For husband-and-wife duo Thomas Spang and Ingrid Carlson, it’s the more endearing moments within the polo field that springs life into an otherwise ordinary photograph. Aiming to showcase not just the dramatic shots during polo matches, this polo-loving couple created NOVA Pololife on Instagram. Their account offers a peek into what it feels like to play and be part of their polo community in Northern Virginia.
With the rising numbers of active polo enthusiasts in their area, this pair simply have to tell the story to the world through images that capture moments. “Relatively few players will ever know what it is like to connect on a neck shot at 35 miles per hour, even if sometimes it feels like the pony is going that fast,” Thomas shares. “But there are a lot of other aspects to polo that everyone recognizes and appreciates. We wanted a way to show people what it feels like to be out on the pitch with your friends on a foggy morning or to realize that your pony can track the ball better than you can, or simply to race toward the goal because a teammate has sent you a great pass. Those are the moments that are universal to anyone who plays polo, and we created NOVA Pololife to showcase how much fun everyone is having.”
The state continues to produce a competitive and serious polo crowd, with clubs expanding their fields and arenas every year. However, this dynamic energy warrants an opposite reaction—Northern Virginia sees a supportive and inclusive community. This is what makes polo such an endearing sport, says Thomas.
“The polo community here is built on the belief that your success does not diminish mine,” he offers, adding that this spirit goes beyond the matches and spills over to players and grooms, even outside the field.
With a colorful and thriving tribe, it serves as the couple’s inspiration to snap away on every occasion they get. If they get to point out favorites, Thomas answers that a specific kind of beam paints a thousand hues to a single photograph. “The smile that comes when someone realizes that they have done something they did not think they could do—the shot they did not think they could master, or the clutch goal, or the hook that turned the momentum of the game. It is a very personal and very relatable moment of joy, relief, and self-confidence all wrapped into one irrepressible smile, and it is always fun to see,” he explains.
While they have pictures of the general polo crowd, the pair have had the chance to take photographs of pros and top amateurs alike. “We divide our photography equally between established players who are amazing to watch and easy to photograph and less experienced ones who simply love getting into the saddle,” Thomas notes.
Some of the personalities that Thomas and Ingrid have featured in NOVA are Jesse Baker, Caroline Chewning, and Laura Farrell. There’s also Nadeem Helfer, who has transitioned into polo from the hunter/jumper world, as well as Jennifer Rose, who has moved up from polo school into open practice play.
“Women are the keys to polo in Northern Virginia. They not only represent the majority of players in the region, but they also are key organizers of the sport.” Thomas said adding that “people like Margriet Langenberg Husain, who co-owns the Morningside Polo Club, and Debbie Nash, who owns Los Tigres Polo Club, provide some of the top facilities in the region and their passion for the sport and the people behind it are integral to the creation of a true community.”
Of course, the camaraderie extends beyond the playing crowd. The twosome generously shared a few words of advice for aspiring photographers, especially if one is looking into polo photography. Even without fancy equipment—just a basic digital SLR camera and telephoto lens—could jumpstart your storytelling career via photographs.
From there, all you need to do is master some techniques. “Start by looking at what will be behind the players in your shots and position yourself to keep that background uncluttered. Keep your shutter speeds as high as you can. Kneel rather than stand because the perspective makes horses and riders look more dramatic, and hold down the shutter button! Photons are free, and you will want to come back from a match with hundreds of images to choose from,” Thomas ends.
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Mariel Abanes is the Managing Editor of POLO LADY Magazine.