Polo Lady chats with Izzy McGregor.
First of all, please give me an insight into your background.
“I was born in London and we moved out to Surrey when I was six months old, where we happened to live next to Hurtwood Park Polo Club. It didn’t take long for my parents to get hooked and every summer was polo from then on! I went to school at St. Catherine’s until I was 16 and then moved to Wellington College for the sixth form.”
When and how were you introduced to polo?
“When I was five, I was asked to fill in for a team in the Jorrocks section of Pony Club Polo. Perhaps, saying that I played is a bit of an exaggeration, from the videos I’ve seen I stood in the middle of the pitch the entire time waiting for the next throw-in. Of course, it being Jorrocks, it never came.”
Who originally inspired you to play?
“I would say it wasn’t really an inspiration, it was an obligation, as I was dragged to every game my parents and sisters played. My childhood was spent on the Hurtwood Park sofa begging to go home. I was only five and you could say it’s grown on me a bit since then.”
What attracts you most to polo—the game or the horses?
“For me, it’s always been about the horses. Especially now, as I have brought on four ex-racers and have more on the go, seeing the progression from track to the field is what keeps polo so addictive for me.”
How many times a week do you train? How many horses do you change over when you are training?
“I ride six days of the week and will alternate between doing sets if it’s the day after a game or going out and stick and balling or schooling. I have six playing horses and one young one so it keeps me busy!”
Who supports you?
“I have had a huge amount of support from my parents throughout my polo career. I definitely couldn’t have done it without them. The HPA was also really vital in my early teens, inviting me to training camps all over the world. More recently, John Horsewell has taken me on and coaches me once or twice a week and has done so for two years, now which has improved my game a lot!”
Do you play in purely women tournaments or both female and male?
“Until this year, I hadn’t really played much ladies polo. However, as the standard is improving at such a rate, I have played some excellent ladies polo this year.”
If it is the matter, what do you prefer and why?
“I think they both have different aspects that I enjoy. When playing mixed, I am often the lowest handicap off of 1, so I am very much used at the front of the team. However, when playing ladies, I play at the back and have had to learn to control the game, which has been excellent for improving my game.”
In which country do you play mostly?
“I mostly play in England as this is where my horses are. I have been lucky enough to travel to some incredible places for polo; the HPA training camps took me to Coronel Suarez in Argentina and Plettenberg Bay in South Africa. I was also lucky enough to play in the Sotogrande medium goal in 2014 and in the Polo Escape Thailand Ladies International the previous January. That was a great year for me as it was the first time I had realized where polo can take you.”
What has been your greatest triumph to date?
“I would say my greatest triumph was playing with King Power in Thailand in the Polo Escape International. The team was Sunny Hale, Charlotte Sweeney, Ploy Bhinsaegen, and myself. It was the first time that I had ever played ladies polo and with such a strong team. I got to play with Sunny who I have always wanted to play with.”
What three recommendations would you give to women who are thinking of taking up the sport?
“One, play with dignity. Don’t scream, save that for tennis. Two, don’t think of yourself as a lady player. When you are out on the field, you have every opportunity that anyone else has. And three, enjoy it every time you go out on the field. A bad day at polo is still better than a good day at the office.”
In the saddle, what would be your tips for an advanced woman player?
“I would say that if you are as strong a rider as any man out there, there is no reason why you can’t take them on in the game. I have always been taught that riding must come first if you really want to be successful in polo.”
Some women say they feel less respected than men on the polo field because of their gender. What would you advise these women?
“I always find that if I go out to prove that I am as good as any man out there, then I never play well. Relax, enjoy it, and behave like a sportswoman. More often than not, you will gain the respect of the men. As in anything in life, there will be those that are prejudiced. But if you play your game and enjoy it, then their opinion really shouldn’t matter.”
Women are physically weaker than men. Do you think women should just keep trying to match the play of their male counterparts or take a more relaxed attitude, be less serious, and just have fun?
“I have found that as a woman in polo, you have to work twice as hard to gain someone’s respect. But once you do, you get every opportunity that a man does if you deserve it. For me, although it may be controversial, I have never wanted to receive the praise, ‘she’s very good for a girl.’ If I can’t go up against a man on the same handicap, then I shouldn’t be on that handicap. If every woman has this view, I think it is inevitable that the quality of women’s polo will improve.”
You play at the top level for women. Do you ever feel scared as you go out on the field?
“If I don’t have butterflies as I go on the field, it’s never my best game. Without that adrenaline, it can be easy to just drift through the game. There have been a few big games where I’m very nervous beforehand, but the minute the ball goes in, all the nerves disappear.”
What do you like doing when you are not playing? Do you have any hobbies?
“I play squash with my sister Ellie four times a week, which is always fun as she’s even more competitive as I am! I’ve also developed a bit of an obsession for Red Hot Yoga which is yoga in 35-degree heat. It’s the worst hour you could imagine, but if I have any stiffness or injuries from polo, it really helps.”
You travel a lot, and as far as we know, you follow the polo seasons. Where is your home? If you could live anywhere, where would you prefer to live?
“My home is in Surrey with my family. However, if I could live anywhere, I wouldn’t just live in one place. If I won the lottery, I would finish the UK season and head to Argentina until Christmas, then follow the polo seasons around the world.”
What are your other businesses apart from polo? How do you balance that with polo?
“I have been at school so juggling that with polo is always interesting. I took my A-levels last year and will be taking an A-level in Spanish this summer and head off to Kings or Bristol in September 2017.”
Do you have vacations from polo? If so, what do you do?
“Vacations are rare for me. However, if polo takes me somewhere, it’s nice to spend a few extra days. For example, after playing in both the Ayala and Santa Maria Ladies, I extended the trip for a few days and had a little break.”
Do you face any particular challenges in the sport based on young age?
“It can be challenging sometimes, combining academics and polo. However, my school was always really brilliant in allowing me time off to play. Outside of school, a personal challenge I encounter is that being a type one diabetic. I have to be really vigilant when playing; checking my blood sugars between chukkas and making sure it never affects my game. The silver lining, though, in being a ginger diabetic is you learn to develop a sense of humor.”
How do you envision the continuing growth of women’s polo over the next few years?
“I believe that with the new handicap system and greater recognition for women’s polo globally, this growth is already happening. With new tournaments being introduced throughout the year, it allows ladies to pursue polo year round and this can only improve both the quality of the tournaments and the players.
This magazine is a perfect example, a few years ago the prospect of a magazine solely geared towards promoting and improving women polo would have been thought unneeded or ridiculous. Now, Polo Lady’s success proves to me that there is a definite market for ladies polo across the world and it is only going to get bigger.
Thanks for talking with us, Izzy!