When the weather gets cold in Canada, many of us gear up for our favourite winter sports for the season. For Crystal Di Rosa, that process involves donning a warm jacket, a hat and gloves – and grabbing her horse.
Di Rosa’s sport is snow polo – a variation of the more popular sport of polo, that is played in the snow and requires specific weather conditions in terms of temperature and snowfall to be played properly. The tricky weather requirements, coupled with the need for regular access to a horse to learn the sport, has made snow polo relatively inaccessible – currently, there are only a few well-known snow polo tournaments worldwide, including the Snow Polo St. Moritz World Cup (known as the birthplace of snow polo) that was held in January of this year.
Di Rosa is hoping to change that. “Horses have been a passion of mine since I was six years old,” she says. Di Rosa started off working for her father’s snowmaking business, Whittier Canada Enterprises Inc., but she soon left the family business to become a riding instructor and running her own farm. When Di Rosa was introduced to polo 10 years ago, she never looked back.
“It matched all of my loves: being competitive, the horses, having a good time and being a team sport. I quickly fell in love with polo, and when I had the opportunity to take over the polo club here, my husband and I did. And that’s how we created DiRosa Polo ourselves,” she says.
DiRosa Polo farm in Mount Albert, just north of Toronto, offers equestrian lessons and polo lessons for beginners, experts and everyone in between – including, now, snow polo. Just a few weeks ago, DiRosa invited women of all ages from four clubs across the province to participate in the first ever all-women’s snow polo event in Canada.
“I wanted to host this snow polo event to honour my father, who I lost due to COVID-related issues last year. He owned the snowmaking company I grew up with, so snow has been in my blood for my entire life,” DiRosa says. “The opportunity to host a snow polo event isn’t always easy due to the conditions of the snow, but this year with the snowfall that we’ve gotten, and colder temperatures, it gave us this opportunity to be able to host a safe event. I wanted to honour my family’s legacy alongside my dream of promoting the sport of polo for women in the country.”
The event included a peewee and adult category, and DiRosa says the youngest player out there on the field that day was five years old. The choice to include women only was a deliberate one, she says, to highlight the current potential for growth in the sport. “Snow polo is almost non-existent on a larger scale, but men already dominate the polo world already,” she explains. “Women’s polo is currently the largest demographic growing in the sport. All of the women that are currently in the sport are trying to advocate to get more women involved so that we can support the programs in place that are going to help give these women opportunities.”
Emily Hurst is one of the women who was there for the event that day. Hurst manages Toronto Polo School, also known as Polo Management Services, which runs full year-round polo school. Hurst has organized a few snow polo events before but, because of the specificity of the conditions required to play, had never played herself.
“Crystal gave me a call and asked if I’d be interested in going over to her place for this all-women’s snow polo event, and I said, “Of course,’” Hurst says. “It was really cool, actually having a horse out on the snow and playing. It was really cold, and you need to wear less layers so that you can move and play, but it’s also -14, so that was tough!”
Hurst notes that polo is generally a co-ed sport, and while it’s still dominated by men, more and more women are joining the sport worldwide.
Di Rosa is hoping this event will set the foundation for future snow polo events. “I would love to see if next winter, we could create a snow polo league that I would be able to open up to anyone locally, even if they have no experience, and everyone could play at different levels,” she says. “Polo is always referenced as hockey on horseback. You couldn’t make it any more Canadian.”
Di Rosa’s event might have already inspired other clubs across the province; soon after her event, the Greater Niagara Polo Club hosted a Canadian Women’s Polo Series snow polo event on Feb. 7.
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