Polo Lady interviews one of the strongest women’s polo players in the field, Annabel McNaught-Davis. She shares with us her opinions, some advice, and that the more we learn from such a talented and professional polo player, the better our polo becomes!
First of all, please tell us about yourself.
“My name is Annabel McNaught-Davis. I am 28 years old, from London, brought up in a completely non-equestrian family, and educated at Roedean School in Brighton.
Who introduced you to polo?
“I was introduced to polo by accident when my local stables in London closed down and I went to help out at Ham Polo Club during the school holidays. I had no idea what polo was about at the time!”
When was women’s polo first introduced to you?
“My first time playing ladies’ polo was probably playing the ladies’ section of the school’s tournaments. I started our school team and we enjoyed it and were successful on the circuit.”
You are a leader in women’s polo, your opinion is respected, and we would really like to know how you achieved this success. What is your handicap now? What was the price you had to pay—did you work out a lot in the gym? Or were you riding your horses for hours and hours? Did you train a lot, or maybe you just have a natural talent for polo?
“Currently, I am 6 goals in ladies’ handicap and 1 goal in mixed. I would ideally like to get to 8 goals and 2 goals—I am always trying to improve. From the age of 17, I have immersed myself in polo, and it has taken me years to conquer all aspects of the sport as there are so many factors involved. As my family is completely non-related to polo, it has been a lot harder to learn and get a good base of horses, as most of them I have had to make myself. Before polo, I did dressage and jumping which I think helped me enormously. But I spend my life either riding, running, in the gym, or in the yard doing something. To get anywhere in polo, I think you have to be one hundred percent committed.”
What is polo for you: hobby or hard work?
“Polo is my passion and career.”
Do you prefer women’s polo or mixed polo? Why? Is the atmosphere and the energy of the place important to you?
“I like playing both but obviously, they have different qualities. I like being treated as an equal in mixed polo which is something that has been difficult for girls to achieve. Since I have been playing, ladies’ polo has evolved massively, which has made it more enjoyable. And I think a lot of girls do not, perhaps, realize the quality of ladies’ polo now. I always enjoy it and I think it is important for girls to play against the best players possible in order to improve.”
Who has been your hardest opponent?
“Nina Vestey is always tough!”
People still see women’s polo as ‘strange’ polo. Do you think it’s a fair reaction? Do you think that women’s polo is really as weak as they say?
“Obviously, Ladies’ Polo is still a minority sport. But with the daughters of high goal players beginning to play in official tournaments and more sponsors, tournaments, and publicity, I really believe that ladies’ polo is becoming more popular and accepted.”
What would you like to change in women’s polo? What more do you want to see in women’s polo?
“I would like to see it become more popular and professional in England as we have a lot of talented players, yet the organization is way behind Argentina and America. The HPA does not even have anyone in charge of ladies’ polo. In general, I would like it to become a more respected part of the sport, and for ladies that have perhaps previously not enjoyed playing with girls, to try again as the sport has evolved hugely over the last few years and the level has risen.”
What are your favorite tournaments and do you have a favorite polo memory or story?
“There are quite a few!! Probably one of my happiest moments was winning at Palermo for the first time with friends. Playing against Cambiaso and his daughter in their first tournament together, days before he won the Open last year, was amazing. And playing on ground one on ponies I have bred and made was a dream come true.”
In which country do you play mostly?
“I now spend the majority of my time in Argentina.”
What has been your greatest triumph to date?
“Probably my two favorite wins were winning the ladies’ on-ground one at Palermo a few weeks ago and then winning the Maharani Cup at Nuestra Tierra in Argentina in its first year. Both were teams made up of good friends.”
What do you want to achieve in polo in the future?
“Ideally, I would like to make it to 8 goals in Ladies’ handicap and 2 goals in mixed. Producing good ponies from my breeding set up in Argentina is also a big motivation for me—playing ponies I witnessed coming into the world is very satisfying.”
What important things have you learned from polo?
“That you can never work hard enough—there is always more to be done—which I enjoy. I really believe that polo is eighty percent about the horses, hence, they are my priority. I also believe that people do not pay enough attention to the sports psychology side of the game.”
Which women polo player do you admire and why?
“Nina Vestey and Sunny Hale are both outstanding players and Paola Martinez is someone who I do not think has been given enough credit as a player. I admire all of them.”
Do you think it is possible to reach good results in women’s polo not being an Argentinian immersed in the polo world from childhood?
“I went to work in Argentina from the age of 17 and bought my farm there at 19. I think that without my set up there now, I would be seriously struggling as I have had amazing opportunities there that simply do not exist in England for girl players. I think it is possible to do it in England, but the high costs and lack of professional opportunities available make it very difficult.”
Many women say that they stick and ball day and night, but they cannot improve their polo. What advice would you give to these women? What exactly should they do to train?
“I really believe in the mantra that ‘insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and yet expecting different results.’ If you are not improving, then you need to change your training and infrastructure—which is not always easy in polo. But I constantly review everything to see if any improvements can be made. I also think that ladies need to devote more time to personal fitness. Both players and horses need to be athletes.”
If you could give three pieces of advice to women playing a tournament, what would they be? What is your advice for women who have just started to play and for those at an advanced level? How would they improve their polo?
“The most important thing is to have fun. Preparation is the key and a positive attitude is a must.
“I really believe that horses are the key part of polo, so invest as much time and money as possible into your horses and their training. This applies to both beginners and more advanced players. And then fitness and positive thinking, along with regular training, are all integral to playing well.”
Polo Lady wants to unite all women in polo. We would love your opinion of our new magazine and indeed welcome your comments.
Polo Lady is a fantastic concept and comes at an exciting time in ladies’ polo, as it is currently in an intense period of growth. The addition of the daughters of high goal players can only help the sport due to the publicity and quality of horses and infrastructures becoming involved. The magazine needs to bring all the new developments together, in order to help the sport further and unify ladies’ polo to help it improve. Communication is the key to the sports’ progress and Polo Lady is more than capable of fulfilling the role.
Thanks for talking with us, Annabel!