Hope Arellano—America’s only female 10-goaler—is both a breath of fresh air and a category-5 wind on the polo field
It’s the top of the sixth chukker of the Alan Corey 4-Goal at the Aiken Polo Club in South Carolina, and it’s not looking good for the Hyde Park team. Hope Arellano comes out to change horses and gives a stern coaching to her teammate—and brother—Lucas Arellano before rejoining the match.
“Hope doesn’t hold back when she’s giving pointers to her brothers,” says her mother, Meghan, herself a former polo player, as she untacks the horses.
On the field, Hope gives everything, but they lose the game anyway. She rides to the sidelines and removes her white and pink helmet, exposing a long blonde braid woven with a bandana. Her nose is swollen and bruised. During a match two days ago, she rode into a goal post trying to save a goal. When asked about the injury, she shrugs it off with typical nonchalance. For this fierce competitor, who at 20 years old is the only American female polo player to be rated 10 goals, battle scars are part and parcel with victory.
Given Hope’s family lineage, her no-holds-barred mentality should come as no surprise. Her mother played in (and won) a polo tournament while pregnant with her. Her grandparents on both sides were involved in the sport, which makes her and her brothers, Lucas and Agustin, third-generation polo players. Their father, Julio, was a 9-goal player. He won three U.S. Opens, was America’s highest ranked player for years, and was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 2021.
Julio suffered a riding accident several years ago and has since stepped back from playing and committed himself to coaching. Tactical and strategic in his mindset, he has trained Hope since she began playing in childhood. Most recently, he coached her and her La Fe teammates to victory in the 2023 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship. Julio’s approach to the sport and work ethic is reflected in his daughter.
“Hope is hardworking and dedicated,” Julio says. “You can be talented, but if you don’t put in the hard work, you’re not going to be at the top.”
The youngest of the three Arellano children, Hope lives with her family on a 235-acre farm tucked away down a winding dirt road on the outskirts of Aiken. While many players “follow the polo ball” and rarely stay put for long, Hope considers this place to be her home. (Come winter, Hope relocates to Wellington so she can compete at the National Polo Center during the high-goal season.)
A posted sign on the family property reads: “Welcome Friend”—and what a welcoming committee it is. Aside from the 70 horses on-site, the menagerie includes five Malinois, donkeys (including a donkey-zebra mix), a llama, goats, chickens, cats, and Tootsie, Hope’s rather portly black and white pig.
At the main house, the family gathers around an oversize kitchen counter. Julio fusses over a chicken roasting in the oven, and one of the cats meows from atop a stool. Outside the window, a herd of donkeys ambles past as the sun slowly sinks behind the tree line. It would be a typical wholesome family scene if the conversation didn’t always come back to polo.
“I’ve been riding forever, even before I could understand that I was riding,” Hope says. “I always loved horses. I did barrel racing and jumping, but really got into polo when I was 9.”
Hope plays frequently with her brothers, and they know firsthand the type of athlete she is. “She goes into every game like it’s the U.S. Open,” Lucas says. “She’s always going to play like everything is on the line.”
Having reached a 10-goal handicap, Hope is the highest-ranked female polo player in the United States and the youngest American to rise to a 10-goal women’s handicap. She is the only woman ever to compete for the U.S. in the Federation of International Polo World Polo Championship, which was hosted in Wellington in 2022. She played in her first adult tournament at the age of 11 and by 12 had won the Pete Bostwick Memorial 12-goal game alongside her father and brothers. At 14, Hope became the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship (and won again last year), and she won the Revelation Award her first year playing in the Women’s Argentine Open.
While she flirted with cheerleading, soccer, and tennis (with the whole family participating in 7 a.m. tennis matches), Hope always returned to horses.
“I could never live without them. The horses are my extended family,” she says. “I think each horse leaves an impression on you, and you create a different bond with every single one. My horses are everything to me.”
Hope keeps her string of 14 horses in her own barn and manages them all by herself.
“Everyone thinks it’s a pretty sport,” she says. “But you see us on the field at our best. No one sees the hard work in the mornings. You don’t have a day off. You always have to feed and check in on the horses. It’s a nonstop job.”
She adds with a laugh: “If we do get a day off, we stroll Target and get Starbucks. That’s considered a really good day.”
For such a focused and high-profile athlete, Hope is incredibly easy to talk to, quick to laugh, and constantly bestows the pet name of “my love” onto every two- and four-legged creature she encounters. And though she doesn’t hesitate to reach for a tough shot or ride a player off the polo field, she often displays a softer side. Her saddles are embroidered with her name in pink, and her trailers and tack sport her logo: a heart with an H inside, always in pink.
In her room, two walk-in closets overflow with clothes and shoes. “I love fashion,” she says, her eyes twinkling as she surveys the Zimmermann collection clothing brought in for a photo shoot. She describes her style as “boho” and favors flowy dresses and feminine details like lace and fringe, often paired with boots. Her sense of style and striking features have earned her a global brand ambassadorship for U.S. Polo Assn., and so far she’s enjoyed her brush with modeling. It’s a different side of Hope that is hard to reconcile with the powerhouse on the polo field, but it’s also part of the dichotomy that often defines female polo players.
She navigates this fluidity seamlessly, due in no small part to the guidance and support of her mother, Meghan, who has not missed a single one of Hope’s games.
“My mom is the rock,” Hope says. “We do everything together. My brothers joke that we are all still attached by the umbilical cord. She is our best friend. I would not be anywhere near what I am today without her. She is extremely supportive and very, very loving. She knows the right things to say to keep me in the right mental state. But she will also tell me straight up when I play terribly.”
Meghan is quick to dispose of any compliments, but her husband and children insist.
“She’s been a crucial part of allowing the kids the opportunity to ride because I was more focused on my career,” Julio explains. “She focused on them and took them on trail rides and made sure it was fun.”
The roasted chicken has been done for quite some time and another dog has made its way into the kitchen. The conversation has not strayed from horses—developing Hope’s string, young ones, favorite ones, past ones.
“Polo isn’t our profession; it’s our lifestyle,” Lucas says. “Papa always said that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I don’t think we’ve worked.”
Perhaps therein lies the secret sauce of victory: it’s the love of the game that sustains the athlete beyond the ephemeral rewards of winning and through the agony of losing.
That’s why Hope is a champion. Her unwavering dedication to a daily grind is so innate that it seems like the most natural way of life. And it is.
Out of the Tack
Pre-game meal: peanut butter and jelly
Pre-game ritual: listening to pump-up music like “Temperature” by Sean Paul and saying a quick prayer
Favorite post-game restaurant: Lemongrass Asian Bistro in Wellington
Starbucks order: trenta green tea lemonade
Guilty pleasure: Ghirardelli caramel milk chocolate
Star treatment: a mani/pedi at Anthony Vince Nail Spa in Wellington
Favorite fashion brands: U.S. Polo Assn., Free People, and Lululemon
Bucket-list travel destinations: the Galapagos Islands, Africa, and Paris
Ultimate ambition: to push myself to the best of my capability, whatever that may be.
Something most people don’t know: I’m a very private person, so there is probably a lot. I guess that I overthink everything.