Dec 04, 2018 7:20 PM

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Article courtesy of Polo Players' Edition/Gwen Rizzo

The Women’s International Polo Network launches its website this month, providing a central location for women around the world to access detailed tournament and player information. The Woman’s International Polo Network aims to be a one-stop source for women’s polo. It will offer a calendar of worldwide events, player profiles, lists of female umpires and certified instructors, news and other resources.

The idea came about last year during the Women’s Argentine Open when polo player Dawn Jones spent some time with USPA Women’s Committee chair Erica Gandomcar-Sachs, discussing women’s polo. Jones also had discussions with La Dolfina coach Milo Fernandez Araujo, whose two daughters won the inaugural Women’s Argentine Open.

“We all came to the conclusion that there really wasn’t a comprehensive calendar available for worldwide women’s tournaments to understand who is doing what, when,” explained Jones. “[USPA Executive Committee member] Maureen Brennan had also sent out a letter to clubs last year encouraging them to create a schedule to build a women’s circuit, particularly in the United States.”

At Gandomcar-Sachs’ request, Jones sought out advice and feedback on ideas for having a comprehensive way of organizing women’s polo, including having player profiles, a global calendar and ways to connect with others around the world. In the meantime, Jones, at the urging of friend and teammate Clarissa Echezarreta, hosted fast practices at a polo facility in Wellington, Florida. The purpose was to offer them as a learning tool for young women wishing to play in England or Argentina so they would have a better understanding of the speed experienced in women’s polo in those countries.

Hazel Jackson and Izzy Parsons competing in the 2018 U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship at the Houston Polo Club in Houston, Texas.
Hazel Jackson and Izzy Parsons competing in the 2018 U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship™. ©Kaylee Wroe.

“I spoke with a lot of different women that play polo at the higher levels ... and different organizations that host women’s polo, like Melissa Ganzi with her Santa Rita League she and Alina Carta host,” Jones said. After the practices at her field, Jones would take the time to ask the 16-18 players about women’s polo, including what they felt worked, what didn’t work, what they’d like to see improve and what benefit, if any, they saw in having the fast practices.

In the U.S., women’s polo is the fastest growing segment of the sport, and it is being seen at every level. This past summer, two of the four patrons in the East Coast Open were women. According to Jones, women’s polo has become more professional with the level of horses being used at the highest quality and the competition becoming more intense. Sunny Hale, who was 5 goals in mixed polo, obtained the highest rating of any woman in the U.S. to date. Only one other player, Claire Tomlinson in Britain, reached that rating worldwide.

Prior to her death from cancer in 2017, Hale was a promoter of women’s polo, creating the WCT championship series, authoring instructional books on polo, giving polo clinics around the world and in 2014, developing the women’s handicaps in the U.S. The WCT helped increase the level of women’s polo and largely jump-started professional women’s polo.

"Women’s handicaps were important, particularly in the U.S., because there was too much compression between -2 goalers and 2 goalers with a vast difference in abilities between those handicaps," said Jones. “There are some players listed at 1 goal in mixed polo, but they have never really played women’s polo. In women’s polo, everybody has to work,” explained Jones. “You can go from 8-goal mixed polo to 16-goal women’s polo and it is night and day in the amount of effort, exertion and athletic ability you have to demonstrate and implement to play the game.”

The Argentine Polo Association, created separate women’s handicaps in 2012 and has hosted more and more top women’s tournaments in the past few years. This may have to do with the number of higher-rated players who have teenage daughters interested in riding and playing.

Erica Gandomcar-Sachs competing in the 2017 Women's Argentine Open. ©Sebastian Lezica.
Erica Gandomcar-Sachs competing in the Women's Argentine Open in 2017. ©Sebastian Lezica.

Players like Fernandez Araujo, Adolfo Cambiaso and Miguel Novillo Astrada have daughters who are excellent riders and players. The players have nurtured their daughters’ love of the sport and supported them as they compete in not just women’s, but mixed polo.

Cambiaso, who was close to Hale, has long supported women players. In fact, he won the 2000 U.S. Open Open Polo Championship® with Hale and more recently, invited Lia Salvo to play on his team in the 2016 Jockey Club Open. The 32-goal team with 10-goalers Cambiaso, Pablo Mac Donough and Juan Martin Nero won, making Salvo the first woman to win a high-handicap tournament in Argentina.

At the time Salvo said, “I’m [living] a dream. Two months ago I would have never imagined being here. Now, I can barely stand because of the joy. I hope this achievement enables the more than 500 girls who play in Argentina to have more opportunities to show their skills and even more girls are encouraged to play.”

Cambiaso’s daughter, Mia, won the first Women’s Argentine Open last year with the Fernandez Araujo sisters. And in March, Mia played and won the 20-goal Sterling Cup with her 12-year-old brother, Poroto, and her dad. She was named MVP. The children also competed in the Rural Exhibition in Palermo this past August. There they demonstrated their riding ability and showcased some of the young horses from the family’s breeding operation. The exhibition generally sees some of the best polo organizations’ top trainers, nearly all of them men.

It is great to see talented young women participating in these types of events and as Salvo said, the hope is more women will get opportunities like these. Jones agrees, pointing out that if there are more high-goal women’s events in the U.S., it is possible to build some 18-goal teams that will be able to play together multiple times, allowing them to be more competitive when traveling abroad.

The highest-rated American women (outdoors) are 7-goalers Kristy Waters Outhier, who just retired to spend more time with her kids, and KC Krueger, who is just getting back to playing after having her second child last spring.

USA's Hope Arellano and England's Millie Hine competing in the Junior Westchester Cup. ©Mark Beaumont.
USA's Hope Arellano and England's Milly Hine competing in the Junior Westchester Cup. ©Mark Beaumont.

“The best we can field on any given day in the U.S. is a 25-goal team. We have to cultivate up-and-coming players like Malia Bryan, Hope Arellano, Marissa Wells, Mia Bray and Kendall Plank by giving them opportunities,” explained Jones. While associations generally offer tournaments and handicaps, according to Jones, the women she spoke with want a place to access more detailed information such as if players have horses and if so, how many; what position they prefer to play; do they have access to horses overseas; can they travel to play; and what level of polo do they want to play.

“We want the website to be as user-friendly as possible. It will provide players searches as comprehensive as possible. If you want to search for a player from a certain region of the world, you can do it. If you want to search for a player based on their handicap, you can do that. If you want to search for a player based on the best position played, you can do that,” explained Jones. “These are things they were interested in knowing about and seeing. And they want to be able to see a calendar of all the most important events around the world,” she said. “We’d like to list as many as possible, including charity events, youth polo and collegiate polo.”

Ideally, there will be a cooperation between clubs and even countries so that women’s events won’t conflict with each other, allowing for the most participation. “We are trying to help encourage and create circuits of women’s polo to have blocks of time and specific places in the world so women pros can travel that circuit, participate and not have conflicting dates,” said Jones.

“This Florida season we are working on organizing a 2019 Women’s Florida Circuit with the U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship™ as the keystone between women’s tournaments schedule before and afterward,” she explained. “You will have Vero Beach at the end of February to honor Sunny Hale. Then the first week of March, Sarasota will host a women’s tournament combined with a charity match. Port Mayaca will host its Tabebuia Cup the second week of March, combined with its Molly’s House benefit. Then you’ll have the U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship, followed by the Sunny Hale’s Legacy WCT Finals. After that, The Villages will host its Florida Circuit Women’s Challenge.”

Once the Women’s Argentine Open was introduced into the calendar, it conflicted with the U.S. Women’s Open played in Houston in the fall. It will now be played in Florida beginning in the spring of 2019. “This year, players like Nina Clarkin, Sara Wiseman, Lia Salvo and Hazel Jackson made an extra effort to do it because they love the competition, and they wanted to help support [the U.S. Women’s Open’s] final year in Houston. We all wanted to make a real showing of support the best we could. We had four teams participating. I invited two young women from Kenya—Izzy Parsons and Tiva Gross—to join and they happily came here to play,” Jones said.

“That is part of this network because a lot of women didn’t even know there were women that played polo in Kenya, much less knew about Tiva Gross, whose mother was 4 goals and played against Claire Tomlinson in the day. And it’s not just their polo. For instance, Izzy is involved in conservation in Kenya with elephant and rhino rescue. It’s really admirable,” she said. To build the website, Jones and Gandomcar-Sachs enlisted the help of Gandomcar-Sach’s good friend Kim DeLashmit, a beginner polo player who also owns Orange Marketing in Denver, Colorado. DeLashmit recently helped Denver Polo Club rework its online presence and marketing efforts.

Working from a wishlist of functionality from WIPN’s core volunteers, Orange Marketing began mapping a plan for the site. Over the next nine months, her company, along with their development partner ByteJam, designed WIPN’s brand identity and built the organization’s online platform from the ground up. “Their biggest challenge was to layer together the site’s sophisticated functionality in a way that would be simple and intuitive for players and clubs to use. There was no existing template, so they designed a user experience that was unique to WIPN, including club and player accounts, player-to-player messaging, printable list and calendar views of upcoming tournaments and events, and more,” explained Jones.

Dawn Jones competing in the 2018 U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship™. ©Kaylee Wroe.
Dawn Jones competing in the 2018 U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship™. ©Kaylee Wroe.

The WIPN will be a welcoming place, free for everyone to use. Jones points out it is a non-profit so no one is going to make any money off of it. A GoFundMe page set up five months ago raised its goal of $40,000, which went to build the site, and will help keep it running. Fundraising will still continue in order to help with ongoing management costs of the website, and also help the WIPN try to establish a scholarship fund for young players to travel to other countries to experience polo in other parts of the world.

“This idea was based on a program created by Tamara Fox in England where she matched funds provided by the HPA to send two young ladies from England to South Africa to play polo. One ended up being invited to play on an 8-goal team,” said Jones.

The WIPN will also raise money through the sale of products, such as T-shirts, hats, hoodies and vests. Each player is responsible for maintaining their profile and including information about polo, as well as other interests they may have. Clubs will also be tasked with keeping their calendars up-to-date. Promotional club videos can be posted as well. Additionally, the USPA and the Argentine Polo Association has given WIPN permission to post some of their videos related to women’s polo. There will be links to polo associations around the world as well as FIP.

Jones said, “My colleagues and I believe the WIPN will help promote the sport, the associations and encourage new memberships around the world. I think clubs can really benefit too. WIPN visitors can learn about each participating club, their player members, their events, and their polo schools if available. The WIPN can provide a platform for each club to promote itself as a desirable travel destination.”

“Our ultimate goal is to provide every visitor with relevant information about players, up-and-coming events, clubs, and their polo schools ... certified female instructors, and certified female umpires all under one roof,” said Jones. “In addition, there will be plenty of room for polo businesses to advertise, such as polo equipment sales, horse sales and rentals, horse transport, health and wellness ... and [travel companies].

“It is really beautiful to see such an influx of women wanting to participate, coming from collegiate programs, women who are just getting into the game and the veterans of the game that are all really energized by this. It’s been very gratifying. “The WIPN has the potential to unify women’s polo for the better. Collectively via the website, women could have a stronger position at the table to offer valuable suggestions on how best to improve tournaments, clubs, associations, and the game in general.”

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