The 25-year-old phenom will be front and center at the World Polo Championship—and he’ll be breaking records along the way.
California-born Agustin Arellano has been playing polo since he was a child. It was only natural: in pre-revolution Cuba, his family produced generations of champions, including Agustin’s father, Julio Arellano, who emigrated to the U.S. and reigned as a top-rated player for decades. In 1989, in Berlin, Julio led Team USA to victory in the Federation of International Polo World Polo Championship (WPC), the Olympics of the sport. To date, it’s the only time Team USA has taken home the winner’s cup at this triennial competition.
So, expectations will be high next week, when Agustin, now 25, with a three-goal handicap, brandishes his mallet for Team USA in the XII WPC, in Wellington, FL., beginning October 29. Agustin Arellano, photographed in Wellington, Fla., will play for the U.S. team at the Federation of International Polo World Polo Championship beginning October 29. NICKE MELE
Just by taking the field he will be making history, as the first openly gay player in a WPC. When not playing polo, Agustin, 6’2” with wavey brown hair and luminous blue eyes, models for brands including Eton, the US Polo Polo Association, and the Pur, and advocates for wildlife conservation.
Considering the sport’s conservative reputation, Arellano says that coming out was remarkably easy, beginning with the support he received from his family, including his mother Meghan, a California-born equestrian herself. “I didn’t realize I was gay until I was 18,” he says. “As soon as I knew, I told them. We’re so close, we talk about everything. My dad cried, but he was crying because, as he said, ‘I don’t want your life to be harder than it has to be.’”
After grappling with the personal issues that Agustin faced, the family turned to the professional hurdles ahead. “Then we had the conversation: ‘Career-wise, how are we going to handle this,’” Arellano explains. “My mom was really cool; she’s always spoken to my brother and sister and me as adults. She told me I had two options, ‘Either hide it for the time being, and come out later, when you’re at the top. Or you can own it now. If it doesn’t bother you, nobody can use it against you.’”
They all went to bed promising to sleep on it. The next morning, even before he could tell his parents he wanted to come out immediately, Meghan declared her opinion. “She said, ‘You need to be you.’ And that was that.”
Throughout the polo world, he found he was readily accepted. “Everybody’s been cool,” he says. But he chalks some of that up to his lineage. “My dad was captain of the US team for 15 years. So, I had that protection. Nobody was going to mess with me.” Agustin Arellano comes from a family of polo players. His father, Julio, played the sport for decades and his sister Hope is also on the American team, making them the first brother and sister to play together in a World Championship.NICKE MELE
But it’s his own passion for horses and for the sport that powers him on. “Polo showcases the incredible athletic abilities of both human and horse athletes, and is also breathtakingly beautiful to watch and capture,” he says.
On the fields in Wellington, Agustin will have close support from another family member—and will set an additional record in the process: His sister, Hope, 19, is on Team USA, too. “It’s the first time a brother and sister will be playing on a World Championship team,” he says. “It’s going to be tough,” he adds, referring to the talent they will be going up against from Argentina, Australia, Spain and elsewhere. “But my sister and I are ready to give it our best shot.”