Dawn Jones, a prominent figure in American polo, has cemented her reputation both as a player and an advocate for women’s polo. As a member of the Federation of International Polo Women’s International Polo Committee, Jones is deeply committed to steering the direction of the sport on a global scale. Most recently, she secured a victory in the Pacific Northwest Circuit Women’s Challenge (Kurt Luplow Memorial Women’s Tournament) at Big Horn Polo Club in Sheridan, Wyoming. CLICKPOLOUSA spoke with Jones about the game’s turning points, her preparations, the state of women’s polo in the U.S., and her hopes for the future.
“I’m grateful to the USPA for the incentive programs, and to club managers like Haley Bryan who take a sincere interest in women’s polo and help provide opportunities for women to compete.” – Dawn Jones
Dawn, what does this win mean to you?
“I’m grateful to have won the tournament alongside my teammates and being able to honor the late Kurt Luplow, generously sponsored by his family in support of women’s polo. The Kurt Luplow Memorial has become a tradition at Big Horn Polo Club [Sheridan, Wyoming], giving women of all ages and abilities the opportunity to compete.”
What were some key moments in the game?
“There were several key moments in the game beginning with learning from our mistakes in the first chukker. We quickly understood we were not marking our opponents effectively enough, losing the throw-ins and committing unnecessary fouls. They dominated the scoreboard and were up 4-1. We carefully discussed adjustments to make in the second chukker and converted most of our offense by making as many team plays as possible. Rotating was essential as was following up behind each other to finish the goals on the attack. We tightened our defense and reminded ourselves to be patient and to avoid fouling too much. Any time we transitioned from defense to offense, we would look for the open spaces on the field to reset and collect our team and maintain possession. At the end of the final chukker, we were able to stop a Penalty 4, with just seconds left in the game to then score the final goal to secure the win, 6-4.”
Jones competing for San Saba in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship ©David Lominska
How did you prepare for the tournament?
“I began playing in the 12 goal at the Flying H Polo Club [Big Horn, Wyoming] back in early July. My horses and I practiced together and had reached a comfortable crescendo by mid-August, when the Luplow was hosted. The speed of the 12 goal felt like it offered an advantage throughout the tournament. I didn’t feel rushed when working with my teammates and felt just a step ahead on breakaways.”
What was your experience playing at Big Horn?
“The club was very well organized with extra effort made by club manager, Haley Bryan, and her staff to seek reimbursements from the USPA Women’s Tournament Incentive Programs. Whether winning or losing, these efforts to participate in the USPA’s program and advanced planning by Big Horn enhanced the experience for all. My tournament winnings from the incentive program went into our organization’s return trip to San Saba, Texas, for horse hotels and emergency funds. I’m grateful to the USPA for the incentive programs, and to club managers like Haley Bryan who take a sincere interest in women’s polo and help provide opportunities for women to compete. Whether playing or practicing at Big Horn, it has always been a pleasure. Haley and her team work diligently to organize hundreds of chukkers per summer for beginners to high-goal pros like Miguel Novillo Estrada. They also host a robust green horse polo program for promising polo prospects. It is a diverse and welcoming community for anyone wishing to enjoy the game.”
A prominent figure in American polo, Jones has cemented her reputation both as a player and an advocate for women’s polo. As a member of the Federation of International Polo Women’s International Polo Committee, Jones is deeply committed to steering the direction of the sport on a global scale. ©Chantal Hasse
What do you think of the current state of women’s polo in the US? What are the biggest challenges for women’s polo?
“Since the pandemic, I feel we have had outstanding promotional support from U.S. Polo Assn. and the USPA, but we have lost some of the ground we gained prior to 2020 in terms of tournament organizing. We were beginning to establish a calendar of women’s tournaments that avoided conflict with tournaments in other parts of the world to ensure participation from the highest-rated players globally.
One goal was for women in the U.S. to become better players through playing with and against international players; then we could compare our handicaps with foreign players to be accurately handicapped and stay competitive. For U.S. players who were not able to travel abroad (Argentina, England, France, etc.), those country’s players would come to them. Today, some women’s tournaments have had difficulty continuing. I’m hopeful the community of female players and leadership can carefully revisit what worked and what failed to reestablish these valued tournament opportunities at a time in the global calendar that is the most inclusive.
The other goal was to create a global calendar that female professionals could count on to support themselves year-round and to create opportunities for up-and-coming female players. In 2019, we established a Florida Women’s circuit with seven consecutive playing opportunities at every club in South Florida during the winter season. The dates were carefully organized, and clubs like Port Mayaca [Okeechobee, Florida] and Sarasota Polo [Sarasota, Florida] adjusted their club schedules to accommodate and support women’s polo. The schedule was so precise that there was little room for a change or rainy days, but everyone remained optimistic and determined. Without a carefully organized global calendar, I believe U.S. women’s polo will not be able to thrive and may miss opportunities to compete with and against the best international players as often as possible.
“I recommend joining a polo club, preferably sanctioned by your country’s association if one exists, and participating in as many clinics and tournaments as possible. Find a trusted coach or instructor through the polo club to teach you the fundamentals of riding and understand the rules. Watch as many high-level games as possible—in person and via livestream” – Dawn Jones on advice for aspiring women players
Another indisputable challenge is the geographic distance between the east coast and the west coast. We are not as centralized as Argentina or England. Both countries have very robust women’s tournament schedules during their peak seasons. Female players on the west coast play in the winter at the same time women are playing in Florida. West coast sponsors and players are unable to participate in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship until April; meanwhile, most women finish in Florida at the end of March. Leasing horses for several teams in Florida in mid-April is very difficult and costly, given many teams have already been eliminated from the Gauntlet, and these organizations have left South Florida and turned out their horses for the season.
Playing in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship in February with a warm-up at Port Mayaca in late January may present a challenge for some wishing to participate. I realize playing a livestreamed six chukker game at the National Polo Center’s Field One for the finals is a privilege that U.S. Polo has pushed to establish and is supported by the USPA and U.S. Polo Assn., but the number of teams participating may diminish based on the timing. I’m interested in seeing the results as they relate to the calendar and the increasing financial demands of sponsoring a team. Dropping the handicap level from 24 goals to 18-22 goals may diminish these costs and increase participation.
On another note, I’m hopeful to see more women’s leagues develop from the earliest model established by Melissa Ganzi, Elina Carta and Cecelia Cochran at Grand Champions Polo in Wellington, Florida, and by Meghan and Memo Gracida in Santa Ynez, California. I’ve heard women’s only leagues are being established in Denver [Colorado], Indio [California], Spokane [Washington], Houston [Texas], Aiken [South Carolina], Chicago [Illinois], and across the northeast. There is a new 16-goal league in Wellington, Florida, debuting this coming season to complement the Grand Champions Women’s League called WOW, created by Kylie Sheehan*, Maureen Brennan and Haley Bryan. These U.S. women’s leagues are a welcomed addition and give female players confidence that they can travel to places like Florida, Colorado or California, commit to stabling and housing, engage pros and lease horses if needed for consistent opportunities to play and improve.”
Achieving success in every level of the sport, Jones’ dedication sets the standard as an inspiration to players in both women’s and mixed polo. ©David Lominska
Where do you see the future of women’s polo heading?
“I believe continued growth and participation globally are inevitable. Women’s sports and team sports are gaining traction. In the U.S. alone, many female polo players come from youth programs and intercollegiate programs. Just two years ago, USPA intercollegiate members were approximately 950 women to 650 male participants. Does this mean that USPA women’s membership will surpass 50% membership in the future? If so, I believe establishing more women’s tournaments and leagues has value, along with coordinating a global calendar of women’s tournaments. Players like Hope Arellano* will inspire young female players globally to perform better in women’s polo and mixed polo. Female players and sponsors are rapidly becoming important to the future and health of our sport. More women are sponsoring professionals and buying higher-quality horses from established breeders.”
What advice would you give aspiring women players as they embark on their journey in the sport?
“I recommend joining a polo club, preferably sanctioned by your country’s association if one exists, and participating in as many clinics and tournaments as possible. Find a trusted coach or instructor through the polo club to teach you the fundamentals of riding and understand the rules. Watch as many high-level games as possible—in person and via livestream. Anticipation in the game of polo is key. Ideally, one will have the privilege of playing with better-skilled players to improve. As a female player, do all you are financially capable of to find the best horses possible: primarily for safety, but also to learn the game and enjoy it at any level. If you cannot afford to own a horse, then consider taking lessons and renting to participate. Most of all, be safe, have fun, and develop friendships that can last a lifetime.”
Jones will compete for the Thai Pink Polo Cup in Argentina, followed by a return to South Florida for the 2024 winter season. ©Kaylee Wroe
What are some of your future goals or milestones?
“I intend to play in the 18- to 22-goal Thai Pink Polo Cup women’s tournament in Pilar, Argentina, this November. My goal is to try several horses as prospects to ship to Florida this winter. I’m always hopeful I will improve my game and enjoy seeing friends and former teammates. I’m looking forward to playing in the 12-goal mixed at Port Mayaca this winter and continuing to improve the polo at the San Saba Polo Club [San Saba, Texas] my husband established in 1986. My ambition is for San Saba to host future tournaments and charity events within our family’s annual schedule.”
*Hope Arellano is an Active Team USPA Member and Kylie Sheehan is Team USPA alumna. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.