In just four years, Hawaii Polo Life has established itself as one of the most dominant teams in women’s polo. Since its formation in 2019, Hawaii Polo Life has advanced to the finals of the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship for four consecutive years, winning on three of those occasions. While the roster has naturally fluctuated some over the years, two names have remained steadfast: Pamela Flanagan and Mia Cambiaso.
What is today a perfect partnership started almost by chance. “In 2017 I was modelling for Hawaii Polo Life and I got to know Chris Dawson. At the end of 2018, I asked him if he would be interested in being the jersey sponsor in one of my tournaments, and he said yes. But a month later he called me back and said ‘what exactly did I sign up for?’ ‘You will be sponsoring our U.S. Open team,'” Flanagan shared.
What does it mean to win another U.S. Women’s Open Championship?
“It means a lot to me. It’s more than just winning individually. I feel the whole sport is winning the way we were able to exhibit the game. I’m honored to be part of this team. Chris has been a wonderful sponsor and supporter as well as Adolfo and Mia Cambiaso, as they have been with us through this journey since year one. Robert Journayvaz and the J5 Organization have also been behind us, so it means a lot to me to have their support and have this moment possible. It’s special and to be a part of it means the world to me, it’s a dream come true.”
2022 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship Winners: Hawaii Polo Life – Hazel Jackson, Mia Cambiaso, Pamela Flanagan, Cecily Coors. Pictured with Team Owner Chris Dawson. ©David Lominska
How did you assemble the team?
“I structured the team. Chris is passionate about supporting young American players, so I looked for a nice rider for the fourth member of the team. Someone who is coachable and who has access to nice horses. Cecily Coors was a jumper, and I knew she had advanced riding skills. She had a strong riding foundation. I know her from Denver [Colorado], and being able to support a young person from Denver is special, as I live there. I felt the same last year with Dolores Onetto, as she is from Chicago [Illinois], and I was born and raised in Barrington, Illinois.”
Mia Cambiaso has been part of the team from the beginning. What’s your relationship with her?
“I love Mia, I love her whole family. Her father Adolfo helps us with horses and coaching. I feel so blessed to have the support of Adolfo, Maria and their whole family. When we played with her for the first time, she was only fifteen-years-old. To have her parents allowing her to play was special. I watched her develop into one of the best players in the world today.”
Hawaii Polo Life’s Mia Cambiaso and Pamela Flanagan. ©David Lominska
How do you see the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship and women’s polo in general?
“We had great growth. Dawn Jones was instrumental when she moved the final here to [International Polo Club Palm Beach] Field 1 [Wellington, Florida] three years ago. It was really important to elevate the prestige of the tournament in general. Beyond that, this was the first year that the tournament had prize money allocated. $40,000 dollars of prize money made it much more interesting for teams. I think we would have at least three more teams, but injuries prevented them from participating. I know Dawn Jones, Meghan Gracida and Maureen Brennan wanted to play, but they were all unable to do so. In the future, I can see a lot more teams entering. I think prize money is here to stay and I see us playing at U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1, so it has been an incredible growth and I hope it continues. We also had a meeting the other day about raising the handicap to 24 goals.”
What’s next for you?
“I’ve been fortunate to play these tournaments the last few years. I’m an attorney, and because of COVID, a lot of our meetings have taken place online. But with everything opening up, it will be difficult to play the next couple of years. I might need to take some time to focus on my career. That’s why this trophy means a lot to me!”
Flanagan competing on Dolfina Jordie in the 2022 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship. ©David Lominska
Flanagan’s initial encounter with the world of horses humorously came as a result of her hometown local gas station. Behind the Barrington, Illinois station, there was a stable. “I was maybe four-years-old. The stable was near my house and I asked my mom if I could go, and so I started going two times a week. I really loved horses and loved taking riding lessons. It was something I had inside, something innate.”
After graduating from law school, Flanagan didn’t have a team to be part of. “I asked myself ‘how am I going to play polo?’ A really good option would be to train a horse myself.” And that was how the Rescue Pony Project started. “I came across horses that seemed nice and were very cheap. That’s how I found Stella in 2016. She wasn’t in great shape, but she was young and the ad said she was healthy. ‘What am I missing?’ She was beautiful. That’s how I became aware of an industry that buys unwanted horses in auctions, pretending they are going to take them to a nice place but then go to places called kill pens. The horses are later sent to Mexico or Canada. I try to rescue as many horses as I can, mostly in Texas.”
Flanagan’s first rescue pony, Stella.
Unlike many cases where riding, and particularly polo, is an inherited passion, Flanagan is the only one of six siblings in her family that plays polo. “They were only pony lessons, they would walk me for an hour and it was the best hour of the week. I then went on to boarding school at Culver Academies [Culver, Indiana]. Culver has several very impressive horsemanship programs, one of which is polo. I picked up polo and never looked back. I played through the USPA Interscholastic/Intercollegiate programs throughout high school, college, and even law school.”
Stella was Flanagan’s first rescue and even played in the 2016 and 2019 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship. “She is still with me but stayed in Denver because she is recovering from an injury.”
Other horses followed, such as Sunny, named after the late and great Sunny Hale. What started as a gateway into post-graduate polo for Flanagan turned out to be a lifesaving opportunity for many horses in the end. You can visit Flanagan’s Instagram to learn more about her horses and their stories.