There’s no sweeter feeling than finding a game that you love. For some, it’s football. For others, it’s basketball. But, for Sekou McDonald, he found a home with an unlikely sport – polo. Discovering the game in the face of tragedy, the Jamaica-born polo pro is now playing for keeps in the United Kingdom.
Born in Kingston, McDonald moved to Point Hill at the age of six to live with his Aunt Daphne and Uncle Ned. “I attended Point Hill All-Age School and then Jonathan Grant High School in Spanish Town. I didn’t have a privileged upbringing; however, I was quite happy. Things were tough at times but our household was very joyful. My aunt and uncle always made sure that there was food on the table.”
Following high school, he migrated to the UK to live with his mother. He left his interests in cricket and basketball behind and found himself gravitating more towards trends and style. That was until he happened to stumble upon polo.
“After the death of the man that raised me (my uncle), I felt so empty and was really mourning his passing. To distract me, a friend invited me to watch a polo game. There, I met Diego White from Argentina, who asked me if I wanted to have a go of riding a polo pony and get the feel of the game,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
White flew back to Argentina, but McDonald remained fascinated by the sport. He was so intrigued that he paid for lessons at a nearby riding school. “I enjoyed it so much that I haven’t looked back since,” he added.
The one-year journey was the most challenging but rewarding experience yet, since he studied and graduated from the basics of riding a horse to tackle the intricacies of the game. He gave us some insight on how the game is played.
“There are two teams and each team has four players. The game is split into four to eight chukkers, each lasting seven minutes with a short break, where each player switches or changes horses. Because each ‘chukker’ is so intense, the horses get tired from chasing the ball and doing sudden manoeuvres. Once a goal is scored, then each team will switch ends and now score in opposite directions. “
Training at least once per week during the winter as well as the off season, his sessions go up to over three times during the game season. There, he zones in on technique and horsemanship.
Disciplined, focused, determined and persistent, his coach would say that he sometimes pushes himself beyond the limit and can be too hard on himself, “I’m very competitive. I’m in it to win. My eyes are on that ball at all times.”
The sport, in its own unique way, combines both of his loves: healthy competition and fashion. There is a thriving social scene where spectators go out in what we Jamaicans like to call their ‘Sunday best’ for the festivities. “The thrill and rush of the game excites me. But I also get the opportunity of travelling all over the world to play, meeting amazing people and enjoying the social scene,” the polo player revealed.
Having recently played in this year’s Lux Afrique Polo Day, the largest African polo event in Europe, McDonald was honoured to be the only Jamaican on the field representing his island in such a prestigious light. The achievement was a personal one for him, since he set out to accomplish this goal and did so in fantastic fashion, “… with only just over a year in the saddle. What I’ve achieved so far keeps me motivated because I’ve set a goal to play in tournaments and exhibition matches and to become a skilful player and fearless rider.”
Generally, people are of the view that polo is solely for the elites of the society and the game belongs to men: nothing could be further from the truth. The player shared that both genders play in the same game and on the same team. And here’s another fun fact: there is no age requirement.
The support has been overwhelming so far, with many expressing shock and amazement in meeting a Jamaican polo athlete, or one from the Caribbean for that matter.
From rural youngster to renowned player, he hopes to become an even greater player and enter more competitions. Additionally, he looks forward to playing polo in Jamaica for family, friends and natives to see. His advice to aspiring polo players is to “find your local polo club and have a chat with the trainer there; the polo environment is so friendly and welcoming”.