When was women’s polo first introduced in Dubai?
Not sure… no formal arrangement as such but within the last 10 years occasional ladies teams are arranged for specific events. There are a number of individual lady players, and this appears to be on the increase.
Who organized the first women’s tournament and where?
The first ladies tournament was the Ralph Lauren UAE Ladies Polo Tournament organized by Her Highness Sheikha Maitha Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and was held at Desert Palm Polo Club in 2013.
Is it difficult playing women’s polo in a Muslim Country? Did you face opposition? If so, what challenges and obstacles did you have to deal with?
No, not at all. Dubai is very multi-cultural, very progressive society and encourages all types of sport. Two daughters of Sh. Mohamed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai, have competed in the Olympics Games before now. Rather than any obstacles being placed in our way, we have received a lot of encouragement. From time to time you see women wearing a scarf to cover their hair while riding or even playing polo. It is not the norm, however, or in a Muslim Country not too out of the ordinary.
Were you the first women’s team in Dubai?
We believe we are the only permanently standing Ladies Polo team in Dubai. To our knowledge, we are the only women’s team in Dubai who trains and plays together permanently. Other women’s teams are put together for exhibition games etc, which of course is the norm for polo.
You are called The Hesketh Ladies team. Where did the name derive?
This is the name of the Patron’s family business
Why did you choose Dubai as the home for your team?
The team was formed locally as this is where all the players and the patron reside.
Tell me the history of the team. Was it difficult to put together?
It was just fortuitous really…it came about by the Patron and a friend of his knowing enough girls who wished to learn to play polo. Nobody could really believe their luck that something like this actually came about. The Patron’s friend was familiar with the Dubai Polo Academy at the Arabian Ranches and before we knew it, we were having our first lesson with Steve.
Do you all live in Dubai? What is life like there, especially being a woman?
All of us do live in Dubai and this needs to remain the case as we train often during the season. Dubai is one of the easiest societies to fit into as a woman, and this is actively encouraged by the leaders and general community in Dubai. Unlike for example Saudi Arabia, women work in the UAE, they are allowed to drive and travel and are an active part of the social scene and work life.
Who is the Patron?
The Patron is a Dubai based businessman from Europe who has a penchant for helping people and turning dreams into reality.
Who is the coach?
Steve Thompson, a professional Polo Coach from the UK and his team at the Dubai Polo Academy, Arabian Ranches, Dubai.
Who are your sponsors?
The team is privately run and funded at present, but sponsors are invited to help with corporate events during the season and further out. We have plenty of offers from sponsors, and we are now appraising which ones to choose. Those that can continue to help us grow by supporting us on a regular basis are the best for us.
Give me an example of a typical training day.
We train early in the morning to beat the Dubai sun! At present we are training with Steve, or playing chukkas together within the academy. Some of the girls also have their own horses and so ride/ stick and ball these daily also. Apart from that, the girls can frequently be found in the gym to work on their strength and flexibility.
Do all the members of the team play full-time or do they have other professions or hobbies?
No, not at all. You must remember this team is all about creating something from a ‘grass roots’ level. We all have jobs which start at either 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning so you need to be dedicated to the sport and the team’s creation and success if you want to be a member of ‘Hesketh Ladies Polo’.
Where is the team based? Please give me a description of the Club.
The team is based at the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club. The modern and fully equipped equestrian centre is located in the heart of Dubai. The Club is host of various events and tournaments all year around, amongst them the prestigious Gold and Silver Cup, a High Goal Tournament that will be played at the beginning of 2016. The club attracts Dubai locals/ residents as well as visitors alike. Three restaurants, a spacious pool area as well as children’s play area and spa make the club an attractive destination for horse lovers from all over the globe. The Dubai Academy runs within the Club which is the only commercial entity of its kind in the U.A.E.
You put the team together three years ago when it was, as you describe, ‘a grass roots’ level team. Please elaborate.
By ‘grass-roots’ I mean none of the current team members had actively played polo before. Basically we are all dedicated horsewomen who were given the chance to learn polo from scratch.
Tell me about the players. Who are they, what were their handicaps when the team was formed and what are they now?
I was lucky enough to be chosen as Captain of Hesketh (due to my bossiness!), although I am by no means the best player. I left school at a very young age to pursue my ill-fated dream of becoming a jockey in my homeland, New Zealand. I caught the polo bug when I was working the race horses of polo player/coach Mark Harris, who allowed me to join in the young horse chukkas occasionally. Once weight, injuries and lack of talent put an end to my racing career I began polo grooming around Australia, spending time on some amazing properties including James Packer’s Ellerston and Ric McCarthy’s Tilboroo. After backpacking around Europe I landed my dream job of Senior Manager of Orbis Foods here in Dubai and was fortunate to meet our incredible patron and begin playing polo seriously.
Lauren Dickson is a native of Christchurch, New Zealand and currently works as a Personal Assistant at Driven Properties, a Dubai-based brokerage agency. She has enjoyed and participated in various equestrian disciplines for over a decade. Lauren Dickson’s passion for horses started at a young age. Along with owning her own horses in New Zealand, Lauren studied Equine Studies before working full-time in a racing stable and Eventing competitively on the weekends. Soon after, Lauren ventured to Australia to work at James Packer’s prominent polo club Ellerston, spending two years as a groom for a pro in the high goal tournaments. Upon returning home, she continued to groom for another polo player for one season and then moved on to working in a harness racing yard, spending a year exercising horses. After a major accident, Lauren got the travel bug and her sights on travelling the globe. After jet-setting to the UK and across Europe, Lauren embarked on a journey to Dubai, where she eventually met the patron who started this very ladies polo team. Despite never playing the sport before, she saw it as a fun and exciting challenge. She enjoys the precision and difficulty of polo, and she was hooked almost immediately – it was an absolute adrenaline rush. “I clearly remember the thrill and excitement of observing my first few polo matches, I knew from that, being on the sidelines just wasn’t enough, naturally the next step was getting on that field and learning to hit a ball.”
Kristin Grube hails from Germany and has been riding horses since she was a kid. She started polo four years ago and got infected with the virus immediately! She is dedicated to improving her play and diligently taking care of her small string of ponies. In addition to horse polo, Kristin had the chance to start playing Elephant Polo two years ago and is currently one of the best female elephant polo players in the world. Apart from the UAE, Kristin has played polo in Germany, Denmark and Thailand. Off the pitch Kristin works in Marketing & Sales for a German confectionery brand and tries not to snack too much of it herself.
Svetlana Zibnitskaya is an accomplished horsewoman, artist and professional photographer. She came to Dubai from her native Kazakhstan in 2004, and has pursued her love of horses in a semi-professional capacity since that time. Her equestrian speciality is dressage; however, three years ago she decided to refocus and started to play polo with Hesketh.
All of us started on -2HCP three seasons ago and are now playing at 0 goal level.
I gather to date that you have not yet played in the big Dubai tournaments but this new season you have plans to step up a gear or two and start playing more club chukkas and tournaments, taking on some of the local teams. Please tell me about some of the fixtures you have in place.
Yes, that is right. It is essential that we now really concentrate on putting our learning into action as a team and only by playing more competitively, will this be achieved. We will therefore play regularly as a team at the Arabian Ranches, and we are working on a privately organized ‘corporate event’ in February 2016. We aim to have four ladies teams present on this occasion, three of which will be made up from individual ladies who wish to form a team for that day.
What has been your greatest triumph as a team to date?
I think the greatest triumph is that the team is still going after 3 years! We had a great season of 14/15 where we won 5 out of 6 tournaments against seasoned players. I believe that constantly playing and training together gives us an edge against much more experienced players.
How do you envisage the continuing growth of women’s polo in Dubai over the next twelve months?
I think it will continue to develop as there are no ‘road blocks’ in its way. It continues to be a predominately male sport, but this is the case all over the world. We are lucky to have role models such as Her Highness Sheikha Maitha Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum whose influence and presence within women’s polo here in Dubai is raising the bar of standards and ability. She is a truly fantastic ambassador for the sport.