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Equine Info Exchange - Polo

Polo is an equestrian sport played on horseback between two teams of four players each who use mallets with long, flexible handles to drive a wooden ball down a grass field and between two goal posts. It is the oldest of equestrian sports, with its origins tracing back to the 6th century BC in Persia.

The game is played in several periods called chukkas (from the Urdu word: chakkar which means “all”). Each chukka lasts 7 minutes and 30 seconds, and there are usually 6 to 8 chukkas in a game. The players have 3 minutes of rest between each chukka and a 5 minute break at half-time.

The objective of the game is to score more goals than the opposing team. A goal is scored when the ball passes through the opposing team's goal posts. The ball can be hit with the mallet in any direction, and players are allowed to hit the ball out of the air.

Polo is a physically demanding sport that requires a high level of horsemanship, agility, and teamwork. It is also a very expensive sport, as the horses and equipment are very costly.

There are two main types of polo: field polo and arena polo. Field polo is played on a large grass field, while arena polo is played on a smaller, enclosed field. Arena polo is a faster-paced game than field polo, and it is often seen as a more spectator-friendly version of the sport.

Polo is a popular sport in many countries around the world, including Argentina, India, Pakistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. It is also an Olympic sport, and it has been included in the Summer Olympics since 1900.

Here are some of the equipment used in polo:

  • Mallet: A long, wooden stick with a flat head that is used to hit the ball.
  • Helmet: A protective helmet that is worn to protect the rider's head from injury.
  • Shirt: A brightly colored shirt that is worn to identify the player's team.
  • Riding boots: Sturdy boots that are worn to protect the rider's feet and ankles.
  • White trousers: White trousers that are worn to provide contrast with the ball.
  • Optional equipment: Kneepads, face mask, whip, and gloves.

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Racehorse California Chrome meets Polo Player Nic Roldan

Two Top American Champions Meet

Champion American Racehorse California Chrome and Champion American Polo Player and captain of the US Polo team Nic Roldan stood next to each other at Gulfstream only a few days before the Pegasus World Cup

Nikki Walker, granddaughter of Gulfstream Park owner Frank Stronach, is an advisory board member of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) and an accomplished equestrian, was also present. Fan favourite professional polo player Kris Kampsen, who also specializes in retraining OTTBs (Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds) to polo, was also in attendance. Additional Polo Players: Julian de Lusaretta, Luchino Ortiz de Urbina & Mia Cambiaso, and Polo Pony trainer Martin Phagouape.

Nic watched California Chrome train and then had a “meet & greet” with him afterward, including a photoshoot opportunity at Barn 2, Gulfstream Park, Ft. Lauderdale

To highlight the fact that over half of Nic’s string of polo ponies are “Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds,” and that this is a essential way these two regal disciplines can work together to provide a wonderful future for OTTBs.


Sport of Kings meets the Game of Kings

From January to May, the focus of the international polo world is on Wellington, Florida; and on Sunday 8th of January one of top American polo player Nic Roldan’s mounts was chosen as the Best Playing Pony of that game. The mare in question is a chestnut mare called Cubana, an “Off-the-Track Thoroughbred” (OTTB). In fact, over half of Nic’s current string are OTTBs. His horses Tulsa, Ducati, Cohiba and Cubana are all OTTBs. In all facets, Argentina has the monopoly on polo, and players breed copious amounts of polo ponies on the pampas plains. However, Stateside, people often look to the racetrack as an essential source of their ponies.

OTTB Tulsa by Enrique Urdaneta
OTTB Tulsa by Enrique Urdaneta
OTTB Sombra by Enrique Urdaneta
OTTB Sombra by Enrique Urdaneta

Nic’s love for polo comes as result of his passion for horses. In polo, it’s considered that horses are 80% of the game whilst players only contribute 20%. As such, it’s the team with the best mounts that wins. Nic often highlights his mounts and, when highlighting Cubana’s success, he hit a cord and got a great response from not just the polo world but also the racing and fans of OTTBs. This provided a great and wonderful opportunity for these two disciplines to combine. Adding to this is the fact that two of Nic’s horse trainers, Osvaldo and Terri Gallitelli, come from the racing industry.

Thanks to Terri’s amazing work, the unique opportunity arose for Nic to go to Gulfstream Park to watch none other than California Chrome train – and then to meet him. For polo folks not in the know, California Chrome is racing’s answer, performance-wise, to Cuartaterra.

California Chrome winning the 2014 Kentucky Derby © Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome winning the 2014 Kentucky Derby © Barbara D. Livingston

California Chrome is racing’s all-time leading earner with $14,452,650. He is a seven-time Grade 1 winner and was the Horse of the Year in 2014 and 2016. This weekend, on Saturday, January 28, California Chrome will make his final start in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park. The $12 million purse is the largest, worldwide, in the sport. California Chrome will then retire to stud at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky.

California Chrome © Laura Donnell
California Chrome © Laura Donnell

So at 5:30am, in the dark, on a Monday morning, there we all were at Gulfstream Park – and what an experience it was. We had unprecedented access to this amazing horse in one of the most important weeks of his life. We saw him get ready and train. Afterwards he was bathed and we were allowed hands on access – amazing! This was followed shortly after by a photo opportunity where Nic was given California Chrome to hold solo, which was a most surreal moment for him.

Special thanks must go to Duncan Taylor for this rare opportunity and thanks to the kindness and willingness of Alan Sherman to allow us access to this awe-inspiring athlete. The group also really enjoyed talking to Dihigi Gladney, California Chrome’s work rider. A special shout out must also go to the legendary racing photographer Barbara Livingston, who was a big part of this.

This was a serendipitous moment where two entities at the top of their game were bought together, able to highlight how these two regal disciplines can compliment each other and draw attention to the fact that polo is a fantastic avenue for the OTTBs.

It was wonderful how we were welcomed and how the racing fraternity was interested to hear about the OTTB’s use in our sport. Thoroughbreds makes some of the best polo ponies, and often are the best horses in all equine disciplines, as they are the fastest and most athletic. Especially as polo has evolved, Thoroughbreds have become prolific in the sport. We look for horses 15-15’2 in height, with short cannon bones, good angles at the hocks, body & head carriage, and of course sound and very quiet in character. Also, ideally in polo, we look for mares – which is a timing factor, as mares can play high-goal in 2-3 years but geldings mature later in our sport. On the way back, we joked that California Chrome was not too big for polo and that given he was retiring anyway after this weekend, he may just make it in time for the US Open Polo this year…well, in our dreams anyway! One of polo’s most well known ponies was a chestnut with a blaze down his face called Aiken Cura, so it was not hard to see a resemblance.


L-R California Chrome, Alan Sherman, Nikki Walker, Nic Roldan, Juan Pablo Quiroga, Luchino Ortiz de Urbina, Julian de Lusaretta, Kris Kampsen & Daren Tamplin
L-R California Chrome, Alan Sherman, Nikki Walker, Nic Roldan, Juan Pablo Quiroga, Luchino Ortiz de Urbina, Julian de Lusaretta, Kris Kampsen & Daren Tamplin


We would like to thank the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance for their enthusiasm and help in making this possible. Based in Lexington, Kentucky, this non-profit accredits, inspects and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations to retire, retrain and rehome Thoroughbreds using industry-wide funding. Along with continued funding from its original partners Breeders’ Cup Ltd., The Jockey Club, and Keeneland Association Inc., the TAA is now supported by owners, trainers, breeders, racetracks, aftercare professionals and other industry groups. To date, 64 aftercare organizations supporting more than 180 facilities across the U.S. and Canada have been granted accreditation and received funding from the TAA.

In the UK, where Nic plays from May through July, “Retraining of Racehorses” (RoR) is a similar program. They have a special scheme by which OTTBs are recognized in polo. OTTBs are marked with a special sticker so the public on the sidelines know they are OTTBs, and often a special prize is given to the best OTTB in a game. Those are two of their incentives to help generate awareness in this area.

Nic is also very active philanthropically in the area of equine welfare, via Brooke for whom he is an ambassador; as is Boyd Martin, who in turn also has a OTTB as one of his top mounts in the form of Blackfoot Mystery.

Nic and Terri will be presenting California Chrome with a halter and a stallion halter that they had specially made as token of their appreciation by Quillin Leather & Tack, Paris, Kentucky.

About Nic

Nic Roldan © for Aspen Luxury Life
Nic Roldan © for Aspen Luxury Life
Nic Roldan playing Cubana © Alex Pacheco/
Nic Roldan playing Cubana © Alex Pacheco/

Fueled by talent, charisma and passion, Nic Roldan is the present leading American polo player with an impressive 8-goal handicap rating. He is also the youngest polo player in the world to win the prestigious U.S. Open Polo title at the age of 15 and is currently Captain of the U.S. Polo Team.

Winning victoriously on all 5 continents at every goal level, Nic continues to gain worldwide acclaim. His goals are to increase awareness and participation for the sport at all levels, reach the highest accolade 10-goal status, play the Argentine Open, claim a second U.S. Open Polo title, add more worldwide Polo trophies to his cabinet and help America reclaim the infamous Westchester Cup.

Under his captaincy the U.S. Polo Team has benefitted in Internationals, as have an ever-increasing number of Beach Polo, Snow Polo and Charity events. His philanthropic involvement as team captain in Charity tournaments is widely recognized, as is his distinct modeling career. He is a dedicated ambassador to both Brooke USA and the Kids Cancer Foundation.

His commitment to popularize the sport he loves with a wider audience of younger players and new spectators reflects his passionate dedication to Polo.

Cubana’s story

Cubana as 3 year old fresh off the track © Courtney Asdourian
Cubana as 3 year old fresh off the track © Courtney Asdourian

Cubana (F, Chestnut, TB Name: Total Regs, by City Zip, b. 2010) is a OTTB mare who was broken in as a yearling in Kentucky by Bella Lowes. Bella remembered her fondly and commented that Cubana just had the most amazing attitude, straightforward and really “bonnie.”

Kris Kampsen & Martin Phagouape bought her as a 3-year-old, in Lexington, thanks to the help of Mt Brilliant’s Gay Bredin. Kris was keen to purchase her, as he knew her bloodline was special with her father being City Zip, one of the top sires in racing. As far as we know, Cubana is his only progeny in polo, as his bloodlines are simply unaffordable.


Cubana chosen as Best Playing Pony on Jan. 8th 2017 in the Joe Barry Game: Grand Champs vs Coca Cola © Alex Pacheco/
Cubana chosen as Best Playing Pony on Jan. 8th 2017 in the Joe Barry Game: Grand Champs vs Coca Cola © Alex Pacheco/


Kris comments that she’s an incredible mare, and as soon as he sat on her he was impressed by how effortless she made every move. Kris and Martin made her polo-ready and Kris started playing her at Grand Champions Polo Club, after which Nic bought her. She played in the 2015 East Coast Open at Greenwich Polo Club and this is her first full Florida high-goal season. She has matured into a consistent great mare, doing everything that is asked of her, an all-rounder as far as her abilities go.

This Best Playing Pony award, in a league game of the Joe Barry Cup at the International Polo Club, marks her first – and it looks like a bright future for this mare stepping up to the plate in the big league.

To see Cubana’s TB info please look here

Nikki Walker

Nikki Walker Showing at WEF
Nikki Walker Showing at WEF

Nikki is an accomplished Equestrian daughter of Belinda Stronach, the President of the Stronach Group and the Pegasus World Cup. Nikki is coached by Irish Olympian Cian O’Connor in Wellington.


Kris Kampsen

Polo Player Kris Kampsen
Polo Player Kris Kampsen
Kris Kampsen playing polo
Kris Kampsen playing polo

Nic Roldan and fellow professional polo player Kris Kampsen have been friends for a long time, both on and off the polo field. Kris has also become a regular source of horses for Nic to add to his string, so the recognition of Cubana once more confirms Kampsen’s skill in this area. He’s always on the look out for small OTTBs, with nice bone, short cannon bones, good angle of hocks and head carriage. Kris has developed a program to make them polo-ready. If ever you think you have something he may be interested in please reach out via


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