Brighton University Polo Team was founded by Luke Sandys-Renton in 2015, making this year our fifth anniversary year! It was initially a part of the Equestrian Team, but after realizing that the two disciplines required different things, with the invaluable support of SportBrighton, we became an independent club.
The club’s mantra has been to provide accessible, affordable, and fun polo for everyone from the beginning. There is no need to have a riding experience, all you need is a riding helmet and you are set! Some of our strongest players now hadn’t ever been in a saddle, which is one of the many factors that show our success.
The team continues to grow in strength each year. We organize fundraising events, had sponsors, produced a SUPA University Representative, and attended competitions, as well as friendly chukkas. Although the year 2020 is continuously presenting the world with the unexpected, I intend to boost the club’s upward trajectory as the club’s new president.
Since becoming an independent club, the team trains every week. This has helped strengthen the team’s bond and create a tightly-knit polo family. We have all made friends for life through the team, and we shall be stick and balling until we are old and wrinkly.
To kickstart the season and help with our taster sessions for recruits, we train with Francis Matthews at Oakwood Showground. His focus on getting the rules pinned from the offset makes a great platform to build technique on, especially for our beginners.
Through the winter season, we spend our time with Niall Donnelly at Hickstead. It is safe to say that we have seen a massive boost in player prowess ever since we started training with him due to his excellent horses, facilities, and his approach as a coach. Training with Niall has had a direct effect on our accomplishments.
When the time comes to switch to grass polo, we start with Ryan Conroy at Conroy Polo. Then, we move to Sarah Wiseman at Aspect Polo in the summer.
Growing in numbers
Our team is an excellent representation of how women players are growing in numbers, especially in university polo. The majority of our players are women and all of our recruits this year are also female. It makes me proud as a female club president myself.
Having a women-heavy team means that some of the typical techniques and lessons aren’t best suited for us. Even though the differences can be relatively small, they can have a massive effect on playing skills, which is why our summer training with Sarah Wiseman was so advantageous.
Sarah is an idol for most women playing polo all over the world. In the past, she has won the title of The Most Outstanding Female Polo Player and runs a successful business, so spending time with her as a coach and gaining a woman’s perspective on playing has been very useful. She has shown us that we can go far in polo, and learning women-specific techniques from her has given us some indispensable knowledge.
Additionally, we try to spark some healthy competition between our members by spectating at the Battle of the Sexes matches and creating our own during training sessions.
Balancing academics and sports
As we are a university team, all of our members are either full or part-time students. Any degree can be highly demanding; there is a lot of work at the best of times. As much as we would like to spend all of our time on horseback, we have assignments and deadlines to attend to.
This is why the club is very flexible and understanding. We organize training sessions a couple of times a week, but there is no obligation or pressure to attend. The same goes for the competitive side, too. Any member can train as much or as little as they want. They can also choose whether to take a more competitive route or just stick and ball occasionally.
We try to hold training sessions during the weekend often to allow the optimum number of players to train, as well as sessions during the weekdays, which is quite different from most university clubs that have one day set during the week that they all train on. This way, even the busiest can fit polo into their schedule.
Many of our members appreciate the flexibility of our schedule. It also gives them something to look forward to in the week─to socialize and have a break from everyday university life.
Our biggest wins
Keeping a club like this running and growing for its first five years is no small feat. But on top of this, we have compiled our fair share of silverware. We have frequented SUPA nationals every year since the club started, where over 50 universities attend, with around 350 people competing.
In our second year, we had five teams competing in both summer and winter nationals, achieving our first major victory for our Beginner 2 team. In the same year, we won the Brighton vs. Sussex Varsity while our Novice team won the southern region in the National League at Druids Lodge Polo Club.
Lucy Smith took the Presidency after Luke in our third year. Even if it’s just her first year on the team, we won two silverware pieces, including Lower Intermediate Winter National Championships and second place for our Median Team. In her second year as president, we brought a huge trawl, with five out of six Brighton teams placing in the top three for their divisions, and our two median teams won first and second in their divisions.
Alongside these achievements, we have taken part in the University Polo Calendar for charity, held ponies at the pier photo shoot, organized fundraising events, and participated in friendly club tournaments such as the Tequila Cup, hosted by Dorset Polo Club.
All of these achievements, together with some of our losses, have been a significant boost for the team. It allowed us to gain further momentum and allowed us to prove ourselves. Brighton isn’t the first university you expect to have a polo team, but we are recognized and rightly-labelled as ‘a force to be reckoned with,’ even when we consider ourselves the underdogs.
Adjusting to the new normal
Brighton University Polo has always been a tight-knit team, and the pandemic did not change this. However, it has provided us with a few hurdles, and naturally, we have had to adjust like everyone else.
The start of this season was quite slow. We had to stick to Hurlingham Polo Association guidelines, wait for risk assessments by the university, have a specially COVID-trained officer on the committee, and ensure any coach we train with is following guidelines.
Even with all these seeming setbacks, we have tackled COVID-19 head on. Our taster sessions were successful, we recruited new members, and we are doing well in our training sessions. We were still able to have two teams attend the Tequila Cup this year, even if spectators were absent.
One of the very significant effects the pandemic has had on us is the funding. The university does not have much funding available and there are very few fundraising events we can host that remain within regulations. The less polo events on our calendar means less exposure for us. However, this leaves us with the option of sponsorship, which we are currently on the hunt for!
Even though it has been challenging, we have definitely bounced back and we are trying to run this year as close to normal as possible, just minus the usual weekly socials.
Setting club goals
One of my personal goals for the club is to compete more. Our two main events in the calendar are the Winter and Summer Nationals, which we love taking part in. It would benefit our players to experience more competitions besides the two.
We are currently in discussions with other clubs to try and organize some exhibition matches, friendly tournaments, and even events for our alumni.
Our ultimate goal for the future returns to our beloved mantra: to keep promoting polo as an accessible, affordable, and fun sport for anyone who wants to give it a try.