Melissa Ganzi has loved horses since she was a child. She grew up in Philadelphia and was part of the local Pony Club, where she learned how to ride and started competing in different horse shows, including gymkhana and eventing. Even after being an equestrian for most of her life, Melissa did not get into polo until 2000. It was her father-in-law, Wally Ganzi, who introduced and inspired her to play the sport. Since then, she has kept up with her routine of riding, stick and balling, and training with her coach, Argentine polo player Juan Bollini.
Melissa plays polo throughout the year with only a few short breaks. This has helped in honing her skills and giving her the confidence to start competing in mixed tournaments. Throughout her thriving career, she has been fortunate to play in several countries, play with and against royalty (like Prince Charles, Prince Phillip, and Harry, Duke of Sussex!), and play on all playing surfaces—grass, sand, and snow.
More than anything, polo interwoven with her life experiences has taught her to be resilient. “Polo pushes me to find solutions rather than problems. In our polo organization, we always say that anyone can find a problem, yet our organization focuses on solutions,” she says.
This kind of dedication led her to become one of the top ambassadors of the game. Still, her drive to continue improving and making the impossible possible makes her stand out as one of the world’s most successful women players.
Snow polo is one of the most glamorous games you could ever experience. Just imagine a snow-covered field (or a frozen lake) under the bright blue sky situated in the most picturesque location where spectators are donned in their designer ski wear, happily sipping champagne and munching on gourmet meals. Isn’t it dreamy?
Despite the grandeur attached to its reputation, ironically, there are not many women polo players in the snowfield.
One of the reasons is the lack of snow polo tournaments. Around the world, there are only three major snow polo tournaments—World Snow Polo Cup in Aspen, Snow Polo World Cup in Kitzbühel, Austria, and Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz in Switzerland.
Albeit the limitations, it does not stop Melissa from going aboard her polo pony. Her fearless spirit focuses on claiming the prize, completely ignoring the fact that she’s playing with more vigorous male opponents. Being the first woman polo player to win in all three of these snow polo tournaments has earned her the title “Snow Queen.”
“Snow Polo is unique, majestic, and elegant because of the snow. Everything is a bit crisper with the sharp images of the heat of the game and the white of the snowfield,” she describes.
Melissa believes it was her accuracy that allowed her to excel in snow polo. Unlike the usual polo balls, snow polo balls are slightly bigger, making it less predictable and harder to control. The secret to her accuracy is consistency in training.
Three weeks before her first snow polo tournament in her home base Aspen Valley Polo Club, she starts to practice her riding and training with all the horses playing in the tournament. This helps both her and the horses to acclimate to the altitude as well as the cold weather.
After Aspen, she flies to Europe to play her second tournament in Kitzbühel, Austria. Since the horses she’ll be playing with are leased, the most important training is getting acquainted with the horses. This provides her an excellent opportunity to understand the strengths of her snow polo string.
Finally, once it’s time to play in the biggest tournament of them all in St. Moritz, Switzerland, she’s already poised to hit the ball on the scenic frozen lake. This setting adds an element of danger and adrenaline, which makes it an exhilarating experience for her.
Making your mark is not easy, especially if you’re a woman playing a physically demanding and mentally challenging sport. After winning dozens of championships and making history for being the first woman to compete and win in highly-competitive tournaments, Melissa needs no introduction.
Some of her record-breaking career highlights include being the first woman to win in the prestigious USPA Monty Waterbury Cup at the Saratoga Polo Club in 2001, World Snow Polo Championship in Aspen in 2016, the United States Arena Handicap Tournament in 2017, the Snow Polo World Cup Kitzbühel in 2018, and the Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz in 2019.
Melissa is known for her charitable contributions, too. In 2010, she helped set a world record after playing 32 consecutive chukkers to benefit the Wounded Warriors project in Aiken, South Carolina in 2010.
Apart from these impressive accomplishments, the phenomenal queen was also named the first female United States Polo Association’s Florida Circuit governor in the Southeastern United States.
After two decades of polo, her only wish is to become a role model to all the female players, especially the younger ones.
The Ganzi Legacy
Inside and outside the field, Melissa’s life revolves around polo and horses. She and her husband Marc Ganzi own Santa Rita Polo Farm and two polo clubs: the Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida, established in 2008, and the Aspen Valley Polo Club in Aspen, Colorado, established in 2014. Both clubs are full-service and always busy hosting some of the best tournaments in North America.
As exclusive as the clubs might seem, Melissa and Marc have made it their mission to make polo more accessible. They aspire to provide everyone the opportunity to play polo at every age, gender, economic, and ability level.
To live up to this mission, they founded The Polo School in 2012, which gives aspiring individuals a chance to play the sport from the grassroots up to the highest level. They also organize Ladies’ Leagues and Youth Polo Leagues in their clubs.
The power couple also established ChukkerTV, the leader in livestreamed polo broadcasting. This platform aims to improve the viewing experience of those attending live games, especially the first-timers who are not yet familiar with the rules and the fans online. Working on it allows Melissa to utilize her knowledge in communications. (Fact: Melissa studied at The Annenberg School for Communication at The University of Pennsylvania.)
The sky is truly the limit for the queen. With her earnestness to create an inclusive polo community, she launched Polo Education Tour (PET) in 2016 and traveled to various libraries across Florida to teach children and adults about polo. “I am always interested in educating individuals about the sport of polo. I had a very positive response from the Library series,” she recalls.
In June 2020, she was invited to speak at The St. Petersburg Conference, but the event was cancelled due to the current health pandemic.
Despite her already busy schedule, Melissa still manages to be an active member of several polo organizations. Aside from prior commitments mentioned, she is also the President and top fundraiser at the Museum of Polo, one of the Board of Directors at Hall of Fame, and the Polo Training Foundation’s Secretary-Treasurer.
“Finding a way to include my love of horses in a career is pure joy. To have a passion for what you do in life is the goal,” she says.
Melissa embraces every role with all her heart, and this is why she succeeds. When asked about how she balances her time flawlessly, she humbly reveals that she is fortunate to have a very competent team that allows her to be successful.
Her next big goal is to preserve the 26-goal polo in America through the World Polo League (WPL), an intense 26-goal tournament played by the best players in the world. She believes that it is special and important to keep the highest level of polo played, outside of Argentina, in the United States.
“I hope to leave the sport of polo just a little bit better than I found it. I wish to inspire just one person to get in the game, find their passion, exceed their comfort level, and share the enthusiasm for the horses,” Melissa shares.
Melissa is not just a queen in the field. She’s also the queen mom in a polo-playing family. The couple’s son Grant and daughter Riley also share their love for the sport.
The 22-year-old Grant Ganzi attends Lynn University and is already an accomplished polo player with a handicap of 3. He is a member of the U.S. Polo Association team, too. In June, he was named The Man Of The Year by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) after raising a total of $149,063 in ten weeks to support cancer patients and their families.
The younger Riley Ganzi is a junior at Georgetown University and plays in the university’s polo team with a handicap of 1. Just like her mother, the 20-year-old also makes history—at 16, she won the Most Valuable Player award while being the youngest player to compete at the Great Futures Celebrity Match.
They have all played with and against each other, which proves that the sport is truly a family affair. Because of polo, the Ganzi family was able to share a common interest that helps strengthen their bond further.
It is the recipe for their family’s happiness, she shares.
Meet Open Quarzo
As an equestrian-turned-polo player, Melissa believes that women tend to relate more to horses, and it’s why having women in the field is essential. “Horses are the shining stars of the polo sport,” she emphasizes.
Since horses bring immense joy into her life, she always makes sure they are in great shape. Melissa sets up a comprehensive training program with her veterinarian, groom, and trainer to condition her horses. The training program will be based on the level of fitness of each horse and the level of tournaments the horse will play in.
Open Quarzo is one of Melissa’s all-time favorite horses. Even as a four-year-old stallion, he has already played in Tortugas Open under 10-goaler Gonzalito Pieres. This has convinced Melissa to purchase him in May 2010 and bring him to the United States.
They make quite the team. Melissa and Open Quarzo played in the 20-goal Santa Barbara season in 2010, and later, in the 26-goal Florida season in 2011.
Open Quarzo’s achievements include being the Grand Champion of the APHA Show and National Polo Pony Show in 2011, the Best Playing Pony at the Piaget World Snow Polo Championships and Palm Restaurant Invitation Tournament in 2013, the Best Playing Pony at the Central Park Polo Challenge and USPA Kay Colee Memorial Tournament in 2014, the Best Playing Pony at the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championships in 2015, and the Best Playing Pony at the Avendano Tournament.
Hall Of Fame
The making of a queen isn’t an easy road. Melissa Ganzi didn’t build her empire in a snap, but her passion turned into a legacy that will forever be remarkable. Indeed, the ‘sport of the kings’ needs a queen, too—and following her calling, she happily obliged.
Long may she reign!