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ROBYN AND REAGAN LEITNER: SELF-MADE POLO POWER TWINS

Jun 04, 2020 2:38 PM

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Robyn (left) and Reagan (right) after winning the 2019 Southeastern Circuit Women's Challenge.
Robyn (left) and Reagan (right) after winning the 2019 Southeastern Circuit Women's Challenge.

Pivoting from the western sphere and devoting themselves wholeheartedly to polo over the past four years, identical twins Robyn and Reagan Leitner have certainly followed an unconventional path to discover the sport. Recently celebrating their sixteenth birthdays, the young women have accomplished so much by this milestone as the first equestrians in their family, displaying incredible versatility both in the arena and on the field. Regarded by everyone they meet for their infectious positivity, genuine love for their horses and unwavering commitment to the game, this talented duo’s winning attitude has served them well in the sport and in life. Participating in local horsemanship classes as well as competitive barrel racing at the start of their equine obsession, the twins boldly took on the challenge of the Extreme Mustang Makeover* in 2016—Robyn walking away as overall champion and Reagan fourth overall to surprise even themselves at age 12. Balancing their homeschooling schedule with the care of 12 polo ponies (plus barrel racing horses and mustangs) on their Rockin R Ranch in South Carolina, this impressive pair of young women is proof that there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to reaching your goals.

Robyn Leitner on Miley, Best Playing Pony in the 2019 Southeastern Circuit Women's Challenge. ©Pam Gleason
Robyn Leitner on Miley, Best Playing Pony in the 2019 Southeastern Circuit Women's Challenge. ©Pam Gleason

“On the field Robyn and Reagan [Leitner] are incredible to play with because they are fierce competitors and teammates. They are not only incredibly strong defensively, but they are willing and capable of rising to whatever challenge you give them. Most importantly they are also true sports off of the field because they are kind to everyone. Their passion for the game and the love they have for their horses is infectious.”  – Kylie Sheehan

Teammates Kylie Sheehan, Hope Arellano, Reagan and Robyn Leitner after winning the 2019 Southeastern Circuit Women's Challenge.
Regular teammates Kylie Sheehan, Hope Arellano, Reagan and Robyn Leitner.

Introduced to the game of polo through a chance meeting at the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Florida, Robyn and Reagan quickly made the transition from western and traded barrels to focus on their mallet skills. “We met Katherine Thomas who managed the social events at Aiken Polo Club at the time,” Reagan said. “She bought a horse [at the event] in Florida and asked if we could bring it home because we lived not far from her in South Carolina. She invited us to watch some polo games on Whitney Field and play because they were just starting to incorporate youth in the polo program.” “I loved watching the horses run and hearing the sound of thundering hooves passing by!” Robyn recalled. “I had never seen anything quite like polo and immediately it caught my attention. I thought this fast-paced sport was something I would enjoy trying with my horses!” Although Robyn initially showed more interest in giving polo a try, both set their sights on improving their hitting and balance as they adapted to the new sport, first learning on their barrel racing horses with brooms and soccer balls. While the mechanics of polo are unique to other equine disciplines, the Leitner twins have been able to use their western background to their advantage with many skills translating to the polo field. “Barrel racing helped us with being able to stop and turn very fast and also with jumping on the ball,” Reagan said. “Balance is also a big part of it which we learned in jumping and of course the speed.”

Attending an Extreme Mustang Makeover in Georgia as children, the event sparked an early interest in training which has remained with them. “Our great uncle Don and Aunt Diana Kirkland probably played the most crucial role in getting us into polo and horse training,” Reagan said. “When we were nine years old they took us to riding clinics with horse trainers like Clinton Anderson and we watched groundwork clinics which included DVDs of Buck Brannaman. They even took us to see our first Extreme Mustang Makeover where I realized for the first time my desire to train,” Reagan continued. Selling the first polo horse they jointly trained and currently working on a green horse named Minnie Mouse, the sisters believe patience is critical when training polo ponies. “When we participated in the Extreme Mustang Makeover we did it because we both really enjoyed training,” Reagan shared. “However, we continued to train horses in the hopes of it becoming a long-term career.”

Robyn on her favorite horse Miley from Ben and Jewel Gregoncza.
Robyn on her favorite horse Miley from Ben and Jewel Gregoncza.

“A great way to tell us apart on the field would be to look at our helmets! Although almost exact, Reagan’s helmet is white with a navy blue band while mine is white with a grey band and has my name on it!”  – Robyn Leitner

Over the past four years since Robyn and Reagan began playing polo their self-discipline and dedication has rewarded them with consistent results on the field as the champions of numerous National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) qualifiers and interscholastic championships (repeatedly earning Best Playing Pony awards). Joining one of three inaugural teams during the launch of Aiken Polo Club’s Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) program in the 2017-2018 season, the Leitners have been coached by Tiger Kneece since day one, recently guiding them to win the 2020 Open Southeastern Circuit Regional Interscholastic Championship and qualify for nationals. “They [Robyn and Reagan] are two of the most coachable players I’ve ever worked with,” Kneece commented. “They have fantastic attitudes, great family values and they are hard workers who do all the work themselves.” Another mentor who has played an influential role in developing their budding potential is Jesus Ontivernos, who both sisters identified as someone who saw what they were capable of and helped to mature those qualities. “They are very focused and such good listeners,” Ontivernos said. “When I would explain a play or a foul while we were on the field they would listen carefully and understand. They are always ready and willing to learn more, which will take them far.”

Reagan Leitner on the ball for Mid-State Roofing. ©Pam Gleason
Reagan Leitner on the ball for Mid-State Roofing. ©Pam Gleason

Although trophies are one measure of success and the visible fruit of dedicated practice, the sage sisters have learned that winning a tournament is not the only achievement to be proud of. “I used to look at games in terms of winning tournaments, but now if I can take out the best man on the opposing team then I’ll be happy for the rest of the day, win or lose,” Reagan shared. Echoing Reagan’s thought process, Robyn is particularly driven by improving her proficiency as a horsewoman whenever she steps onto the field. “I love playing well against a higher-goal player whether it be getting the bump or winning the ride off,” Robyn said. “Of course I love to make a goal, but in the end I really love to advance my horsemanship skills.” Becoming more confident by trusting in the hard work they put in daily, the twins find themselves going to the man more often and playing the game more strategically. Claiming the 2019 Southeastern Circuit Women’s Challenge alongside Kylie Sheehan and Hope Arellano**, the pair is on the right track to claim even more trophies in the future.

Open Southeastern Circuit Regional Interscholastic Champions (L to R) Robyn Leitner, Summer Kneece, Reagan Leitner and Sophie Grant. Pictured with Coach Tiger Kneece.
Open Southeastern Circuit Regional Interscholastic Champions (L to R) Robyn Leitner, Summer Kneece, Reagan Leitner and Sophie Grant. Pictured with Coach Tiger Kneece.

Fortunate enough to start and build their foundation in the I/I program around other youth, the Leitners have also grown using strategies to conquer the mental aspects of the game. Emphasizing the value of practice and the humility of asking for help, the twins believe that you should never be too hard on yourself when stepping out to learn something new. “I remember being very nervous during my first game and I felt everyone expected me to play at a certain level, but don’t let comparison keep you from doing your best,” Reagan said. “Practice as often as you can, but don’t let the stress of game day get to you.” The twins’ strong faith often shines through in their encouraging attitudes towards their teammates regardless if the game is going as planned or not. “One thing that goes really far in any game that you play is always uplifting your team through fouls or goals,” Robyn shared. Having played on many teams with the sisters, Arellano continues to be inspired by their sportsmanship and the positive environment they create. “When they get knocked down they bounce back up and try harder the next time, all with a smile on their faces,” Arellano exclaimed. “They make me a better person every time I get the opportunity to spend time with them. Their determination and work ethic is unstoppable!”

Embraced by the polo community from the very start, Robyn and Reagan have blossomed in just a few short years by remaining open and receptive to advice and always putting forth their best effort. Happy with their decision to become a part of the polo family, the twins are looking forward to playing in higher-level tournaments and continuing to push themselves. “I would love to win the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship™!” Reagan said. “I’ve watched the livestream on GlobalPolo.com and it seems like a fun tournament to be a part of with so many experienced women’s players.” Also, since the Open National Interscholastic Championship was tentatively rescheduled for the fall, the sisters are preparing for the opportunity to add the title to their growing list of achievements. Conquering one goal after another together, the Leitner sisters are the ultimate example of what it means to work as a team.

*The Extreme Mustang Makeover is an event created by the Mustang Heritage Foundation in which participants are given 100 days to train a wild mustang and create a demonstration showcasing what the horse has learned.

**Hope Arellano is a member of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.

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