Sep 16, 2023 9:32 PM
On Saturday, September 23, history will be made with the Buddy Combs International Arena Challenge at Middleburg Polo Club in Middleburg, Virginia. The inaugural match will bring together two teams to battle in an elite international arena competition honoring the late polo legend.
Dr. Clarence C. “Buddy” Combs Jr. was an American polo player and Polo Hall of Famer. Inheriting his love of horses and polo from his father, Combs first began riding horses at just 22 months old. He honed his polo skills at Pennsylvania Military Academy before studying at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) where he obtained a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. While at Cornell, Combs led his teammates to win the University’s first intercollegiate championship in 1937.
For nearly five decades, Combs played at the highest levels of the game while maintaining a full-time veterinary practice in New Jersey. Outdoors, Combs won the U.S. Open Polo Championship in 1947 and 1956. During his indoor career, he won the Junior championship (currently known as the National Arena Chairman's Cup) on three separate occasions and the Senior Championship seven times. In 1951, he became the second player to reach a 10-goal indoor handicap, the highest rating bestowed to players by the USPA.
The Challenge not only honors Combs but aims to showcase international competition while promoting arena polo. “The concept arose because of the need for international events, particularly arena events, at different goal levels,” explained Event Manager, Ed Armstrong. Played at the 7-goal level, the event’s handicap will change each year depending on the visiting team. This year’s inaugural matchup is between the USA and Guatemala.
A team of three has been selected by the USPA International Committee to represent the red, white and blue. The USA collective includes Stephanie Colburn (2), Rehan Kumble (2) and Garrett Bankhead (4). Each boasting an impressive career in the sport and all having a connection to Intercollegiate/Interscholastic polo, together, the group hopes to bring home the debut trophy for Team USA.
Colburn (née Massey) from Fulshear, Texas, was first introduced to the sport in Indonesia. After competing and winning a girls’ national championship on the interscholastic level, Colburn went on to represent Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas) during college. Colburn was selected for Team USPA in 2012, a program focused on the development of higher-rated American polo players. This past March, Colburn won the USPA Women’s Arena Handicap at Legends Polo Club in Kaufman, Texas. Skilled in outdoor polo as well, Colburn won back-to-back U.S. Open Women’s Handicap titles in 2020 and 2021.
“It is such an honor to be selected to represent the USA in the inaugural Buddy Combs International Challenge, I hope to bring pride to my team, my country, and all the other talented women playing polo,” Colburn said. “Both Garrett and Rehan are smart, tactful players, horsemen, show great sportsmanship, and have charismatic energy.”
Kumble, of Andover, Massachusetts, was introduced to polo in middle school and began competing in interscholastic tournaments at Boston Polo Club (Georgetown, Massachusetts). During the 2021-2022 season, he shared the top position in the National Arena Amateur Cup (NAAC) rankings. He then went on to compete in the NAAC two years in a row, claiming the title in 2021. This September, he is set to represent the Eastern Region in the 2023 National Youth Tournament Series Championship for the Cecil Smith Cup at New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina.
Kumble has been an active player in the amateur arena scene while pursuing the Pre Med/Pre Business program at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. “I am very grateful to have been selected to play in the prestigious Buddy Combs tournament,” said Kumble. “This opportunity is such a tremendous chance to not only play a sport that I love but also to represent the USPA and my country at the highest level. I know that I will represent the sport and our country with integrity and good sportsmanship. This will be an unforgettable moment in my life.”
Bankhead grew up around horses and began playing polo in high school and later joined the interscholastic circuit. “I’ve been riding my whole life but found polo 9 years ago when my parents bought Lakeside Polo Club [Lakeside, California]." Another National Arena Amateur Cup champion (2017), Bankhead has also competed in the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship and plans to compete again this year. Bankhead is also an active member of the Texas Arena League and Pacific Coast Arena League.
The Challenge will be Bankhead’s first international arena competition. “I personally enjoy arena polo because of the physical aspect, “explained Bankhead. “It has been one of my biggest goals to play on the USA Team. I am looking forward to the opportunity to represent our country and play with my teammates and friends. Rehan and I have played in many tournaments together and I think we feed off of each other well.”
Representing the visitors, Guatemala includes Mariana Beltranena, Christian Aycinena and Sebastian Aguilar.
Beltranena is a young entrepreneur and amateur polo player from Guatemala City, Guatemala. Beltranena grew up surrounded by horses and began riding as a child, competing in show jumping circuits throughout Central America. She transitioned from show jumping to polo in 2020. Taking care of her family’s farm led to her to the sport joining her brother’s polo team. “In arena polo there are so many different aspects compared to outdoor, like the wall for instance. It's so much more fun and dynamic.”
Although no stranger to international competition, this will be Beltranena’s first time representing Guatemala in the U.S. “Representing my country has been important to me for a really long time,” recalled Beltranena. “My grandfather was president of the Olympic Committee for Guatemala and taught me that being proud of our country is really important. Wherever you go, you are a representation of your country. Setting a great example for Guatemalans everywhere and playing for my country is such a proud moment.”
Beltranena is also no stranger to fellow teammate Aycinena. “Christian [Aycinena] and I grew up together. “He's someone who has the patience to teach and lead, so I'm excited to play with such a talented friend.”
Aycinena, who also grew up in Guatemala City, Guatemala, developed a passion for horses and polo at an early age. Confident in pursuing polo at the collegiate level, Aycinena attended Texas A&M University and won three intercollegiate championships. In 2019, Aycinena was an intercollegiate recipient of the Polo Training Foundation (PTF) Player of the Year Award. "Representing my country in the USA-Guatemala match is a privilege and an honor,” Aycinena said. “I haven’t been able to play much arena polo since my collegiate days at Texas A&M, so having the opportunity to showcase my dedication and national pride on an international stage is truly amazing."
As for the American collective, the well-rounded and talented team is ready to join forces and represent the USA. “Despite being from different parts of the country, the Texas Arena League allowed all our paths to cross this past winter,” said Colburn. “I am thrilled that we will be reunited to play and represent the USA together for this prestigious international arena polo showcase!”
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