There are not a lot of universities and colleges with competitive polo teams. This is one of the dilemmas that student polo players face一except for the 18-year-old Kelsey Burhans.
This young polo player learned how to ride when she was six, with the help of Roberta Jackson, the owner of Green Heron Farm in Woodstock, New York. However, she did not discover her love for polo until her parents signed her up for one lesson at Saratoga Polo for her 16th birthday.
“I realized polo was the sport for me after that first lesson. Before it began, another player showed up at the same field with his string of beautiful gray ponies. After hearing that I was waiting for a lesson, he offered me one of his ponies to warm up on the field, to help pass the time. This was such a kind and trusting gesture, and has become symbolic for how I view the polo community一it is one of the most welcoming, kind, and fun communities,” she says.
Originally from upstate New York, Kelsey has decided to attend Wellesley College to study Chinese Language and Literature and Economics while also taking a minor in Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Both private universities don’t have polo clubs, but instead of seeing it as a problem, Kelsey saw it as an opportunity.
Apart from her drive to continue playing polo while attending university, realizing that she could give other women the chance to try the sport led her to start Wellesley Polo Club in the fall of 2015. She worked with Mark Tashjian of Boston Polo to start the program and put together introductory practices. After emailing the student body of Wellesley College about the club, they heard back from about 50 students.
Establishing the first All-Women’s College Polo Team didn’t come easy. Kelsey, Mark, and assistant coach Erica Kratz faced a couple of problems along the way, including bringing in members who have no riding experience. Though some have the experience, they were all new to polo, so they had to spend days going over the intercollegiate/arena USPA rules and regulations.
Pursuing the official Constitution was another challenge. Due to bureaucratic complications with the student government and the college, the club still has not been granted Constitution. This is important for the team to be registered as an official Intercollegiate I/I team through the USPA and would allow their members to play in sanctioned matches and compete in regional or national tournaments.
Balancing school work and polo practices also became challenging for the entire team. They were able to solve this by making sure they dedicate five hours to polo every weekend. Newcomers have to commit to this, too.
Apart from this, they also had to move to Stage Hill Polo with new coaches Peter and Amanda Poor due to their demanding schedule.
Nevertheless, these problems did not stop the team from growing and wanting to achieve more. Their biggest achievement, so far, was playing in their first intercollegiate match against Brown University. This match has paved the way for their “friendly rivalry” with the team through the years.
Another achievement of the Wellesley Polo Club was hosting Yale for an unsanctioned match in March 2016. Yale won with the score of 20 while their team scored 7. Considering their current realities, this achievement made Kelsey extremely proud of their team.
Wellesley Polo Club culture is focused on fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment. “We believe that the primary goal when playing polo is to enjoy the time in the saddle while improving your play and learning as much as possible. Competition is fun but ultimately secondary to us as we’re a very young team,” says Kelsey.
Although Kelsey has already graduated in 2017 and is now working in New York, she is still closely connected to the club and remains hopeful that one day, Wellesley Polo Club will be recognized as an official Intercollegiate I/I team by the United States Polo Association.
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Pámela Piedad is a journalist, author, designer, and the Editor-in-Chief of POLO LADY Magazine.