Jul 06, 2021 2:08 PM

USPA's Chief Operating Officer (COO)/In-House Counsel Chris Green. ©Boies Schiller Flexner LLP
Chris Green ©Boies, Schiller Flexner LLP

Instrumental in writing and implementing rules which effect polo at all levels, Chris Green has spent the last six years behind the scenes learning the inner workings of the Association before stepping into the role of Chief Operating Officer (COO)/In-House Counsel on July 1, 2021. A member of the USPA for over forty years, Green was first introduced to the game in his twenties in Kentucky and now plays both outdoor polo at Giant Valley Polo Club (Hamden, Connecticut) and arena at Gardnertown Polo Club (Newburgh, New York). Mentoring, umpiring and helping to mount Gardnertown’s interscholastic and middle school players, the Governor-at-Large has actively shaped the future of polo, volunteering his time and expertise on several USPA committees over the years.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Green grew up in the horse racing industry, briefly attending Princeton University before coming home to breed and train Thoroughbreds for the racetrack. Returning to college after deciding to make a career change, the poetry enthusiast and avid reader studied English at the University of Kentucky (UK) and went on to earn a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. Taking a hiatus from polo to focus on law school and starting a new career as a litigator, Green and his family moved to the Hudson Valley in New York where he has been a partner in the international law firm Boies, Schiller Flexner LLP since 2003. Thoughtful with his responses and possessing a quiet charm, Green’s genuine love for polo is felt from the first conversation with him. Bringing a solid understanding of the rules as Chairman of the Rules/Rules Interpretation Committee and a wealth of knowledge in sports law, Green is looking forward to helping the Association draw more players to the game by creating the best experience possible for its existing members.

“I'm very humbled and grateful to the Officers, Executive Committee, and the Board for having the confidence in me to give me this position. I'm going to work really hard to justify their decision and I'm really looking forward to it.”  – Chris Green

What attracted you to the role of COO/In-House Counsel?

“I've always loved playing polo and being around the game because I love horses. I grew up around racehorses and I've always had a really deep connection with them. I started volunteering for the USPA in 2015 as a member of the Rules Committee and became Chairman of that committee in 2018, a role I’ve really enjoyed. Then in 2019 I was asked to run for Governor-at-Large and over the course of the last few years I’ve become more involved in the USPA’s governance as a member of the Arena and High Goal committees and a regular guest at the Executive Committee’s monthly meetings. When the opportunity arose to apply for the COO position, I was excited about it because at this point in my life the idea of getting out of the office into the fresh air and being involved more directly in something that I enjoy so much, with people I enjoy so much, is very appealing to me.”

What qualities or experiences from your past make you most suited for this position?

“First and foremost, I know horses and understand the game of polo. Through the Rules Committee I’ve had the privilege of working on rules which impact polo at all levels. Second, I have worked within the USPA long enough to understand how it operates and how it is structured, and to be comfortable dealing with the participants, volunteers and staff, many of whom I've worked with very closely.

I think the COO is someone whose job it is to deal with the various constituencies within the polo ecosystem - sponsors, amateur and professional players, as well as the volunteers, various committee chairs, the Board, Officers, and the Chairman. Those people and groups all approach problems from different perspectives. I think my training as a lawyer will help me to deal with that effectively and try to build consensus, which is the hallmark of Chairman Armstrong’s leadership approach. When practicing law, you frequently are dealing with someone who's dissatisfied about something, whether it's your client or their adversary, and you have to try to understand that dissatisfaction and come up with a method of solving the underlying problem.

As In-House Counsel, I can keep a finger on the pulse of various legal issues that the Association encounters and work with outside lawyers to deal with those issues in an efficient and potentially less costly way. I’ve practiced sports law for clients such as the NFL and NASCAR, and I’ve tried cases about equine issues before federal juries, so I feel pretty well positioned to add value in that role. My 25 years of experience practicing law will not only help me as In-House Counsel, but it should also enable me to be a more effective ambassador for the sport.”

Chris Green is proud to call Gardnertown Polo and Giant Valley Polo his home clubs. ©CLD Photography
Chris Green is proud to call Gardnertown Polo and Giant Valley Polo his home clubs. ©CLD Photography

“High-goal polo is the flagship product of our Association, but the medium- and low-goal polo that most of our members play is equally valuable, and in terms of raw numbers, equally if not more important. We have to support polo at all levels.”

What is your equestrian background with racehorses and how did you become involved in polo?

“I grew up on Greentree Stud, a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Lexington, Kentucky, where my father was the farm manager. I also spent a lot of time at Keeneland Racecourse where my maternal grandfather was one of the principal co-founders and first president. Deciding to withdraw from Princeton University and the more traditional educational path, I became involved in the Thoroughbred industry full time — buying, selling, breeding and ultimately training Thoroughbred horses. After working on several farms in Lexington, I went to the racetrack to learn from Ohio-based trainer James E. Morgan before training on my own for a few years. When I began to appreciate how difficult it was to succeed as a horse trainer without asking too much of the horses in your care, I decided to finish my undergraduate degree and go to law school.

I didn’t start playing polo until my late twenties when my friends Bruce Hundley, Billy Hilliard, and Hilary Boone persuaded me to come out and play with them. I played at the Kentucky Horse Park with the Lexington Polo Club for eight or nine years. I had to give up polo when I went to the racetrack and while I was starting my law career, but I started playing again around 2000 at Mashomack Polo Club [Pine Plains, New York]. I used to see polo trailers drive by my house every Sunday morning on their way to Mashomack and I couldn’t bear not to follow them. After trying a few different clubs in New York, I finally settled at Giant Valley Polo Club in Hamden, Connecticut, where I’ve been playing outdoors for the last eight to 10 years. During that same period of time, I’ve been playing in the arena at Gardnertown Polo Club [Newburgh, New York]. Gardnertown and Giant Valley are my polo homes.”

Chris Green and granddaughter River Rose. ©SmilePeaceLove Photography
Chris Green and granddaughter River Rose. ©SmilePeaceLove Photography

What are the most important initiatives you want to focus on as incoming COO?

“I view the USPA in much the same way as Chairman Stewart Armstrong—it's a Board-driven, staff-executed organization. As such I think the Officers, Executive Committee and the Board should determine the Association’s vision and set its priorities and then it's the responsibility of the staff to execute that vision. My role is to help the staff execute on the vision of the volunteer leadership. I am very much a process person by virtue of being a lawyer and slightly OCD, so I want to make sure that the USPA has the right processes in place to operate the way it should.

I also think the USPA needs to be as nimble and flexible as possible within the constraints of good corporate governance. We as an organization have to try to alter or minimize the historical perception that some polo players have of the USPA being set in its ways and unapproachable. I think it's important that the Association establishes really good relationships with its members and that the members have confidence that the USPA is looking out for them and being fair to them. Ultimately the members are the USPA and it’s fundamental that the USPA should serve its membership.

I have a particular focus on the rules because they determine how the game is played and ultimately, that’s what it's all about. I've tried to do a good job as Chairman of the Rules Committee and I want to continue to be involved and work with the Rules Committee to make sure we present a level playing field for everyone who plays polo.”

What are your broader goals for the Association?

“From my perspective I think the USPA should concentrate on making the polo experience better for those people who are already engaged in it, as distinguished from trying to spend a ton of resources on getting new people to play. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to recruit new members through outreach, and I have ideas on that front. But if we create an experience people would love if they knew about it, when they do learn about polo, they will necessarily want to play.

Having studied English literature, what are some of your favorite authors and books?

“I love poetry and my two favorite poets are W.B. Yeats and Robert Frost. ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost is one of my favorite poems of all time because it speaks to me. I don't think you should ever give up and you should always be willing to make a change or start something new—go down that different road and reinvent yourself, if you will. That's what a life well-lived should be all about.

In fiction, my favorite writers are James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, although there are many writers I really like. ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce is one of my favorite books, as is “A Farewell to Arms” by Hemingway. I also love ‘The Border Trilogy’ by Cormac McCarthy. ‘All the Pretty Horses’ is one of my top-five favorite novels. Nobody captures the essence of horses and cowboys like McCarthy.”

Chris Green is focused on enhancing experiences for all USPA members. ©SmilePeaceLove Photography
Chris Green is focused on enhancing experiences for all USPA members. ©SmilePeaceLove Photography

“I have learned so much from people I’ve encountered through polo and the USPA. I’m thinking of people like Mark Sedacca, Tom Gose, Tom Goodspeed, Danny Scheraga, Tony Coppola, the late Steve Orthwein Sr., Stewart Armstrong and Charles Smith. When people like these talk, you should listen, because polo runs in their veins. I'm eternally grateful for all they’ve taught me.”

What would you like the membership to know as you step into this position?

“I am very grateful for the confidence that the Board of Governors has placed in me by hiring me to be the USPA's first COO/In-House Counsel. We have a talented and hard-working staff that I am honored to join. I will work hard to execute the Board's vision for growing and improving polo in America and I will do my best to be responsive and fair to every member of the polo community. I want what we all want—for the USPA to be an organization that all of its members and member clubs are happy and proud to be a part of.”