One of the first women admitted into the United States Polo Association disguised herself as a man for 20 years. Sue Sally Hale received her membership in 1972, paving the way for women players to follow.
Today, women make up 40% of the USPA membership and represent the fastest-growing demographic in the sport. Women in polo are constantly reaching new levels and setting records both personally and collectively. The world of women’s polo is made more exciting by the growing list of countries hosting tournaments and the collection of talented and hard-working women at the top of the sport.
The most famous female player in the history of polo is Sunny Hale. The daughter of Sue Sally Hale, Sunny won countless titles, MVP awards, and accolades. She was the first woman to win the U.S. Open Championship, and it was often said that Sunny possessed a "10-goal brain."
Complimenting her on-field skills was a drive to grow women’s polo and support other female players leading her to create the Women’s Challenge Tournament series. Sadly, her work as an advocate for women’s polo and as a professional polo player was cut short when she died at the age of 48. However, Sunny’s legacy lives on. She inspired a new generation of players who are taking to the fields in droves.
Hope Arellano is one of those players. At just 19 years old, Hope is one of the best female players in North America. She is the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship, and she has played in the Argentine Women’s Open Tournament twice. She was also the first woman to be selected for the Federation of International Polo (FIP) U.S. team. Hilario Ulloa, a top-rated Argentine professional player has said, "Hope has the skills and potential to be the best player in America; it’s just a matter of time."
Argentina, the heartland of polo, is home to many of the world’s top female players. When it comes to women’s polo in Argentina, and globally, one of the most important trailblazers is Adolfo Cambiaso. As a close friend and past teammate of Sunny Hale, Cambiaso has worked to maintain her legacy, promoting women in polo at the highest levels. He was one of the first to suggest the women’s handicap system, which has since been implemented by most of the world’s polo associations. He’s also made history multiple times, entering teams with female players into top-level tournaments.
Cambiaso has another reason for supporting women’s polo nowadays. His daughter Mia is a talented polo player and has won the Argentine Women’s Open Tournament 3 times with La Dolfina. His polo club in Argentina is also responsible for hosting one of the Argentine season’s top women’s tournaments, the Copa Diamante.
Women’s polo tournaments are hosted all over the world today. From the Argentine Women’s Open Tournament and the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship to leagues such as the Victrix Ludorum in England and Ladies Cups held across Europe and Asia, women now have their choice of places to travel and play. This rise in women’s tournaments and sponsors has led to the possibility for female players to make careers as professional polo players.
Nina Clarkin and Hazel Jackson are two such players. Nina Clarkin is one of a select few female players with a 10-goal women’s handicap. Hazel Jackson has won top-level women’s tournaments worldwide, including the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship, Argentine Women’s Open, French Open, the King Power International Women’s Tournament, and many more. As of this year, she’s the number one ranked woman player on the World Polo Tour.
When asked whether female players prefer the coed or the women’s version of the game, many cite different styles of play between the two. In women’s polo, strategy is everything because the game is not as open as coed polo. Many women apply what they learn in coed polo to their women’s polo when it comes to captaining teams and strategizing.
Today, there is no shortage of female players making their mark on the sport, and there’s no denying that Sue Sally and Sunny Hale would be proud of the women that continue to further their work in polo. From club managers and coaches to grooms and professional players, women can be found all over the world of polo. The top men can expect to see more and more women joining them on the field and on podiums around the world in the near future. As time goes on, we’re getting closer to a level playing field in the game.