Nov 07, 2023 7:26 PM
Military pride and polo prowess took center stage at Twilight Polo Club in Middleburg, Virginia, as teams competed for the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup on Sunday, October 8. The battle in the saddle culminated in a thrilling rematch of last year’s final, pitting Army (Captain Patrick Shanahan, Lieutenant Colonel Amos Peterson, Cadet Grace Beck) against defending champion, Navy (Lieutenant Commander Sang Yi, Lieutenant Michael Muldoon, Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins). Led by Captain Patrick Shanahan, Army emerged victorious after stealing the lead in the third chukker to defeat Navy, 9-8.
A seasoned polo player with a notable military background, Captain Shanahan sheds light on his journey in polo, the sport's historical connection with the military and the invaluable lessons the game offers and their broader implications for military leadership and global relations.
Patrick, winning the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup must have been a significant achievement. Could you describe the experience of representing the Army and defeating Navy in the final match? What did it mean to you and your team?
It’s always such an honor to participate in any event on behalf of the Armed Forces Committee. Regardless of nation or branch of service, each participant is bonded by a shared understanding of similar experiences and a love of our amazing sport. For our team at this event, we were excited to earn the opportunity for a rematch with the Navy. They’re incredibly talented and beat us in 2022, so this year was a great rematch and I’m grateful we were able to come out on top.
While we are thrilled by the victory, the purpose of the match and of our group is to advance military polo. This is both good for the U.S. Military leader and enhances our alliances with our partners across the globe. Our visiting friends from the United Kingdom said it best: ‘In the end, polo wins.’
Can you share how you initially got involved in the sport of polo? What drew you to it?
I grew up a horseman—it was important to my parents that I have that skill set which I'm very grateful for. The horse teaches us leadership better than any activity I’ve found. We are to care for this animal, respect its instincts and provide it with direction. The rider must always be thinking about the next turn, jump or other task. Such is the role of the leader. Polo takes all that and adds physicality, competition and teamwork—traits that will serve any leader in the guidance of his team.
“The speed of the game requires its practitioners to think on their feet, often several steps ahead and in an environment where much is simply not under your control. It's helped me to not lose my head in various situations in my career and elsewhere.” – Captain Patrick Shanahan
Were you the first in your family to pursue polo, or did you have any family members who were involved in the sport before you?
My father started playing polo in the early 2000s and played extensively on the Pacific Coast of the United States.
Could you tell us a bit about your personal background? Where were you born and raised, and how did you come to join the Armed Forces?
I was raised in California and spent most of my teenage years at Culver Military Academy [Culver, Indiana] where I got to play polo even more. I always intended to join the Army because I wanted to take care of soldiers. For some reason, that was always in my heart growing up and I’m grateful to have had that opportunity in my career.
Polo has a unique connection with the Armed Forces in the United States. Can you elaborate on the relationship between the military and the sport of polo in the country?
The first known U.S. military polo match took place in 1896 at Fort Riley, Kansas. Polo was naturally used to train cavalrymen for combat and the U.S. Military had over 3,000 polo players from World War I to World War II. Of course, the advent of the machine gun all but eliminated horses in the military, so by 1947 military polo was dwindling. In 1992, thanks to a challenge from the U.K., U.S. military polo was revived by the USPA Armed Forces Committee.
Currently, while the U.S. Military has no official involvement in our sport, the USPA Armed Forces Committee maintains a robust network of military polo players who participate in both domestic inter-service matches and international competitions with our partners across the globe.
Outside of your military duties, what are your aspirations and plans in the world of polo? Do you have any specific goals or tournaments you hope to participate in?
I'm always grateful for any opportunity to get back in the saddle. Polo has always been a huge part of my life and as any player knows, when it's absent something is missing. I'm in the process of moving my family to Oklahoma, so I'm working on finding other players in the area and want to do anything I can to help advance the sport in the region.
“The purpose of the match and of our group is to advance military polo. This is good for the U.S. Military and enhances our alliances with our partners across the globe. Our visiting friends from the United Kingdom said it best: ‘In the end, polo wins.’” – Captain Patrick Shanahan
How do you believe Polo has impacted or benefited individuals in military leadership roles, based on your personal experiences and the sport's history?
Our sport inherently teaches leadership thanks to our partner, the horse, and teaches teamwork naturally. Polo, as its history suggests, offers a decent proxy for combat. The risk of injury is real and thus, polo reveals those who may be timid, reckless or those who take appropriate risks and reap rewards—a quality necessary in any military leader.
The speed of the game requires its practitioners to think on their feet, often several steps ahead and in an environment where much is simply not under your control. Our sport gives us many opportunities to be exposed to such stress yet remain composed. At least for me, it's helped me to not lose my head in various situations in my career and elsewhere.
Finally, our sport has done much to advance our alliances and partnerships across nations. We continue to build relationships with military leaders that we may well serve with in the future. To name a few, our group has built relationships with partners in the U.K., Chile, Argentina, France, Nigeria, Greece, Brazil and Mexico. Those relationships have proven and will continue to prove strategically beneficial for all involved.
All Photos courtesy of ©Tony Gibson.
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