Polo and the Power of Equestrian Heritage

During the past several weeks, one thing has been at the forefront of all our minds at NSLM; our 5th Annual Benefit Polo Match at Virginia International Polo Club in Upperville, affectionately called “Polo”. Last Sunday may have been NSLM’s 5th Polo, but it was my very first polo match. Yes, I’d seen pictures and watched videos of polo –  it’s basically hockey on horseback, right? I was woefully unprepared for the amount of power and finesse that took the field Sunday afternoon.

Photo credit: Douglas Lees
Photo credit: Douglas Lees

The two teams were made up of top international women polo players.  Movie stars, statesmen, local celebrities and members of the public alike flocked to historic Llangollen, where the Virginia International Polo Club (VIPolo) is located, to see these ladies duke it out.

Players from left to right:
Players from left to right:Julia Smith, Julia Steiner, Lia Salvo, Kristy Outhier, Sunny Hale, Erica Gandomcar Maureen Brennan, and Jennifer Williams.

Their skill, strength, and horsemanship are remarkable. As a history nut, I was struck by the connection of this game, taking place in the New World, and its origins thousands of years ago in India. Not only that, but equestrian sports have a rich history right here in Northern Virginia. Llangollen itself is a piece of that history: an 18th century land grant and manor house, which in the early 1930’s became a hot spot of Thoroughbred racing and breeding. The goal was to bring the prestige and competition of Aintree’s Grand National to the fields of Virginia. While the Llangollen race meetings only took place for a few years, they left an expectation of greatness for those to come. Donald Brennan, the current owner, and his family added three polo fields and an arena in the form of the Virginia International Polo Club. Nearly a hundred years after the race meets, excellence in equestrian sport is still tied to Llangollen, only instead of steeplechasing the featured sport is polo.

The inaugural Llangollen race meeting of 1931 was documented by famed equestrian artist Paul Brown. These drawings have now been compiled and published into a new book, Inaugural Llangollen Race Meeting: Drawings by Paul Brown, with featured essayist Dorothy Ours. Ours, a racing historian, is presenting an informal talk about her work on Llangollen and Paul Brown this Saturday at NSLM at 2pm. If you want to find out more about Llangollen, the history of equestrian sport right here in Northern Virginia, or if you’re just looking for a great way to spend your Saturday afternoon, this is it!

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