Polo in Poland has a tradition that dates back over 100 years. Count Alfred Potocki, who brought the game to Poland played as a student at Oxford University. The first-ever Polo match was organized at the Potocki family’s Łańcut Palace estate in 1911. Amongst the guests were prominent members of Europe’s aristocracy, with the Rothschild, Portland, and Vanderbilt families to name just a few.
The war and the communist regime halted the development of Polo in Poland. Its rebirth is the result of the hard work, passion, and determination of a few Polo enthusiasts and players who helped set up the existing clubs, most of which are located within easy reach of Warsaw’s two main international airports.
The number of players is growing at a steady rate each year, with more and more people joining clubs to learn to play.
Encouragingly, most of the new players are either youth or women. We spoke to Maggie Winiarczyk, one of Poland’s women polo newcomers, about the realities and challenges women’s polo in Poland face.
Maggie Winiarczyk was born in Poland but grew up traveling the world. She started horse riding at the age of six but had to give it up for years after a serious accident. When a friend proposed that she should try polo, she didn’t hesitate for long. Now in her third season, Maggie takes every opportunity possible to play both in Poland as well as abroad.
Maggie, you started playing polo three years ago. What would you say are the main challenges for women’s polo in Poland?
“I started playing three years ago, but to be honest, this year has been my first full season. I struggled a little with balancing the time between running a business, my private life, and polo. Polo is not just a hobby. It’s a passion and becomes very time-consuming if you want to make real progress. I live in the north area of Poland and unfortunately, we don’t have any polo clubs there yet. I drive to Warsaw every weekend to play and meet fellow women players. Thankfully, all the clubs here are very welcoming to women players and we have the opportunity to both play mix teams as well as women’s only polo! I think the main challenge for women’s polo in Poland today is the same as everywhere in the world—it is still mainly a men-dominated sport and we need more ladies’ tournaments and events which will promote the female side of the sport.”
How many ladies polo events are organized in Poland a year?
“This year, we were quite lucky to take part in the first-ever Poland’s Ladies Open which took place in Buksza Polo Club in June. It was fantastic to be with all these great girls in one field. We had three teams of four players each and the tournament was low goal (-2 to 0) so almost all of us could take part. September saw a smaller tournament in Żurawno Polo Club, which officially closed the grass polo season. It was also low goal and we had two teams of four women players each.
“The year 2017 will certainly see those events coming back and we hope for some international women players to join us!”
How easy is it for an international player to play polo in Poland?
“The polo clubs are located within easy reach of Warsaw’s international airports. There are facilities for keeping ponies here or you can rent them from the clubs. Prices vary but are still competitive compared to a lot of locations in Europe. So to answer your question, I’d say it’s pretty easy and definitely worth a try!
What about tournaments?
“It’s also possible to play in tournaments. Prices vary depending on the event and whether you rent or bring your own polo ponies. But a three-day, 12 chukkas tournament would mean a budget of an average of 1,500 euros, including accommodation, transport to and from the airport, and green fee. The rental of ponies is an additional cost and should be negotiated individually with the clubs.
“You can stay in Warsaw and enjoy the cultural and nightlife there or, alternatively, stay at the clubs. Some offer simple but clean rooms to rent.”
What word that best describes women’s polo in Poland?
“Enthusiastic. We all love polo and are very keen to play as many tournaments and polo events as possible.
“Some of the women players, like myself, travel to clubs in Europe and gain experience by training with different people. I myself have been to Malta, Scotland, Spain, and France.”