17 Questions is a feature series where we introduce different women polo players around the world. In this feature, we talked to young polo star Winifred Branscum. The women’s arena 2-goaler is one of St. Louis Polo Club major pride, winning her way through different tournaments both for mixed and women’s polo.
1. Since when are you interested in horses?
“There was never a point when I started loving horses; they have always been a part of me. As a small child, my mom read horse stories to me every night. I love polo because of the horses, not the other way around.”
2. How did you get into polo?
“I was lucky enough to grow up at the same barn my mother worked and played polo at. As a teenager, my mother, Anne Branscum DVM, began working for Steve Othwein Sr. when he was the highest rated amateur in the US. After going to vet school, she continued riding and playing with Steve so I was able to grow up riding polo ponies with Steve just as she did. Before I was big enough to play polo, I took English and dressage riding lessons and evented for a few years, but I recently put all my focus on polo. I am very thankful for that time outside of polo as it allowed me to be a better rider and, in turn, appreciate the horses more.”
3. Who is your first coach?
“My first and current coach is my mother. She played at Cornell University and is thrice a National Intercollegiate Champion. Apart from her knowledge of polo, what I have learned to appreciate most is her horsemanship. I couldn’t ask for a better partner because of how much I can learn from her about our shared passion.”
4. Who are your heroes on the field?
“Steve Orthwein has always been my hero. I remember riding horses with him when I was young. Even in his late 60s, he trained greenies and rode six or more horses daily. When Steve became 6-goals, he had trained all his horses himself. His commitment and passion for horses and polo is incredible to have even been around.”
5. What’s the best training tip you’ve ever received?
“In my opinion, it’s that ‘take everything with a grain of salt’ is more important to remember than a specific polo or horsemanship tip. There are a million different ways to do everything and you might be told all of them. Find a happy medium between always listening and trusting your own instincts.”
6. How do you bond with your horse?
“I bond with them by having a safe partnership. We ask a lot from them, which they work hard to give. In turn, we must also give a little. In my opinion, it should be a partnership in which sometimes the person can tell instead of asking (such as in a dangerous situation). Most of the time, I’m asking my horses to do things, not telling them. And they can ask me things, such as asking to stop and look around for a second. In turn, when I tell them something, they understand the seriousness of the demand. Horses learn to trust safe partnerships and great bonds are created from them.
7. Best horse care tip?
“Educate yourself often, and from reliable sources. Even scientists are learning how to better care for horses daily, and new developments are always happening. Take the time to keep up with these advancements. There are a lot of old wives tales that are still widely believed as scientific facts.”
8. Who is your polo bestfriend?
“My polo bestfriend is Holly Goen, who is on the St. Louis Girls Highschool team with me.”
9. Which position do you love playing the most in and why?
“At this point in my abilities, I have the most fun playing #1 or #2 in 4- to 6-goal mixed polo. However, I am looking forward to growing and I hope one day I’ll be able to confidently play 3 or 4 in faster polo.”
10. What is more important in a team: trust or communication? Why?
“Both are must-haves in their own ways. They are almost incomparable. However, I think trust and familiarity among a team will allow the team to gel in a way that nothing else can. I learned this at the 2022 National Youth Tournament Series Championships.”
11. What’s your ultimate must-have when playing?
“A calm mind. You need to be centered emotionally and mentally, and be confident in yourself, your team, and your horses.”
12. Would you rather play mixed or women’s polo? Why?
“I love polo no matter who’s playing. However, women’s polo has a growing future that I love being a part of. And eventually, I hope to play a bigger role in its expansion.”
13. For you, what makes polo the best sport?
“Winston Churchill once said, ‘A polo handicap is a passport to the world.’”
14. What’s your best win throughout your career?
“My best win was the 2022 National Youth Tournament Series Girl’s Championship. I was lucky enough to play with three wonderful girls on team Electric Charge. Winning the championship with such a great group of players and supporters was an irreplaceable feeling.”
15. What’s the worst polo misconception you’ve ever heard of?
“That you don’t need to know how to ride before you learn to play.”
16. If you could live the life of one polo player for a day, who would it be and why?
“Steve Orthwein Sr. because of his incredible ability to put a handle on a horse. I would love to be able to feel what he felt in a horse and know his thought processes when playing and riding.”
17. Complete the sentence: “Polo makes me ______.”
“Polo gives me purpose because it excites me in a way nothing else ever has. Whether it’s playing in the finals of a national championship or short working a horse at home, I’m invested.”