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HOW HORSES CAN HEAL: A CONVERSATION WITH THE YEAR OF THE HORSES AUTHOR COURTNEY MAUM

Jul 05, 2022 3:09 PM

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Courtney Maum. ©Kenzie Odegaard Fields.
Courtney Maum. ©Kenzie Odegaard Fields.

Originally from the rolling hills of Greenwich, Connecticut, Courtney Maum grew up surrounded by countryside and filled with an innate passion for horses. But despite love at first sight, Maum’s riding days were numbered as a child, only saddling up until she was around nine years old before taking a nearly 30-year hiatus. In her memoir, “The Year of the Horses,” Maum recounts her journey back to riding as a mother and adult, her introduction to polo and how horses helped her navigate some of the hardest moments of her life. Her story is raw and honest, and her words have the power to inspire and shed light on how passion, especially one for polo, can help so many others who may be struggling.

“What I think keeps me so anchored to horses, regardless of what I'm doing with them, is how honest they are—they don't lie.”  – Courtney Maum

Maum’s story bounces between her childhood and her adult life, tracing her initial love for horses back to her early riding lessons and exploring how that love manifested within her soul over the years and propelled her back into the saddle. At the time Maum wrote the memoir, she was 38 years old, suffering from depression and struggling to find happiness in her life. She is candid about her battles with insomnia, anxiety and hopelessness. But when all else seemed to be a battlefield in her life, a return to the sanctuary of the barn was able to bring about real, positive change. “For me it was almost like a quest for medicine or a quest for water in the desert,” Maum shared. “What I think keeps me so anchored to horses, regardless of what I'm doing with them, is how honest they are—they don't lie. They don't have sarcasm or irony. They don't have these rhetorical devices. They're just themselves all the time… And what was happening in my world when I was going through this depression was there was a lot of dishonesty. I couldn't even accept the fact that I needed help.”

Maum with Harley, a steady quarter horse who helped guide her entry into polo. ©Kenzie Odegaard Fields.
Maum with Harley, a steady quarter horse who helped guide her entry into polo. ©Kenzie Odegaard Fields.

Finding polo in her return to the equestrian community, Maum fell in love with the unpredictability, thrill and camaraderie of the sport. It was a beautiful escape from the pressures of everyday life and it created accountability for her. “The minute I get to the barn, I think, okay, whatever's going on professionally, I'm gonna leave it in the car. My horse needs that. I cannot bring any frantic nervous energy into [the] stall,” she said. She also notes how her reconnection with horses has positively altered her mindset outside of the barn, remarking, “I have to really be calm and loving and that has carried over I think in the way I comport myself in my life and with my family. I'm a big advocate of talk therapy and medication, but it didn't work for me. The talk therapy definitely helps, but it's the equine therapy that has totally changed my life and brought me so much more pleasure.”

“I do a lot of things because I'm good at them. And then I avoid what I'm not good at or I avoid what I'm scared of. And with polo, it was really the first time I think since I was a child where I said, this scares me. But there's something healing in that fear.”  – Courtney Maum

Maum first began learning to play polo under long-time horseman Mark Gomez in a quaint round-pen in Connecticut. Aboard a steady, well-seasoned quarter horse, Maum immediately fell in love. Her newfound passion would lead her to several barns, instructors and opportunities, until she eventually landed at Simsbury Polo Club in Simsbury, Connecticut, and began taking regular arena polo lessons from coach Alison Patricelli. Learning an immense amount about the sport, Maum played at Simsbury until Patricelli moved to Aiken, South Carolina. Maum now plays regularly at Farmington Polo Club in Farmington, Connecticut, to continue fueling her passion.

Still along for the ride, Maum finds comfort in taking on the challenge of playing and learning the complex sport. She plays not because it is something she feels she needs to work scrupulously to be the best at, but rather because it is something that brings her pure joy. “It's sort of beautiful to do something simply because you love it, which hasn't been my experience as a recovering perfectionist,” she explained. “I do a lot of things because I'm good at them. And then I avoid what I'm not good at or I avoid what I'm scared of. And with polo, it was really the first time I think since I was a child where I said, this scares me. But there's something healing in that fear.”

Never missing an opportunity to get in the saddle, Maum immersed herself in the world of polo by learning how to take sets.
Never missing an opportunity to get in the saddle, Maum immersed herself in the world of polo by learning how to take sets.

Her enjoyment at the barn radiates to her professional life as well, pushing her productivity to new heights. “I've never been as professionally productive. I have five books, four of them, I wrote as a horseback rider, so it actually makes me more productive. I work in the morning and then I go and ride, which my colleagues think is some sort of soap opera life, but it gives me such focus. I can't go on Instagram and start going down rabbit holes. I must stay totally focused. Then in the afternoons… I go see the horses and I get a dose of that medicine.”

“I think for polo specifically, lots of people have never seen [it]. They would never dream. They would never think oh, I could play polo. I really would love to become someone who has more of an occasion to tell people you can do it [and] it’s actually go[ing] [to] be more accessible than you think.”  – Courtney Maum

Most of all, Maum hopes that if readers take anything away from her memoir, it is that passion should be encouraged and explored in all of our lives, regardless of whether or not we think we will be good at it. She hopes to be “the ambassador for people being average at things and doing them anyway, with passion.” She also urges people to try their hand at polo, as the sport itself is very cathartic and therapeutic for people of all ages. “I think for polo specifically, lots of people have never seen [it]. They would never dream. They would never think oh, I could play polo. I really would love to become someone who has more of an occasion to tell people you can do it [and] it’s actually go[ing] [to] be more accessible than you think,” she added.

Maum appreciates the peace and simplicity of the barn, fondly thinking of it as an escape from the stress of everyday life. ©Kenzie Odegaard Fields.
Maum appreciates the peace and simplicity of the barn, fondly thinking of it as an escape from the stress of everyday life. ©Kenzie Odegaard Fields.

As one final message she hopes to leave readers with, Maum shared, “Polo is being played all around you as we speak, you just maybe can't see it. If we can get that message out there, it'll only be better, because the more people that play, the more accessible it will become. I really love it. And I'm so grateful that I found it.”

To read more about Maum’s story, you can purchase her memoir, The Year of the Horses here. You can also read a short description of the book here.

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