At just 17 years old, Will Schneider from Calgary, Alberta, has had an impressive start to his polo career. Playing for Western, he recently won the National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) Championship Cecil Smith Cup at New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina, scoring five of the 10 goals his team scored when besting Central 10-3.5. Schneider was also highlighted as the first Canadian to claim the coveted Cecil Smith Cup.
Polo has been a part of Schneider’s life from a young age thanks to his grandfather, the late Rob Peters, who founded the Black Diamond Polo Club in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Millarville, Alberta. His family’s legacy and his early exposure to polo naturally paved a path for the young teen into the sport. Schneider’s commitment is further denoted by his decision to take a gap year to solely focus on the game, which allowed him the opportunity to travel and gain more experience. His consistent performance in the sport led to a handicap promotion, moving to 0.5-goals effective December 1, 2023, and is set to reach a 1-goal handicap by May 1, 2024.
Claiming his first National Youth Tournament Series Championship Cecil Smith Cup title in 2023, Schneider became the first Canadian to win the tournament. ©Kaile Roos
Currently a student at the University of Guelph (Guelph, Ontario), Schneider plans to juggle his academic responsibilities with his love for polo. He aspires to play across the globe and explore different facets of the game at an international level.
“It wasn’t until COVID hit that I got my first job in polo. From there, my passion for the sport grew to the point where I took a gap year before university to travel, groom and play polo.” – Will Schneider
Will, can you start by telling us about your introduction to polo and what drew you to the sport?
“It really stems back to my grandfather. He used to play polo and founded the Black Diamond Polo Club. My parents played there too so my brother and I were always around polo. We would be running around with foot mallets. By the time we were big enough to get on and play, we started to participate. It wasn’t until COVID hit that I got my first job in polo. From there, my passion for the sport grew to the point where I took a gap year before university to travel, groom and play polo.”
2023 National Youth Tournament Series Championship Cecil Smith Cup Winners: Western – Micaela Saracco, Will Schneider, Ryan Kerley, Piers Bossom. ©Kaile Roos
What can you tell us about your triumph in the NYTS?
“This NYTS was super special for me. I have wanted to make it to the championship since before I played in my first qualifier six years ago. Getting the call to come to NYTS has been awesome. Last year I didn’t get selected for the championship and I was pretty bummed out about not being able to go. After taking a year off before university to play polo, I was determined to make the championships again. I spent half the year working with the Kerley’s as well, and Ryan [Kerley] and I talked about wanting to play together in the championship. It was our last year of eligibility and getting to play together was awesome.
As far as the polo on the field, we had some troubles as a team at the start. Watching the tapes from the practice and the first game, we didn’t play all that well. It was not the best practice for the team, which was alright. We were just getting comfortable on the horses and in our roles. We played a bit better at the start of the next game, but really, we didn’t play well. It wasn’t until the second half of the third chukker that we really started to play better as a team. Then in the fourth chukker we played much better, scoring three goals and winning the game. I think that we still had the potential to play better than we did in that chukker, but it was a great place to start. The momentum we had finishing that last game carried us through to start the next game strong. We outscored the Central team 5-0 in the first chukker of the finals. The final was really fun and after an opening chukker like that, we had to make sure to keep pressing and not get complacent and let them bring the game back.”
Tell us about some of the most memorable matches you’ve played.
“I had lots of memorable games over this past year. Some of the more recent ones are the finals of the 2-goal this summer, where we won back-to-back tournaments. That was huge for us because we came into the season as the underdogs with a 0.5-goal handicap in the 2-goal league. Additionally, this NYTS tournament is high on the list as well. Another very memorable game was last summer in the 4-goal at the Calgary Polo Club [Okotoks, Alberta], playing the finals of the J.C. Palmer Memorial. This game was against our biggest rivals of the summer, and we lost with two minutes left in the second overtime chukker.”
Currently a student at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Schneider plans to juggle his academic responsibilities with his love for polo. He aspires to play across the globe and explore different facets of the game at an international level. ©jkwphoto
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
“Right now, I’m just starting my first year of studies at the University of Guelph [Guelph, Ontario], so I will be here at school for four years. That sadly limits the polo I can play from May to September. This also drastically limits the places that I can play in. I plan on staying around Calgary (my hometown) for the summers as much as I can and playing in the area.”
Are there any tournaments or locations, both globally and in the U.S., where you dream of playing one day?
“I want to travel and play in different places across the world. So far, I have played in Mexico, Argentina and South Africa. I would love to go back to all the places I’ve played, as well as go to New Zealand, Wyoming, California and Florida to play. There are so many great places around the world to play and I would love to be able to experience polo that’s different from what I know.
“I have played in Mexico, Argentina and South Africa. I would love to go to New Zealand, Wyoming, California and Florida to play. There are so many great places around the world to play and I would love to be able to experience polo that’s different from what I know.” – Will Schneider on where he aspires to play polo next
Additionally, I want to play at the Springfield Polo Club [Birds Hill Provincial Park, Manitoba]. We have a Western Canadian Circuit where lots of clubs travel for a weekend tournament. Springfield’s tournament in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is the only one on the circuit that I haven’t been to yet, so I hope to play there soon.”
Western’s Ryan Kerley, Micaela Saracco, Will Schneider and Piers Bossom celebrate back-to-back NYTS Cecil Smith Cup victories. ©Kaile Roos
What are some of your personal goals?
“My biggest personal goals are to graduate and keep playing as much polo as I can. I know it’s very vague, but that is the foundation of what I hope to achieve right now. I’m not sure about the specifics of what playing polo will look like and how that will best fit in.”
How would you describe the current state of polo in the United States?
“Currently, American polo is doing well. Many of the tournaments that I have seen are filled with teams and growing. Hopefully, programs like Team USPA will continue to help American up-and-comers get better and create a larger group of American professionals.”