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LEIGHTON JORDAN: THE DRIVING FORCE OF POLO IN THE NORTHEASTERN CIRCUIT

May 28, 2019 11:24 AM

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Leighton Jordan black and white
©Chichi Ubina, courtesy of Greenwich Polo Club

As one of the founders of the Skidmore College polo team, USPA Northeastern Circuit Governor Leighton Jordan has been instrumental in the formation and success of multiple regional polo clubs over the decades, honing his skills specifically in high goal. Credited with reintroducing Saratoga to its polo history, Jordan utilized his degree in business administration and connection to businessman and art collector, Peter Brant, to create the Saratoga Polo Association right out of college, the first in a series of polo ventures. Tirelessly dedicating himself to the oversight of polo operations as Managing Director of Greenwich Polo Club, the father of four (two boys and two girls) also has an established career with Brant’s White Birch Paper, granting him the freedom to enjoy both his hobby and livelihood.

Spending summers on the water in the village of Quogue, Long Island, Jordan’s leisure time consists of sailing, gardening and playing tennis or golf when he’s not with his kids. Having a natural affinity for the interests of intercollegiate polo, Jordan remains heavily involved by serving on the board of his alma mater and that of nearby Yale Polo & Equestrian Center in Bethany, Connecticut. Born and raised in Fairfield, Connecticut, Jordan is leaving a lasting legacy that extends beyond the borders of his circuit, his efforts ushering in polo players from all corners of the world.

What attracted you to the role of Circuit Governor?

“I was elected in 2014 so I’ve served as Circuit Governor for five years. My predecessor and friend Peter Poor had termed out as Northeastern Circuit Governor and I felt that after all my years of being involved in polo from intercollegiate to high goal that I could serve the territory well. I enjoyed visiting all of the clubs in the Circuit because I love traveling the area. I love Connecticut, it’s my home! My day-to-day full-time sales job allows me to travel the New England area for work so I felt the stars were aligned because I actually could do the job and add value.”

Leighton with daughter Morgan
Leighton poses with his daughter Morgan (right) and her friend fieldside. ©Peter T. Michaelis

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

“My mother rode so I grew up with trail and pleasure horses. I have five brothers and sisters and at one point or another we all got on a horse, but I was the only one who stayed with it. I learned to ride at the Fairfield County Hunt Club in Westport, Connecticut, where I played broom polo for the first time and that’s how it started. It was never a goal of mine to enter the competitive show circuit while I was there instead I really enjoyed riding for pleasure.

When I went off to Skidmore in Saratoga Springs, New York, they had a riding facility in place. During my sophomore year in 1975 two colleagues approached me who had previously played polo and they needed one more person to play in the arena. Together we started an intercollegiate team and this is where my passion for polo began. I’d been around polo with Audi Von-Gontard in Fairfield for several years, but I’d never played before college. Once I got on the horse and hit my first ball at Skidmore I was hooked.”

“I really enjoy seeing the joy and happiness players experience when participating in a tournament or seeing a man, woman, or child come to a game and say ‘this is amazing.’ Right now with television and drones we have more eyes on polo than ever before and that’s really exciting.”  – Leighton Jordan

What is one of your favorite polo memories?

“I met world-class steeplechase rider and 8-goaler Pete Bostwick up in Saratoga Springs in 1980. He had come up with his son Charlie Bostwick (who I went to boarding school with at Millbrook School). He came over to me and said, ‘are you Leighton Jordan?’ He said he had to talk to me so I went to his trailer and strapped to the outside of the side of the trailer was a bright blue wooden side board. He said, ‘that’s yours, that’s the board that came off of this field [converted into Saratoga Polo Association] in 1932 when I played in the last game. I took all the boards back to my club and I’m returning this board back to the club so you have something to keep.’ The fact that he came up to me and knew who I was--it was a really cool experience.

Also, when I was a junior I went with three classmates to Scotland, Ireland and England for three weeks just to play polo. That trip was the time of my life.”

Leighton with George from Museum
Jordan pictured with Mariano Aguerre and Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame Executive Director George J. DuPont Jr. ©Peter T. Michaelis

What would someone be surprised to learn about you?

“When I attended boarding school at the Millbrook School in Millbrook, New York, I had two horses, one for foxhunting and one for driving. I foxhunted in Fairfield and Millbrook where I attended school for two years. I also had a single carriage horse that I drove and other horses I rode for pleasure. Since I was 13 years old, foxhunting had always been a part of my life and I thoroughly enjoyed it until I started playing polo. Once I picked up a mallet all I wanted to do after that was play polo!”

How did you get involved in building and running your first club?

“My senior year of college in 1978 we invited Oxford’s intercollegiate team over [from England] and they played Harvard and then they came to Skidmore. The college and the town of Saratoga Springs went all out to host Oxford polo team and we played on the two-hundreth anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga. It was a huge marketing success because NBC News and the New York Times covered the event.

At that event someone mentioned that it was great to see polo back in Saratoga because back in the 20s and 30s there was a polo field. I was curious and ended up finding the old field in 1978 that the Whitney family had built which was abandoned in the 1930s. Peter Brant was invited soon after to visit the site and he decided to fund the project of restoring the field. A year later William S. Farish III increased the support and became co-owner and chairman of the newly formed Saratoga Polo Association. I worked to secure sponsors, started a magazine and with many advising and helping ran the club for 15 years. We had major sponsors and 20 and 26-goal teams with some of the best players in world at that time so that was my entrance into the world of high goal. I was just recently out of college so I remember feeling in awe that the first club I ran hosted greats like Memo Gracida and Gonzalo Pieres.

After Saratoga Polo was sold, Peter Brant, Neil Hirsch and I built Bridgehampton Polo Club on Long Island and the first game we had 4,000 people show up. The Hamptons area had never been exposed to professional polo before and through the combined efforts of Brant, Hirsch and corporate sponsor Mercedes Benz, the club was heavily promoted. We had very successful Saturday events in the summertime and I ran that club for an additional 15 years.”

Leighton greets car on field
©Peter T. Michaelis

What have you been able to accomplish as a Circuit Governor that you are most proud of?

“I have focused on getting the USPA more involved with umpiring and financial support for clubs. When I visit a club who has no contact with the USPA and I tell them there are PDI grants, umpiring programs and other training programs they can take advantage of they are excited to hear about it.

Every one of these clubs is built by the individual with their own money and time and if the USPA through programing can help and support clubs that’s great. It’s not about us getting new players, it’s really up to the clubs to build players and tournaments. For example, Farmington Polo Club was a large club that closed and started back up so helping them get started again by utilizing USPA programs has been wonderful. I love supporting and utilizing the programs that the USPA offers because our Association does provide support for the clubs if you know how to use it. Our ability to assist clubs will continue to increase over time.”

Tell us more about your career in the newspaper business.

“I am a Regional Sales Manager with the Brant family’s White Birch Paper company and I have worked there for 40 years. White Birch Paper is a privately held company and the second largest newsprint producer in North America. We manufacture newsprint for newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune. I’ve been with the company ever since I graduated college in 1979. I worked for three generations of the family, Murray Brant (Peter’s father), Peter Brant, and Christopher Brant (Peter’s son), and it feels like I’ve only been here for a year. I love what I do and I still enjoy coming to the office and the people I work with after all these years. The sales environment has allowed me to maintain this lifestyle and have the freedom of flexibility for polo.”

©Peter T. Michaelis
Jordan talks to a guest on the Greenwich Polo Club field. ©Peter T. Michaelis

Why are you so passionate about the game of polo?

“I was hooked on the sport from my first game at Skidmore. Riding is an individual sport, but in polo all of a sudden you are adding a team dynamic. I never played team sports prior to polo, I did tennis, sailing, and skiing which are all individual sports so it’s a big adjustment mentally. In college we brought kids from the hockey team over to play polo and they were usually better positioned from the start because they understood how to play on a team. They would be at the ball and they knew how to position themselves whereas you had someone who could ride, but wouldn’t know where to go. It’s a very different mindset to switch from thinking as an individual versus a member of a team, so I always found that people who played team sports picked up the game a little faster.

When I jumped off that horse after my first intercollegiate polo game I said to myself, ‘that was the most fun I’ve ever had on a horse!’ and I never looked back although I enjoyed foxhunting and driving. I remember one summer I played six chukkers and they asked if I wanted to play the next game immediately after and I said, ‘yes give me another six!’”

If you'd like to get in contact with Leighton about your club he can be reached at leightonjordan@whitebirchpaper.com or (203) 913-9378.

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