The development of women polo in Colombia (Bogotá Polo Club) was a utopia until recently. An international tournament which took place in September shows that things are changing thanks to the enthusiasm and goodwill of a small group of people.
DAVID CATTANEO interviewed the Polo Club in Colombia.
In the context of the boom of polo tournaments for women only, not only tournaments but events, clothes, products, horses and even television programs – there are still many places that are pushed into the background where, unfortunately, this development is non-existent. It was not long ago that Colombia was in this group.
Although this country has not got a long history of polo, it is and has been the destination of many polo players in the world with the Polo Club of Bogotá with its 120 years of history at the lead. Nevertheless, ladies polo was something still to be dealt with; the ladies branch of this sport was reduced to a few wives or daughters of players who were tired of being bored, just sitting by the fields watching the games and deciding to ride a horse that was free and just hit the ball a few times. Things were like that at any polo point in Colombia until the school Bocheritos appeared.
Martín Bleier, one of its founders, summarizes its history: “Felipe Márquez and I graduated together at university but we were not sure we wanted to work using our degrees (Felipe did Business Studies and Martin is a lawyer). Subsequently, we decided to set up a company related to polo which exists worldwide but not in Colombia. We had both played abroad and we knew what to do to make the business grow and get brands sponsoring us. We started a small school of polo for 6 years old children and we taught them some methodology in the classes. We ran classes for these children for six years; among them there were two girls, Emilia Forero and Daniela Barreto”.
Polo Lady: Did they normally play hand in hand with the boys?
Martín Bleier: When they were young they played hand in hand with the boys but when they were 14 or 15 years old we said “what are we going to do with them?” Felipe and I thought that if we had been educating them since they were young, it was because they should continue playing. From then on, other girls joined in and that is how the Bocheritas league started.
Today there are 16 active players. Each of them with their own horse, taking one hour classes, little by little and now we play games a couple of times a week, all together. Sponsors are looking after us and this has greatly helped us to develop.
It is the group aged 15 to 25 that makes learning easier. Martín tells us that Bocheritos and its pink version, does not only play in Bogotá Polo Club but also in Los Pinos Polo Club. Although things are now on track, the beginning was not easy, “polo is played in Colombia in a traditional way, like in clubs at the weekends, but it is not very professional. Sometimes good players cannot earn any money and there is no market to buy horses.
A few years ago everything was very traditional and elitist. In fact, if you did not buy horses at Bogotá Polo Club nobody was interested in letting you play a game. On the other hand, we looked for people who wanted to play a few games just for the sake of playing and now we have contracts with universities for students to have extracurricular activities. We have changed many aspects. Today Bocheritos does many other things; we even have a polo shop selling goods we bring from Argentina and we do horse dressage. Felipe and I have introduced other equestrian elements that we love doing and that nobody else was implementing in Colombia.
80% of Colombian polo is concentrated in Bogotá Polo Club but girls were not allowed to play there. Since changes have been brought by the Bocheritos, things have changed and are going well for girls. There were three cases of players who won medium level handicap tournaments playing with men. In conclusion, there is material – we only need to develop and polish it”, Martin explains.
There was a giant leap for girls in Colombia in 2015, in particular in September. As an initiative for Women in Polo, an organisation from the United Kingdom which promotes women polo in all its aspects, organised an international tournament that was the envy of any country. Colombian, English, Argentinian, Dutch, Chilean and Venezuelan players met in Bogotá for a weekend of action.
“We brought a Chilean team and also an English team came. The idea was to hold a nice tournament for girls. We did not charge anything for the girls who were here or those who came from abroad. Costs here are very low compared to the rest of the world. We said to the five English girls, ‘you pay the flight tickets and we will give you accommodation’. They played mixed games for three days and the last day as a proposal from the English girls, England vs. women from the rest of the world, was played. What was the result? A team with three Colombian girls and the Argentinian Camila Rossi (the biggest attraction of the game) beat England”, Bleier says proudly.
Now, for the founder of the school, the next step to be taken is related to organisation at national level, as there is not ‘a polo federation’. However, he is optimistic about it, “there should be women handicap for this season, so it is more enjoyable for everybody and more attractive for players from other countries”.
At present, the Colombian leading figures are the ones mentioned earlier, Emilia Forero and Daniela Barreto. However, in recent years, Andrea Quintero Ospina has stood out. She has 3 goals at the age of 24. Andrea comments, “After living in Argentina for two and half years and seeing the amount of girls who play polo there, when I came back to Colombia I decided to learn to play. I have loved horses all my life and I ride them well (her father is a well-known horse breeder in his country). It was when I got to know Bocheritos that I learnt to play.
The development of women polo in Colombia is getting better. There are more girls who play and there is more interest and a higher level. The arrival of Chilean and English players (for the international tournament in September) was great training”, Andrea says enthusiastically as she stands close to Bleier and explains, “Three years ago women did not play polo and now they are used to seeing us play. I think we still need time to learn, to play more with players from other parts of the world, to encourage more girls to participate. In comparison to Argentina, we have just gathered strength, but we are on the right way to organise bigger leagues and tournaments”.
The current good relationship between clubs, social networks, especially Instagram with its beautiful photos, the closeness of clubs to the city centre of Bogotá and the low cost of this sport is making more Colombian girls join in this ‘adrenaline of horses and speed’. The development is on the right path.