17 Questions is a feature series where we introduce different women polo players around the world. In this feature, we talked Emily Hurst, an active member of the Toronto Polo Club and manager of Polo Management Services and the Toronto Polo School. She’s also involved with Polo Canada on the Junior and Women’s Polo sub-committees. Additionally, she’s the social media consultant for the Toronto Polo Club, as well as Polo Canada. “Basically, if it’s happening in Toronto and it’s related to polo, I’m involved or I know about it!” she beams.
1. Since when are you interested in horses?
“I’ve been interested in horses since I was a kid. However, I was allergic to horses when I was young (so is my Dad), so getting involved in riding was always a challenge. Eventually, with the help of child strength antihistamine medication and a plan for reducing my time at the barn to the bare minimum/keeping my riding clothes clean and separate, I was able to start to take riding lessons. Thanks to exposure to barns and horses, my allergy has since faded, allowing me to be with horses as much as I want—a.k.a all the time!”
2. How did you get into polo?
“I was super interested in it when I was in university, but I never really knew if it was possible to learn and where I could learn. When I was on vacation with my family in Barbados in December 2015, the hotel we were staying at advertised polo lessons at Apes Hill Polo Club. One lesson led to another, and as most polo players know, it’s addictive. I never looked back—lessons in Barbados led to me finding and joining the Toronto Polo Club and eventually working and managing Polo Management Services and the Toronto Polo School today.”
3. Who is your first coach?
“I took my first polo lessons in Barbados at Apes Hill Polo Club with Pablo Crespin. Following that, my first coaches in Toronto were Coco Gaona and Brian O’Leary from the Toronto Polo School.”
4. Who are your heroes on the field?
“I have to say both the Las Monjitas team from the Argentine Open in 2019 and the Murus Sanctus team in 2020 rank as my heroes because they came so close to beating La Dolfina. I love when underdogs win.”
5. What’s the best training tip you’ve ever received?
“Polo is a game of anticipation. It’s not so much a question of getting there; it’s a question of knowing where to be and being there already. When you have the ball, take the time to think, even if it’s only a second or two. It may make the difference between an okay play and a great play.”
6. How do you bond with your horse?
“I really find that spending time doing the daily chores with my horses is the most effective means of bonding with them. I’m fortunate enough to see and be with my horses every day at work, and they know my voice and look up when I call. But I believe that’s because they know that I or one of our other team members are the ones that feed and care for them. They associate us and me with fulfilling their daily needs rather than just associating me with work or tournaments.”
7. Best horse care tip?
“Listen to your horse (no, not in the horse whisperer way). What I mean by that is horses can tell you many things by how they behave in a stall, how much they eat or drink, etc. And each horse has its own ‘normal’—it goes a long way towards caring for your horse properly if you can identify its ‘normal.’ A lot of times, what’s normal for one horse won’t be normal for another. Knowing their normal can help you better care for them.”
8. Who is your polo best friend?
“I’m fortunate to have met a lot of great people and friends through polo. Hard to choose just one!”
9. Which position do you love playing the most in and why?
“I do like playing the number 2 position. It allows me to do a little bit of everything, whether that’s defense, offense, or backing up my fellow players.”
10. What is more important in a team: trust or communication? Why?
“Both are important. However, in polo, there are times when you may not have the luxury of knowing the other players on your team, and there are definitely times when you won’t necessarily trust them. But communication is an easy fix to that lack of trust. Trust amongst teammates can make the difference between a good team and a great team.”
11. What’s your ultimate must-have when playing?
“My own mallets make a huge difference to my game. They’re light, well-balanced, and allow me to hit the ball well without hurting my wrist.”
12. Would you rather play mixed or women’s polo? Why?
“I like both for different reasons. Mixed polo is ‘better’ polo because it’s more open and involves more movement and running (which I love). However, I do enjoy playing ladies polo sometimes. I find that it makes me have to step back and think; you have to strategize more in ladies polo. Not many ladies are big hitters, and ladies mark harder and closer than in mixed polo. So, you really have to identify your team’s strengths and organize them so you can take the most advantage. It also helps to know your opponents well (but not always possible!) so you can know their strengths and weaknesses and maximize that strategy. The mental component of ladies polo is really intriguing to me. I also love the opportunities that are out there for women’s polo. It’s not that easy to travel and play mixed polo, but there’s a nice culture forming in women’s polo around women players traveling, networking, and competing with each other. And I think that’s awesome! It’s opened doors that maybe weren’t open or were unattainable for many women players. And it’s an excuse to see new places and meet new players.”
13. For you, what makes polo the best sport?
“For me, I’ve always had many interests and a natural curiosity for different subjects and places (I also love animals). You could say I have a busy mind; I never stop thinking and learning things. I also love being outside and being active. Polo satisfies all of those things for me. It’s a physical activity that takes place outdoors with horses, and it’s got a mental component. It also enables me to meet and talk to people from all different countries and walks of life (whether I work with them behind the scenes or play on the field with them), which satisfies my constant curiosity. It also provides me an excuse to travel and learn about new cultures.”
14. What’s your best win throughout your career?
“I’d have to say winning the MC Sifton 4 goal (mixed) tournament at the Toronto Polo Club in 2019 would be my favorite. But I’m looking forward to more big wins in the future.”
15. What’s the worst polo misconception you’ve ever heard of?
“I’ve heard a few – my top two would be that it’s cheap and easy. It’s not a cheap sport, not because it’s only played by royalty and the elite, but because of the sheer amount of people, effort, and infrastructure required to make a game happen. And while we could change that, it may take away some of what we love about the sport. As for it being easy? You’re never done learning! Each time you think you’ve mastered something, you’ll find something new to master. It takes constant polo and time in the saddle to maintain your level, never mind increase it.”
16. If you could live the life of one polo player for a day, who would it be and why?
“I think from what I can see, Hazel Jackson and Nina Clarkin lead pretty interesting lives – getting to travel and play polo professionally all around the world.”
17. Complete the sentence: “I love polo because…”
“It takes a village of people to make it happen. It’s a beautiful thing to see so many people from different cultures, backgrounds, and occupations come together all for the love of the game.”
Photographs courtesy of Emily Hurst