I am a very optimistic person and I strongly believe that you can attract positive outcomes. I love this saying – ‘Dream it, Believe it, Achieve it’
First of all, please tell us about yourself. Where were you born, what type of upbringing did you have, and where were you educated?
I am 25 years old, and I live in the New Forest, a national park on the South Coast of England, about an hour and a half south of London. I grew up there and attended the local school in my area, then studied for three years at Brockenhurst College, where I qualified as a personal trainer and Sports masseuse. Growing up in ‘the forest,’ meant that my family were very ‘outdoorsy’ and we have always had horses in the family; my parents hunted and my Mum also won the local point-point once.
When and how did your polo history start?
I didn’t come from your average polo family, my Dad had a few horses and started to play locally in the New Forest back in the 90’s, and from that, my brother, sister and I all loved it – so we all ended up playing years of Pony Club polo. I had my first Jorrocks game when I was about 8 years old. We had some tiny ponies in the family, which were handed down from my brother and sister each year, after they had outgrown them. Unfortunately, my Dad passed away in year 2000; otherwiseI would have liked to think that he would have carried on.
Who originally introduced you to polo?
I guess between my parents helping me to knock a ball around our tiny field at home and through the New Forest pony club… that was where I became addicted.
Why polo: passionate about horses or the sport? Genes or love at first sight?
To be honest, a mixture of all – those who know me well, know that I am extremely competitive, plus horses have always been a part of my life.
I don’t know what it is, but there is something so unique and incredible about this sport, I am ridiculously passionate about playing and have been from a young age. It’s very difficult to put a finger on it; however, I guess most of you who are reading this know that exact same feeling I’m talking about when you’re playing..
What did you learn from polo? Has polo changed you somehow?
I have learnt a lot from polo in my life, from a young age I have been quite independent, always travelling alone to different countries to play and work within the sport, being surrounded by different people and new cultures. I don’t think it has changed me; it has made me become very ambitious. I have been extremely lucky with the opportunities and help I have received in my career. It has made me realise that if you work hard enough for what you really want, anything is possible.What do you feel being one of the best lady players? Is it hard for you to meet expectations?
I honestly would never consider myself as one of the best, there are so many talented players out there and I have so much more to learn. I look up to players such as Nina Clarkin, Sunny Hale, Sarah Wiseman and Lia Salvo, they all have a lot of consistency and have all achieved so much. Let’s see what the future holds, I hope to be up there with them at some point.
Do you play in women tournaments or male as well? What do you prefer and why? Is the atmosphere of the game different? Where do you feel more comfortable and having more fun?
I play in both, and they both have their perks. I love playing with the men because it challenges you more, makes you work harder, yet I would never usually be the main player in the team. I probably learn the most from playing alongside men and it really pushes me to my physical limits. I have learnt a lot about playing defensively through mixed polo.
On the other hand, I adore being the main player in the ladies polo, controlling my team, using a lot more of my ball skills, using my head more, taking penalties etc. There is a lot more responsibility and pressure being one of the better players on the team, and I feel this always makes me perform better.
What is it like for you to be a woman in the men’s world of polo?
I think it is nearly exactly the same, as long as the men have enough respect for you on the field. The only thing which really gets me is the fact that the high goal polo would never consider giving a girl the chance to play, there are always spots for 0,1 and 2 goalers in the English high goal season; however, I have never once heard of a girl given the chance to try out this .. I don’t understand and it frustrates me.
If women want to invite you to play, is it possible to organize this? How would we contact you?
It’s very easy to organize. Throughout my career I have played in so many different countries such as New Zealand, Barbados Argentina, America, Italy, France, Dubai, Singapore, Ibiza, Malaysia even South Africa. That’s the beauty of the sport and modern technology! My e-mail address is email@example.com. I am also on Facebook and I use Whatsapp too 🙂
How often do you train? How many horses do you change over when you are training?
I train 5/6 days a week usually. I love using ‘fitness for polo’ and they are bringing out an application, all the exercises are polo related and it’s brilliant. In Argentina I have enough time to have a personal trainer and practise yoga. In England I look after my own horses so I don’t have as much free time during the height of the season. I look after a string of 5 playing horses and 2 young ones, so I will ride, play chukkas and stick and ball nearly everyday.
Give me an example of a typical training day, what do you do? Stick and ball? Penalty?
During the season, I usually have between 2 or 3 matches per week. I learnt last year that playing chukkas/ riding doesn’t count as enough exercise for one day, so if I can squeeze in a workout or a run as well, then that is a bonus. Every day changes, however, on non-game days I exercise my horses twice a day, I would take them for a set plus single/stick and ball them everyday. I love working in an ‘Argentine’ routine, working the mornings and afternoons so that I can have a few hours off over lunch, and I swear by my siestas!In Argentina I have been working within my boyfriend’s organisation and luckily we have some grooms which enables me to stick and ball/ride up to 6-8 horses per day if I want, plus train! I would love to be able to have this routine in England one day, fingers crossed.
What is your advice how to organize a typical stick and ball everyday training?
For me, the mornings are always best to stick and ball, making sure that you feel fresh and motivated. Always try and aim to achieve a specific ‘something’ per session, for example – stopping with the ball, back hand, penalties, hitting from stanstill. Each year I really aim to improve one specific shot. If you have someone to help you with penalties and video you in slow motion, that produces the best feedback, in my opinion. Setting up cones for accuracy is marvellous, however, stick and balling at speed is the most important sector for me.
How many ponies do you own and where are they?
I own 2 horses in England, both off the race track. In Argentina I was given one as a birthday present from my boyfriend, I named him ‘Kevin!’ It made me laugh last year, as for the first time in my life I captained the English ladies side and I had accomplished this with just two horses to my name. Just shows that anything is possible and I feel that if something is not served to you on a plate you will always want it more.
Who are your sponsors? Who supports you?
I have two main patrons: in England – ‘Coombe Place Polo Team,’ sponsored by Roger White who has literally taken me under his wing from a young age and has now given me my dream job and provides me with horses. I can’t thank him enough for what he has done. In Argentina, I play a lot with Hana Grill (Australian) for her team ‘Why Not.’ We enter a lot of mixed/ ladies tournaments together and luckily my boyfriend, Ivan Gaona, provides me with some pretty incredible horses to play on. They have both really helped me to get my handicap up to 8 in Argentina. Off the field, Ivan and my Mum are always there, whether I’m winning or losing. Ivan has taught me heaps over the past few years, and my Mum has always supported me and encouraged me to follow my dreams. I am currently an ambassador for Akuma Polo, who makes some of the funkiest polo shirts I have ever seen and supply the England team with their kit. They supply entire teams with clothing, from boot bags, beanies to horse rugs and saddle blankets. This year I hope to work with them to bring out a really comfortable, affordable and finally a nice fitting pair of white jeans for women.
In which country do you play the most? What are your favourite women tournaments and why?
I always play the English and Argentine polo season, I love them both and they offer a wide variety of ladies tournaments on some of the most immaculate fields.
Some of my favourite women’s tournaments have to be in Chantilly, France (September), Houston/Texas, America (November) and Battle of the Sexes in Barbados (February). They are all played in the most stunning locations, furthermore, they offer some of the most fun, welcoming and spectacular cultures. Most importantly, they are always super competitive and we play on some of the best fields in the world.
How many tournaments do you play every year and how do you organize to play them?
I play polo usually about 11 months of the year, luckily the English and Argentine season go hand in hand together, finishing one and starting the next. I play one tournament nearly every or every other week during both of those seasons and luckily the ladies tournaments fit in here and there. Of cause I have to sacrifice some tournaments, unfortunately; however, once I visit a country and build a good relationship with a patron, I tend to go back every year whenever possible. I think it is very important to be loyal in this sport. Do you have a team? If so, tell me the history of the team. Was it difficult to put together?
To be honest, in nearly every tournament I play we have a different team due to playing at different levels and availability of players. With Coombe Place last year in England, we made an unbelievable 4 and 6 goal team and played the same team in several tournaments, which meant we improved each tournament, it was very successful. It’s difficult if you make a team last minute, I think it’s very important to book players up in advance and play as much as possible with the same people. Usually, you will only get better playing together.
What has been your greatest triumph to date?
Captaining the English Ladies polo team last year in South Africa, we won the test match and being able to help choose the team felt very rewarding. The team consisted of Emma Boers, Lottie Lamacraft, Claire Brougham and myself.
What do you want to achieve in polo?
Realistically: I would love to be a talented 2 goal player with a solid string of horses and to be one of the best female players in the world.
Fantasy: Be chosen to play in any 15 goal tournament or higher and one day to play alongside my idol, Hilario Ulloa. No harm in being optimistic 🙂
What advice would you give to women who are thinking of taking up the sport?
Work/try hard so you are always respected, know that anything is possible and NEVER stop learning.
In the saddle, in the game what would be your main tips for an advanced woman player?
Use your head- let your horse go fast, however, keep your head calm, so you can think clear and clever.
We ask everyone this question as we would like to support women polo players: many women say there is a lack of respect from men during the mixed practice/tournament just because of being a woman. What advice do you have for them?
Shock them; show them your true talent, beat them in plays, win ride-offs, play hard – then see if they respect you!!
Do you think women polo must be fun or should it be a serious, hard sport?
Both, it can be fun and serious at the same time. I think this helps with the different levels, the lower level can be more relaxed and more fun for everyone, however, I strongly believe that the higher level should be competitive, it’s always fun to win.
What do you like doing when you are not playing?
Travelling. I also LOVE sushi and chocolate. Visiting friends, trying new things or anything beach related.
You travel a lot… What country do you like most of all?
That is a tough one as every country holds something special in my eyes. I love specific things in so many different cultures … I literally couldn’t choose just one; Barbados was paradise, New Zealand was so untouched, so pure. France has Paris! Ibiza offered stunning beaches, Texas felt like home after one day. The Argentines are so passionate, Malaysia had ‘take out masseurs’ on call… the list is endless, I’m yet to investigate Rome, plus I need to visit family in Zambia… I guess in the future I may be able to answer that one 😉
Do you have any other business apart from polo?
At the moment no; however, I would like this to change in the near future.
If it’s not a secret can we ask you about your family?
My Mum, Mo, she lives at home in Hampshire, and takes care of our little dog ‘Penny.’ I have a brother called Simon (30), he is an accountant and works all over Europe. My sister, Hilary (27) is more like my best friend, she works in a planning for retirement living company. I love being at home in the summer as I spend so much time away. Hilary comes to Argentina nearly every year to visit me, we think exactly the same plus she is hilarious.
Which is your favourite shop for buying your polo attire and equipment and who is your favourite designer when socialising off the field?
I shop from every store!! My hat is from Cavalier, my elbow guards from La Martina, my stick bag from Casablanca, my goggles from Polo Splice and finally my jeans and polo clothing from Akuma. I especially love any polo equipment a little bit ‘out there,’ the more wild or unusual, the better. Off the field I love to wear J-Brand jeans, plus items I pick up from different countries of the high street – I would love my own Mulberry handbag one day.
Every year more and more women come to polo; do you think polo FEM has a fantastic future? What is your forecast? How do you envisage the continuing growth of women’s polo over the next few years?
I think the women’s polo world is constantly growing, it has enabled women players to make a living from the sport and as long as the younger generations of female players have something to aim for, I think it holds a very positive future. It helps that tournaments all over the world are so accessible and there is always a good vibe throughout.
We would love your opinion of our new magazine and indeed welcome your comments:
I think the magazine is superb, it covers so many different aspects within the sport. It’s a really interesting read and it has a great image. It’s been a pleasure to take part in it, and I wish you all the best for the future.
Thanks for talking to us, Hazel!
By Katya Prunkova
Photo credit: Katerina Morgan,Evelina Jakovlevskaja,Sophie White,Pablo Ramirez,Nacho Corbalan,Guillermina