The sport of kings is alive and well — and open to all — on the Oklahoma State University campus
Oklahoma State University Polo Club members, from left, Devan Groves, Emily Hunan, Gayle Mages, Laura Baker, Quinn Llewellyn, Madison Skipper, Alexandra Wood and Courtney Rodgers practice with the team's polo ponies. (PHOTOS/PHIL SHOCKLEY)
A historic game with roots in ancient Persia that made its way to Britain and South America and developed into a fast-paced sport in the United States is still played today by Oklahoma State University students in Stillwater. While the polo club at Oklahoma State doesn’t have quite the history of the original sport, the Colvin Center-sponsored sports team has been active on campus for 16 years.
Men's Varsity Team Captain Quinn Llewellyn practices polo skills on the club's pony, Miranda. Joining the OSU Polo Club is "a way to learn a fun sport and be around horses," he says. "It's my favorite thing I do in college."
With real horses, chukkers and mallets, the OSU Polo Club could require years of experience for its participants. But the club happily welcomes any student interested in playing or learning about the sport — no experience necessary.
“I came into the OSU polo program with previous polo experience,” says Devan Groves, president of the OSU Polo Club, women’s varsity team captain and junior animal science student. “So I have taught a lot of people the basics of polo.”
Polo experience or no, team members do not need to be excellent equestrians, and the varsity team members are happy to teach inexperienced riders. The collegiate polo game includes split strings, which means for half of the game riders play their own horses, and for the other half, the opposing school’s horses are played.
“Most equestrian sports, you have your horse that you ride every week,” says Quinn Llewellyn, finance and management junior and vice president of the club. “But in polo, it is very different. You aren’t used to using the same horse every time.”
The OSU team has brought home hardware from nationally sponsored competitions.
OSU Polo Club member Courtney Rodgers rides the OSU polo club horse, Bennett.
The OSU Polo Club has won the Women’s Central Intercollegiate Preliminary Champion, part of the United States Polo Association.
At a recent charity polo match in Bentonville, Arkansas, the OSU women’s varsity polo team beat Southern Methodist University and placed second in the tournament. The team lost by only one point in a shootout against a well-seasoned team from St. Louis. Individual players on the team also shine, with recognition such as Central Intercollegiate Preliminary Sportsmanship Award and several Central Intercollegiate Preliminary All-Stars. At the 2014 preliminary tournament, the OSU polo horses won “Best Playing String” and one won “Best Playing Pony.”
“We’re a small school compared to Texas A&M and the other teams we play,” Groves says. “Not many people realize Oklahoma State has a polo team, and we aren’t really known for it. But just in the past three years, we’ve won prelims every year, and we’ve qualified for regional polo tournament. Even though we are small, and we don’t have the fancy horses and facilities that other schools have, we’re still competing at the same level.”
Gayle Mages, right, and Quinn Llewellyn, compete in a practice drill at the OSU Polo Club arena southwest of Stillwater.
Team members say the fancy equipment doesn’t matter nearly as much as their drive to win.
“Our women’s team has won prelims both years I have been part of the club, and I really enjoy playing, but I almost enjoy watching our team do well even more,” Llewellyn says. “Sitting on the sidelines and screaming about us winning prelims is really fun because we are kind of the underdog team all the time. I really enjoy getting to see our team compete and do well.”
Team members travel around the country to participate in matches. The Central Region, which OSU is a member of, also includes Colorado State University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, University of Texas, Texas State University and Texas Christian University.
"My favorite memory of being on the OSU Polo Club was last spring,” says Carley Cockrum, marketing junior and secretary of the club. “We went to CSU for a match. We were there for about three days. We took two carloads of players out there and just played for two days and went hiking and got to explore Fort Collins. It was a lot of fun."
Students of all skill levels are welcome in the club.
Students in the club take on the financial burden to compete on a collegiate level.
“When we go to our tournaments in the spring, the USPA will help us, depending on how many horses we bring,” Groves says. “But as far as hotels, expenses, meals, the feed for our horses, etc., that all comes out of the members’ pockets. You have to be dedicated, but it is so worth it.”
The students practice four evenings a week — on top of being full-time students with homework, studying and even jobs.
“We have the option to practice … however, we know that students have schedules. They can come out as often or seldom as they please,” Llewellyn says.
Polo also provides OSU students with life skills and the benefits of being part of a team. The OSU Polo Club is a completely student-run club, so the students are responsible for every aspect.
The OSU Polo Club practices in an arena southwest of Stillwater.
From feeding the 21 horses to arranging for veterinary and farrier services to arena maintenance, the students do it all.
“I feel like we all work together,” Cockrum says. “If it was just one of us responsible for everything, it would be very hard. But with everyone pitching in and all the club members helping, it makes it easier. We couldn’t play without the horses. We take their care very seriously.”
While the students are responsible for a majority of the club, they do have guidance from their coach, experienced polo player and supporter David Ragland. He started the Oklahoma City Polo Club last year and has been playing 34 years.
Ragland supports the OSU Polo Club on top of his responsibilities as the U.S. Polo Association circuit governor of the Great Plains, which includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri.
“It is just an outstanding group of young people that we have who are involved right now,” Ragland says.
Oklahoma State University Polo Club members, from left, Devan Groves, Emily Hunan, Gayle Mages, Laura Baker, Quinn Llewellyn, Madison Skipper, Alexandra Wood and Courtney Rodgers practice with the team's polo ponies.
“I think it is a real valuable program that the university offers,” he adds. “OSU in general is trying to establish an outstanding wellness program throughout all of its sports and clubs, and polo offers a well-rounded, healthy wellness package in the club itself — in terms of leadership, exercise, exercising the horses, health and maintenance of livestock, plus maintaining the mental health and physical health of all the members.”
All the horses, tack and equipment are either donated or bought by the students themselves. There is always a need to be met.
“People don’t think they can help us if they’re not into polo,” Groves says. “They think all we need is polo equipment or polo ponies but we also take care of the land all on our own. We have a tractor and a drag, which are older, donated pieces of equipment. We are constantly running into problems … and fixing them. So those are more ways we could use help.”
Those interested in donating to the OSU Polo Club can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the club on Twitter and Instagram at @okstatepolo and on Facebook at Oklahoma State Polo for the latest news.
More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association. To join or update your membership go to orangeconnection.org/join or call 405-744-5368.
Published by STATE Magazine Editor Elizabeth Keys in Winter 2016 Issue, Volume 12, Number 2
Uploaded on December 1, 2016