Jun 21, 2016 1:53 PM
Just a short drive from the Yale University campus, is the historic Yale Polo Club. Founded in 1903, Yale has garnered an impressive 19 Men’s National Intercollegiate Championships and the first two Women’s National Intercollegiate Championship titles to ever be awarded. Housed in the Yale Armory for over a century until 2009, in January of 2015 the club relocated to an impressive new facility in Bethany, Connecticut. What more, in March 2016, Yale hired talented Team USPA member Branden Van Loon as their head coach. In a self-proclaimed Yale Polo Club “reboot,” Branden, along with the Board of Directors, is revamping the club and spearheading many new initiatives for growth and sustainability, while maintaining and reviving old traditions.
The Atlantic Cup, established in 2003, is one example of a revitalized tradition. An outdoor tournament between Harvard University, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and Yale University, the location alternates between opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Hosted by Oxford this year, and played for the first time since 2009, Yale traveled “across the pond” the first weekend in June with five players to compete in this friendly competition of polo between distinguished Universities. Match games took place at prominent English clubs and the students had the opportunity to watch high-goal games from the Cartier Queen’s Cup. “On Saturday they actually had the opportunity to play at the Guards Polo Club,” said Van Loon. “That was scheduled really nicely because the kids played and then they actually had a chance to watch one of the 22-goal games. I kind of forget that a lot of these kids haven’t seen high goal polo before and it was really refreshing to see them awestruck by Facundo Pieres running the ball down the field.”
Newly minted, Coach Van Loon is no stranger to the high-goal polo scene, having mentored under well-known players Julio Arellano, Owen Rinehart and Adam Snow. Originally from Ithaca, New York, Branden played for Cornell’s middle school, high school, and University team. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and decided to pursue a career in polo, working in a variety of roles as a club manager, green horse trainer and professional player. He takes great pride in the care of the Yale string of 18 exceptional polo ponies, one of which won Best Playing Pony at the National Intercollegiate Championships. “I actually remember playing in high school at the Armory, in New Haven … so it was one of those things,” he said describing his decision to take the position “where I was basically coming home.” When asked about his decision to become a coach he said, “I have to say it was last season when I was working with John Gobin at Great Meadow. I had always felt that I worked better with horses and not necessarily people, and he really pushed me to get more involved. I had the opportunity to work with students, both kids and adults, and take them through their polo progression. Getting to see that growth and transformation was something that really gave me a huge amount of satisfaction and pride, that I hadn’t really expected to get.
Not only the home of a historically dominant intercollegiate polo team, Yale Polo Club offers a variety of polo packages to the surrounding community. “My goal is that anyone who wants to learn how to play polo, no matter if they are a Yale student or a community member, I want them to be able to come in,” said Branden. To achieve these goals, this summer, Yale has the opportunity to partner with the adjacent Giant Valley Polo Club. This will allow them to run a bi-weekly coaching league on the outdoor grass fields that focuses on field strategy and fouls. Yale will also host their first National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS), July 30-31. In preparation, they will be offering two advanced clinics July 11-13 & 18-20 geared toward their local interscholastic players. Last but not least, they will offer two youth summer programs dubbed “adventure weeks” at the end of July and August, split by age groups (13 and under & 14 and over) for kids without much riding or playing experience. “That was in all honesty how I started riding, was going to a summer camp, it was a hunter jumper summer camp and I kept taking lessons from there … and the rest is history,” said Van Loon.
With fresh ideas and initiatives however, Yale Polo continues to maintain a strong connection with their thriving community club polo, made up of local residents and alumni. Unique to Yale, their community polo program offered year-round sets them apart from other college programs, who generally only offer it during the summer months. During the academic year practice chukkers and match games are held in the arena and transition to the outdoor grass fields in the summer, with tournaments ranging from the 2-8 goal level.
Accommodating all levels, Yale Polo Club offers indoor polo year-round as well as outdoor seasonally. “Let’s put it this way, I am doing a lot of stuff, as far as offering a lot of different things. There should be a space for everybody, with us. I know that if I hadn’t had access to polo through Cornell that I probably wouldn’t be in polo today, because I wouldn’t have known how to get access to it. I am really hoping that I can make polo accessible to everyone in the area.” With new leadership, Yale is experiencing an exciting period of revitalization in their illustrious history. For more information visit their website, follow them on Instagram and “Like” them on Facebook for up-to-date schedules of tournaments and events.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More