Sep 14, 2020 1:45 PM
In 2020 when COVID-19 changed everything and forced the cancellation of many polo tournaments around the world, the Virginia United Polo League (VUPL) made the bold decision to continue with their first season. “We really think that Middleburg [Virginia] can be the East Coast destination for polo during the season,” said Bill Ballhaus, prime organizer of the VUPL. “More polo, more levels of play, and more new players coming into the sport”.
Just one hour west from Washington D.C., Middleburg has a big polo community located mainly at USPA Member Clubs Kingland Farm (Middleburg, VA), Foxlease Polo Club LLC (Upperville, Virginia), and Ballhaus’ Beverly Polo Club (The Plains, Virginia). “A strong presence of polo is important,” said Nacho Figueras, who played in June with his son Hilario. “That is why I think bringing together all of the polo communities is the beginning of something that could be much bigger”.
Other key figures besides Ballhaus are Argentine players Tolito Fernández Ocampo, Marcos Bignoli, and Juan Ghirlanda, as well as local player Rebekah Greenhill from the Greenhill Stables polo team. Many local players from the area had the chance to play in a season that ran from June to September, for teams from 6- to 12-goals plus an Open League and women's tournaments.
To understand the importance of the new league you only need to hear what it means to the players. “I have been riding for a long time, but only playing polo for the last few years,” Chris Finlay said. “Virginia is my home so I love to see polo expanding and becoming more competitive. For some people, the summer season in the U.S. is just the off-season and they focus on Wellington in the winter. For me, this is my main season. I like to play with friends and neighbors, however I also like to compete so seeing the combination come together has been great”.
“The league was able to pull together a group of smaller clubs to create a much stronger single entity, with a number of very good fields,” Andy Hertneky added. “The owners of the fields have all worked hard and invested heavily to make sure the fields stay in good shape. VUPL provides a very nice place for people to play summer polo. It has something for nearly every polo player. While the play is quite competitive, VUPL has been able to create a fun environment for all the players, pros, and their families. This could be one of the best places in the U.S. to play polo from late May through September”.
As the growth of women’s polo continues, the Virginia United Polo League has its own woman running both as an organizer and a player. She is none other than Rebekah Greenhill from the Greenhill Stables polo team. Although she considers herself just a supporter, Greenhill has been working to develop polo in the Virginia area and to show the polo community what is going on in the state.
“The community has been receiving it really well and coming to watch the games, of course following social distancing rules, but it has been a nice distraction from everything going on the past few months,” Greenhill said. “Everyone wants to come out to the country, grab some wine, tailgate peacefully and think about something else! Polo is the perfect distraction for players and spectators!”
Greenhill's involvement in polo began as a marketing campaign for their winery. “My husband had bought a winery and vineyard in 2013 in Middleburg, situated right in the heart of Virginia horse and hunt country, about one hour west of Washington D.C.,” she said. “Middleburg and its neighboring towns host a very active equestrian community with nationally recognized events like steeplechase races, showjumping, and polo. We decided to sponsor the local polo matches for branding visibility, which then turned into lessons, horses, and a team!”
Evolving from sponsors to organizers, Greenhill promotes polo through her social media and her magazine, Middleburg Life. “As landowners in Virginia, promoting polo is key in our efforts to help preserve open spaces and honor the history and tradition of equestrian sports in our community,” Greenhill said. “The horses also love it here, we turn them out to rest for a few months to enjoy the green grass and open pastures”.
Now both Rebekah and her husband David are taking part in the many different tournaments the Virginia United Polo League hosts. “So far this season is going even better than I could have expected,” Greenhill shared. “The first month, I won the 6-goal tournament with Justo Mouriño, Juan Sanchez, and Cristina Parr. David played the 12-goal Piper Cup with a fantastic team, including Tano Vial, Wesley Bryan, and Justo Mouriño. He is closing his season in the 8-goal with Isabella Wolf, Nico Eurnekian, and Justo Mouriño. I am playing the 6-goal in September with Nicole Watson, Justo Mouriño, and Hilario Figueras and aiming for another 6-goal trophy!”
As for many polo lovers, the next step is to continue this unique experience in Argentina. “Hopefully, we have a trip to Argentina ahead of us, but for sure we will be in Wellington for the season starting in January,” Greenhill said. “The plan right now is to play where we are stabling at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (Wellington, Florida), as well as in some other local tournaments and leagues.”
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