Just a Small Island Girl Living in a Polo World
I grew up on the island of Maui, but no I did not grow up in a grass shack. I lived in a nice home that my parents built back in the 80’s and it was the only house I ever lived in growing up. I was a very fortunate kid to grow up in a nice house but the downfall is there were no kids in my neighborhood to play with. Besides seeing my friends at school, in my free time my parents enrolled me in many sports including gymnastics, tennis, horseback riding (hunter/jumper), surfing, dance, ballet, piano. I almost did everything so I was pretty busy.
But not until I was 16 did I find my true passion, which is equestrian polo. It was everything I’ve dreamed of doing. I wanted a team sport in my life but didn’t know what— because I didn’t like soccer— and polo just fell into my lap one afternoon when my trainer’s husband and son would disappear and I always wondered where they went. So I asked and I then I tagged along to watch what they called polo. Safe to say my mind was blown. The New Zealand mare I was leasing at the time already knew how to play polo so that was a bonus, and I have been hooked ever since. I’m now 31 and still addicted.
But what I am trying to get at here, is that I didn’t grow up in a super rich polo family or anything. I started out with one horse. I knew how to ride— besides if you don’t know how to ride you can soon learn. If you have some hand eye coordination that’s half the battle. There is a lot of misconception out there with this sport that you have to be super rich. There is truth to that depending on what caliber of polo you’re trying to reach, just like with any sport. You start small and grow from there, that’s how I did it. I just started riding when I was a baby and eventually became a good rider. I learned the basics and developed my riding when I played intercollegiate polo, which is pretty cost effective to start off. The crazy thing is I’ve managed to only have one horse for all of my polo career and play more polo than a lot of people can say, and they say “how do you play so much polo with only one horse‽” Well, just with that one horse I am able to ride whenever I want and ‘stick and ball’ whenever I want. People then start to notice and want you to ride their ponies, and trust that you will take care of them on the field. But when I do travel I have to lease horses and find sponsors to help pay.
When I was 15 my dad bought me my first horse, not ready-made but a beautiful, appendix red headed four year old gelding that I had to train myself. That’s how to learn and found out that when I thought I could play polo on this gelding, I was wrong. He threw me off so hard when he saw horses coming at him.
I know people think it’s a rich man’s sport, it is portrayed as if it is but anyone can find a club near them and take a lesson. Sure it helps to have some money to buy your own horses and pay the dues at the club. So yes, you can work up to that point if you caught the polo bug and want to start playing regularly. You don’t even have to own a horse. But you can always lease horses too if you’re not ready for the bigger commitment. There are so many programs nowadays that encourage people to try it out and a good resource is uspolo.org to check out clubs in your area.
LISTEN to Danielle chatting with Chris Stafford on The Horse Show podcast here
Danielle Travis has created her own pathway to a sport that is generally perceived to be elitist and usually demands the wherewithal to be able to own a string of polo ponies. Based in Hawaii, Danielle has the added challenge of traveling to the mainland to compete with other clubs, which speaks to her passion and determination to further her game. She has played with some of the sport’s top players and in 2011 was one of two women among 12 players to be named to Team USPA by the U. S. Polo Association. Born in Wailea, Hawaii, Danielle first sat in the saddle at age four and spent her childhood emerged in a variety of sports from surfing and wakeboarding, naturally, to tennis, softball, competitive gymnastics and dressage and hunter jumpers. It was when she discovered polo at the age of 16 where she found the equestrian sport that would provide a team environment that she found most satisfying. Her passion for polo became an addiction once she had a taste of college polo while at Santa Barbara City College and later at Texas Christian University. Once she had graduated Danielle went shopping for a polo pony but instead of perusing the polo world she went on Craig’s List to find the pony in Texas that she could afford. An Appendix Quarter Horse called Boomie fit her budget and ambitions and she loaded her on a trailer to haul her to Aiken, South Carolina. She got the leg up she needed playing in polo tournaments and continued to travel from coast to coast gaining experience and developing the network she needed to establish herself in the sport. She is now the highest ranked female polo player in Hawaii. With Boomie back home on Hawaii having a break from tournaments, Danielle has headed back to California to lease some ponies and play the clubs there with a view to becoming self sufficient with her own string one day and eventually play in Argentina and Europe.