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Few in the Harvard community could list all of the school’s 41 varsity teams. And even fewer could name all Crimson club sports.
So, it’s not too surprising that the Harvard Polo club teams, two of the newest additions to the club program, remain relatively unknown.
After the teams’ nearly 20-year hiatus, Nick Snow ’09 and his parents Cissie and Crocker Snow ’61 revived the club in the 2006 season. Even after Nick’s graduation, Cissie and Crocker decided to stay with Crimson polo and continue to coach the women’s and men’s teams, respectively.
Now, despite being back for its fourth full season, the polo club continues to be under the radar, and when mentioned, is often associated with the stereotype of being a glamorous, elitist sport.
But this isn’t Ralph Lauren’s Polo.
“I think most people have the image of white britches,” Crocker Snow said. “But the reality is dungarees.”
“It’s a work to ride atmosphere,” Cissie Snow agreed.
All players must take part in horsemanship, or caring for the horses. Specifically, riders are required to feed and brush the horses, take them back and forth to the barn, and muck out stalls.
While other Harvard athletes play and practice across the Charles, polo practices and games are held at the Myopia Outdoor Arena in Ipswich, Mass., nearly an hour drive away.
On practice days, players are usually gone from 2-8 p.m., and most riders go out at least twice a week. Some go as many as five, like freshman Janie Amero.
But to Amero, it isn’t much of a sacrifice.
“I love coming out and spending time with the horses,” Amero said. “It’s really beautiful here, and it’s nice to get out of Cambridge. Sometimes it can be lot of work, but for me, it’s completely worth it.”
Even more notable than the players’ time commitment is the fact that none of them had played polo before coming to Harvard.
Junior W. Albany Mulholland, the men’s team’s top scorer, had never even ridden a horse prior to college.
“I played rugby at home and was looking for a new sport when I came here,” Mulholand said. “It seemed like a great opportunity that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. And so I came out for a taste of it and really enjoyed it. ... [I] haven’t looked back since.”
Both Cissie and Crocker Snow are not intimidated by the tough task of coaching inexperienced players.
“It’s challenging but very rewarding at the same time,” Cissie Snow said. “It’s a matter of training them first to respect the horse [and then] to understand that they have feelings too.”
“We’re also getting kids who have never ridden before, ridden very little, or ridden in a different style,” Snow added. “[The progression] is from the horse, to the mallet, to actually playing the game.”
But while coaching new polo players may not be difficult for the Snows, finding funds for the teams is a constant struggle.
Even with yearly varsity dues of $1,250 and support from the Harvard Athletic Association, the teams do not have a large enough budget to afford a winterized barn or the 40-50 horses that well-established teams such as the University of Virginia and the University of Connecticut have.
But as with many Harvard sports, generous donations from alumni help bolster the teams’ resources. Perhaps the program’s biggest supporter is actor Tommy Lee Jones ’69, who hosts the teams at his Texas ranch for preseason riding and has donated a 12-horse truck and trailer along with several reliable ponies in the last three years.
Just as the teams have been given support from alumni and donors, the Harvard polo teams also have plans to give back. Currently, the club is working on adding a modest therapeutic riding program for the physically or mentally handicapped and other members of the Harvard community.
“There’s nothing like children with disabilities being with animals,” said University Disabilities Coordinator Marie Trottier. “I’ve seen the effects of putting them on the horse. And especially with soldiers coming back as wounded warriors back from Iraq and Afghanistan. It touches your heart in an amazing way, and I’m excited that we’re going to be doing that with Harvard polo.”
But therapy is not the sole purpose of the riding program.
“We just thought that it would help to give a better understanding of polo for people who don’t understand polo if we give therapeutic riding as well,” Trottier said.
That way, the club could gain some needed attention and, over time, accomplish its long-term goal: becoming a full-fledged varsity sport.
“One big disadvantage we face that other schools don’t is that we’re not able to recruit kids who played polo in high school because we’re a club sport,” women’s captain Samantha Drago wrote in an email.
But becoming a varsity sport would also have its drawbacks.
“The flip side to that is that people like me, who love riding but never played polo, might not get as many opportunities to play as they do now,” Drago added.
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