve the members in my circuit and make sure they are aware of the USPA programs, resources and have access to the benefits the USPA has to offer.”
What do you think has allowed the Chicagoland area to become a hub of growth in the Central Circuit?
“Many people put a lot of effort into growing polo in Chicago through the Chicago Polo Association (CPA). The three polo schools, Barrington Hills Polo Club School, Las Brisas Polo School and Oak Brook Polo Academy, is one of the main reasons the number of players is growing so quickly. Polo schools provide easy access to learning the game and that was one of the problems in the past, nobody had a polo school.
The instructors have created their own ecosystem so the people in their ecosystem feel a connection to the game. The resources of the USPA and the polo schools are both crucial to making it happen.”
2021 Chicago Polo Margarita League winners: Due West- Clifton Yandell, Sean Murphy, Dolores Onetto, Inez Onetto, Horacio Onetto.
“I handle Cliff Yandell’s horses in the summer and play with him and his knowledge and experience in the sport has definitely helped me up my game and given me many opportunities.” – Dolores Onetto
How have you been investing your time into teaching young up-and-comers?
“We have an informal polo school for younger people at Due West Polo Club in Oswego, Illinois. We have a couple pros as instructors and we have a lot of kids playing through the summer.
The girls are a lot easier to teach than the boys because they actually listen! It’s rewarding to see the enthusiasm and the skill of a lot of the kids now. The players in the National Youth Tournament Series program are unbelievable – they’re all ladies and gentlemen. The ones I met during the 2021 NYTS Championship® hosted by Oak Brook Polo Club (Oak Brook, Illinois) were very good kids.”
If you have any questions for Clifton about how your club can make the most of the USPA’s available programs, he can be reached at email@example.com.