Fuelled by talent, charisma and passion Nic Roldan is currently the 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 young age of 15 and is currently Captain of the U.S. Polo Team.
Winning in tournaments on all 5 continents at every goal level, Nic continues to gain worldwide acclaim. He intends to increase awareness and participation for the sport at all levels, attain 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 illustrious Westchester Cup.
Nic is the captain of the U.S. Polo Team which has benefitted by his leadership and skills with success in International tournaments. The team continues an increasing participation in Beach Polo, Snow Polo and Charity events. His philanthropic involvement as team captain in charity tournaments is widely recognized, as is his distinct modelling career.
He is committed to popularize the sport he loves as an ambassador to a wider audience of younger players and new spectators which reflects his passionate dedication to Polo.
EIE: Nic, you are an international polo star from the result of your hard work. Tell our readers about how you got started in polo?
NR: I’m a fourth generation polo player and was born in Buenos Aires. My father was a professional polo player, I was riding by 3 and playing at 5 as is normal in polo families and having been bought up on a polo farm in Wellington, Florida.
EIE: What separates you from other players and elevates you to the top of your game? It is your work ethic, your skills, your ponies or something else?
NR: I think a little bit of everything, like any top athlete everyone has a good work ethic, I’m focused, have a good work ethic and a deep hunger to win which has always helped me. I believe in myself. Of course ponies count for 80% of the game when it comes to polo and all the top players are extremely well mounted. Other than that practice, practice, practice and hard work, I think people underestimate that at times.
EIE: Tell us about your ponies! Here we see a wonderful page which pays tribute to some of your amazing ponies. Can you let us know some of the ways you find your horses?
NR: Argentina has the monopoly on all things polo. There, players breed copious numbers of ponies and nowadays frequently using embryo transfer. Obviously they have the pampas and space is not an issue so the number of horses people own is not constrained, which means they can try lots of breeding combinations very quickly which by regular breeding would take over a decade to achieve.
I have many Argentine bred horses which I have bought from other players. I’ve had an Australian TB mare and one from New Zealand. Now days I mainly buy horses in the US and I’m a big fan of the American Thoroughbred and of OTTB’s (Off Track Thoroughbreds). In particular, I buy many horses from fellow polo player and good friend Kris Kampsen. However, at the end of the day, I’ll buy a good horse from anywhere! Remember, for each game I may play 13 horses and a player is always looking to maintain and improve their string. I have more than one string in order to be mounted all year round and for the different polo seasons. It’s very hard to stay ahead of the game with horses in polo and find that elusive top mare!
EIE: It appears that cloning is successfully used in the polo community. What are your thoughts about it?
NR: I’m pretty indifferent on the matter as it does not really affect me in anyway. Adolofo Cambiaso who is the top polo player in the world has had great success and in last year’s Argentine Open (the highest level polo tournament in the world). He played 6 clones of his best mare Cuartaterra which was amazing. However, aside from Cambiaso’s success, it has not really been proven yet, not widely utilized and of course it is very expensive to clone a horse.
EIE: Many of your horses are off track thoroughbreds (OTTBs). This is a great way to give former racehorses a second career. How did you first consider using an OTTB as a polo pony?
NR: I’m a polo player and don’t profess to be a maker of polo ponies nor breeder. I do buy young horses within the 4-5 year old range and really enjoy putting the final touches on them for high-goal (the highest level of polo). I tend to buy horses that are already playing. I don't play a level of polo that is conducive to bringing on young and inexperienced ponies. As mentioned, I am always on the lookout for horses to maintain and improve my string allowing me to be exceptionally well mounted all year round in all the different locations and seasons.
EIE: What physical characteristics do you seek in a horse as a polo prospect? (i.e. Height, powerful hind-quarters, body type)
NR: Nothing too big 15’1 to 15’2 max, a bit stocky and a short cannon bone.
EIE: Likewise, are there mental characteristics for ponies?
NR: A cool and calm temperament is essential especially for OTTB’s. Polo is an intense contact sport so horses have to stay calm in order to keep their head in the game. There is a famous saying that the best polo pony in the world is “a 100 mile an hour donkey,” meaning they have to be very quiet and tough but fast and tough, they have to remain grounded at all times.
EIE: Why do so many professional players choose mares over geldings?
NR: Mares tend to be easier to be more successful in our sport by far.
EIE: Do you work with any OTTB aftercare organizations to help support thoroughbreds in their next career? Please let our readers know how they can help too!
NR: Not really although I think they do a great job, for me ultimately I’m simply always looking to maintain and improve my string of horses however I’m aware of the work that both the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) does as well as the Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program here in the States. In the UK Retraining of Racehorses does a great job and is particularly prevalent in polo with OTTB’s in polo games being marked with a special sticker and the best playing OTTB pony in games being recognized. At present I’m working together with the TAA on a fun development I’m sure you will all read about soon.
EIE: Where can we see you play? (There's also an events page on your website which you may want to mention.)
NR: From Jan 1st until the end of April, I’m playing in my home town and the winter equestrian capital of Wellington, Florida. That is when the whole polo world is focused, on Palm Beach, for it’s high-goal season. Please come down and support us. You can see when my next game is on my website and for those of you who can’t make it, you will also find a watch live tab so you can follow the games live online.
EIE: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
NR: I’m also a proud ambassador to Brooke USA. The American fundraising arm of Brooke, the world’s largest Equine charity dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, mules and donkeys and in turn the lives of the people who rely on them. Last year, I organized the inaugural Nic Roldan’s Sunset Polo event in Wellington, Florida and this year on March 24th we will be holding the second edition. Please go to the website to find out more and to buy your tickets.
My good friend Kris Kampsen is someone who does buy OTTB’s in particular and has a training plan in place to make them polo ready. So, I have asked him some of these specific questions below.
EIE: How did you first consider using an OTTB as a polo pony?
KK: Thoroughbreds makes some of the best polo ponies, thoroughbreds often are the best horses in all equine disciplines, they are the fastest and most athletic. Especially as polo had evolved Thoroughbreds have become the norm in polo.
EIE: How do you find OTTBs as polo prospects? Do you attend racing sales such as Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton or OBS? Or, do you find them privately or from trainers & use and owners who approach you with a prospect?
KK: No, I don't go to the auctions, I mainly find them via contacts and sometimes people send pics. Mainly I find them by going to racetrack together with Martin walking from barn to barn looking and asking for horses that would suit polo.
EIE: What physical characteristics do you seek in a horse as a polo prospect?
KK: 15-15’2 in height, short cannon bones, good angels at the hocks, body & head carriage and of course that they are sound.
EIE: Likewise, are there mental characteristics for ponies?
KK: They have to be super calm, the calmer the better.
EIE: Why do so many professional player choose mares over geldings?
KK: It’s a timing factor, mares can play high goal in 2-3 years but geldings mature later in our sport. Of course ultimately geldings end up being more consistent but you have to get there first.
EIE: If someone has a polo prospect, should they contact you?
KK: Yes, please reach us via Horses@NicRoldan.com
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. You can see some of his string here: http://nicroldan.com/polo-ponies-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.
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.
Cubana (F, Chestnut, TB Name: Total Regs, by City Zip, b. 2010) is an 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.
Kris comments that she’s an incredible mare, and as soon as he sat on her he was impressed by how effortlessly 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.