“Our desire is to leave the sport of women’s polo better for the next generation.” – Kylie Sheehan
From Baltimore City to international arenas, Kylie Sheehan’s* path in polo has been anything but typical. Her love for horses has helped her carve her own unique path, where she has combined her passion for polo with a greater and more personal purpose: to help showcase women across the sport.
“Horses teach discipline, leadership and empathy. I think these are some of the most important lessons in life and what better way to learn them than with polo?” – Kylie Sheehan
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Sheehan’s track record speaks for itself: from winning national titles during her high school years at Garrison Forest to showcasing her skills in the top-rated women’s tournaments around the world, Sheehan has proven her polo proficiency time and time again. ©David Lominska
PASSION FOR POLO BEYOND TRADITION
Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Kylie Sheehan was not born into a family familiar with polo, but her love for horses charted her unique path in the sport. Studying at Garrison Forest School, a private all-girls school nestled in Owings Mills, Maryland, Sheehan did not instantly find her footing in the equestrian world. It took a great deal of hard work and dedication to establish the reputation that she maintains today.
Her track record speaks for itself: from winning national titles during her high school years at Garrison Forest to showcasing her skills at the Women’s Argentine Open, Sheehan has proven her polo proficiency time and time again.
Still, Sheehan is not your average polo player; she is a champion of the sport and regularly advocates for polo’s growth, especially in women’s polo. This is evidenced by her progressive efforts, such as setting up various polo academies and helping kickstart the Women of Wellington (WOW) tournament series. In short, Kylie Sheehan’s story is about drive and devotion, a thirst for learning, and writing her own chapter in the textbooks of polo’s history — all while inspiring many others along the way.
CLICKPOLOUSA sat down with Sheehan to take a deeper look into her path to polo, discuss her polo academy, what prompted her to start the WOW series, and what lies ahead.
Sheehan captured the coveted U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship in 2021 with BTA/The Villages. ©David Lominska
How did your journey with polo begin, especially coming from a non-polo family background?
“I grew up in Baltimore City and my family is a big sports family — my sister played Division I lacrosse in college and my other sister was a great rower. I played lacrosse, basketball and field hockey. I always liked competing but was first and foremost obsessed with horses. Before I even saw a horse in real life, I was completely enamored by them and would read equine encyclopedias for fun. When I was five or six-years-old, I wrote a letter to Santa asking for a ‘fleet of polo ponies.’ I’m not sure how I knew what a ‘fleet of polo ponies’ was since I had never seen a polo pony, but I guess I knew what I wanted from an early age!
I was lucky enough to go to Garrison Forest which is an all-girls school in the area. It’s a day and boarding school and happens to have an amazing riding and polo program. I learned to ride there during gym class, which was the best thing ever for a horse crazy 10-year-old girl. My mom started riding at the same time as me, so we were able to enjoy that together. After competing in the hunter jumpers for a couple of years, I started taking arena polo lessons in eighth grade at Garrison. I am left-handed and was pretty terrible, but my best friend Posey Obrecht played polo, so I thought it was fun and stuck with it (even though Posey was much better than me). Cindy Halle returned to Garrison as the head coach when we were in 11th grade, and I started getting more serious about polo then. She is an amazing coach and showed me that I could be a competitive player. We went on to win the National Interscholastic Championship that next year. I attended the University of Virginia [Charlottesville, Virginia] for college and played there as well. We won two Intercollegiate Championships, and I made some great friends in Interscholastic and Intercollegiate polo — both teammates and competitors. Many of them are still my best friends and some of my favorite teammates to this day.
During my college years, I would groom for people in the summertime and learned to play grass that way. I got to work at Mashomack Polo Club one summer as Woody Keesee’s groom, and that was the first time I got to see high-level organized grass polo. I remember thinking the horses were such incredible athletes and was very interested in how they were prepared. I remember watching an amazing chestnut mare named Bien Venida who got Best Playing Pony during one of the tournaments. I thought she was the most amazing horse I had ever seen. Nine years later I was given her to play in the U.S. Women’s Open, which I won that year with BTA/The Villages. She’s now retired in Aiken where she’ll live out her older years.
After graduating from UVA, I figured I’d work in polo for a year or two and then go get a ‘real job.’ Since then, I’ve worked in almost every polo job you can think of: from grooming to training horses, managing, teaching, and playing professionally. Now I am 32 and still working in polo thanks to some amazing supporters and mentors I’ve had over the years. I still take it day-by-day but am happy where my polo journey has taken me so far, and am really looking forward to what is to come.”
Sheehan has been instrumental in developing the Women of Wellington (WOW) tournament series to further the playing and employment opportunities in women’s polo throughout South Florida. ©David Lominska
You run your own polo academy at Flying Cow Polo Club in Wellington during the winter and at MB Polo Club during the summer. What inspired you to start this initiative?
“I got so lucky with the people who took the time to teach me different things about the sport. I have had so many mentors that I am grateful for who went above and beyond to share their knowledge. I loved learning about the horsemanship side of polo as well as the sport — everything from schooling a polo pony to the strategy of a knock-in. You can learn something from the vet, farrier, another pro or simply watching a game. Now I get to share what I have learned from my own experiences and from some of the sport’s greats and get to pass that on to the next generation. There is nothing better than falling in love with horses and the sport, and there is no better feeling than helping people along that journey. Horses teach discipline, leadership, and empathy. I think these are some of the most important lessons in life and what better way to learn these than with polo?”
Travelling across the United States, Sheehan recently competed for Total Power Group in the 2023 Pacific Coast Circuit Women’s Challenge B-Flight hosted by La Herradura Polo Club, in Santa Ynez, California. ©Kerri Kerley
Competing in the Women’s Argentine Open must have been an incredible experience. Can you describe what it was like playing at that level?
“I got to play the U.S. Women’s Open [Championship] with one of my best friends and former UVA teammates, including Isabella Wolf. We have stayed very close since graduating from UVA but have not had the chance to play together since college. She came up with the idea to play in the Women’s Argentine Open and couldn’t think of a better person to do it with. It was a dream come true to play with and against the best players and horses in the world. Our first game was against La Dolfina. Sharing the field with that level of players and horses was humbling and inspiring all at the same time. La Dolfina was kind enough to lend me some horses for the Open even though I was playing against their team. Matias Magrini, Pite Merlos, and Martina Revelli also all gave me horses, tack, grooms, practices, trucks, trailers, and coaching. Their generosity went above and beyond and shows the passion that so many incredibly accomplished players and horsemen have for the sport and their willingness to share it with others. It was absolutely inspiring, and I hope that I can do the same one day for others.”
Do you have plans to return to Argentina this year?
“I am planning on being in Argentina for November and part of December. I am planning on working down there and possibly playing tournament polo as well. Argentina is the best place to play as much polo as possible, and at the highest level possible. As always, I am looking forward to learning by getting to be around some of the top organizations in the world. I am also hoping a couple of my clients are going to be able to come down with me and share some of the incredible experiences I have had while in Argentina.”
Regularly advocating for development in women’s polo, Sheehan has made notable progressive efforts, such as setting up various polo academies. ©Penmax Productions
Tell us more about the polo clinic you hosted for women at MB Polo Club last weekend. How was the turnout? Do you have plans for more clinics or similar events in the future?
“The Jefferies Women’s Polo Invitational came to fruition thanks to Leandro Infantino, Jefferies, and the amazing MB Polo Club crew. Leandro’s idea was to create an event that would enable and inspire more women who are around polo to get out there on the field and enjoy the sport. The event exceeded our expectations with 16 players joining us on the field that day. Everyone had a blast — some of the women playing have been around polo their whole lives but haven’t had the chance to get out on the field and enjoy playing. They clearly had been paying attention all these years because they played amazingly well. I am really looking forward to playing with all these women in the future. Women’s polo has so much potential for growth and these are the types of programs we need to grow the sport. I know it inspired more than one woman to get out there on the horse the next day to train for the next event. We are absolutely going to do it again at Meadow Brook and in Florida this winter at Flying Cow Polo. We will be having clinics, intro-level games, and practices. It’s a friendly and fun way to give polo a try and will be the perfect feeder for more competitive tournaments.
We are also putting together a tournament series this winter in Wellington called the Women of Wellington (WOW) tournament series. It’s going to be a series of three women’s tournaments at the 10-14 goal level held on fields in the Wellington area. As a female professional, I have benefited immensely from being a part of the Wellington polo world but have run into a recurrent problem — there is not enough women’s polo being offered in the area. The two main USPA women’s tournaments that are held in the Wellington area are both at the 22-goal level which is not attainable for most players for financial reasons and/or simply because they do not have the experience to play at that level yet. The WOW Polo League will be a platform for players to gain experience with three highly organized, competitive tournaments at the medium goal level. Both seasoned and new players will form teams bringing an exciting level of women’s polo not yet enjoyed during the competitive Wellington season. Having these tournaments will create jobs for women’s professional players and create an actual season of women’s polo for amateur players to enjoy in Wellington over the winter. Ultimately this will create a pathway for more players to participate in higher level tournaments like the USPA’s U.S. Open Women’s Championship. Our initiative has already gained a ton of traction and support from sponsors and clubs who are hoping to collaborate to create more opportunities for women to play. Our desire is to leave the sport of women’s polo better for the next generation and it starts with programs like the Jefferies Women’s Polo Invitational and the Women of Wellington tournament series. Any opportunity for women to get out on the field, no matter what the level, is a step in the right direction towards growing the sport and getting more people out on the field. It is incredibly exciting to see the enthusiasm of so many people and organizations who are behind this initiative.”
*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.