Breaking barriers on the polo field: Meet Hannah Henderson, founder of the Ladies Polo Foundation and the trailblazer empowering women and girls in polo
Photography by Coco Capitan
Polo, often associated with luxury and exclusivity, is a summer sport that has captivated individuals around the world with its grace, skill, and camaraderie. In recent years, women have been breaking barriers and making their mark in the world of polo, challenging the sport’s traditional image and forging their own paths to success. One remarkable advocate for women’s polo is Hannah Henderson, the driving force behind the Ladies Polo Foundation. Founded on the belief that talented players deserve support and opportunities, the foundation aims to provide financial assistance and training experiences to aspiring female polo players. In this interview, we delve into Hannah’s journey, her experiences in the polo community, and her hopes for the future of the sport.
Glorious: What is the Ladies Polo Foundation and how did you get involved with it?
Hannah Henderson: The Ladies Polo Foundation was my brainchild based on my own experience and what I felt was lacking in the sport. I wanted to create a pool of money to support talented players who could benefit from training and playing in other countries during the winter. Polo being a summer sport, it was important to keep progressing even during the off-season. The foundation relied on financial support from brands who would gain exposure through their association with us. We also had the support of some amazing lady polo players in the UK who offered inspiration, coaching tips, and access to their training days at a discounted rate. Despite the challenges posed by Covid, we managed to run successful foundation days, which brought players together and provided valuable learning experiences. I believe there’s still potential to further promote the foundation and involve more people.
Glorious: Many people perceive polo as an elite sport, but more women are getting involved. What do you think are the barriers to entry, considering its image?
Hannah Henderson: It’s an interesting question, and it’s something my family has been discussing a lot lately. We have been involved in showjumping, eventing, and polo, and we believe that polo is actually one of the cheaper sports to play. Any sport at a top level can be seen as elite. Polo has that image because of its association with royal families and the perception that it is an exclusive sport. But there are different levels in every sport. In polo, there are entry-level opportunities, and we do a lot with the pony club to support young children who want to get into the sport. While there are costs involved, the pony club tries to subsidise expenses for those who need assistance. Ultimately, hard work and dedication can help you overcome any financial barriers and succeed in the sport.
Glorious: As a woman in the world of polo, what has been your experience, and have you faced any challenges or seen positive changes?
Hannah Henderson: The landscape is changing, and there are more women involved in polo now. While physical strength can be a factor, there are opportunities available for women, and I’ve seen some incredibly talented young girls in the sport. I recently visited a polo club in South Africa and witnessed a fantastic ladies polo event organised by a family who gave equal respect to both men and women players. Women now have more global opportunities in polo, and I have friends who have raised money to play in subsidised teams in Argentina. The level of women’s polo has improved dramatically over the years, with a greater emphasis on professionalism, fitness, and training. It’s an exciting time for women in the sport.
Glorious: How has polo enriched your life and provided you with opportunities?
Hannah Henderson: Polo has become a normal part of my life, and I’ve had the privilege of being surrounded by a supportive and lovely community. It’s a lifestyle, like any other horse discipline, and while it involves hard work, it also offers unique opportunities. Polo has allowed us to build connections and trust within the community, which gives me peace of mind when my children travel to different countries for polo. It’s a sport that brings people together, and we enjoy socialising with friends and watching polo matches. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the slower side of things and cherish the memories created through polo. I hope my children will also find joy in the sport and create their own happy memories.
Glorious: For someone who perceives polo as a dreamy summer sport, what are some key events in the summer calendar that they can attend?
Hannah Henderson: Well, at county, you can find out about the Cowdray Gold Cup, which is the highlight of the high-goal polo calendar. For example, on July 19th, there’s the Coronation Cup, where England will be playing this year. Then, on July 29th, there’s the Gold Cup final at Guards, which is a fantastic event to attend. Additionally, there’s the ladies’ polo tournaments, such as the Women’s Guards and the Scrub Ladies. Their website is a great resource to find the dates for those. If we focus specifically on ladies polo, we have the Victrix Ludorum series, which has tournaments throughout the year, each with its own final at Cowdray, Guards, and Cirencester. These three tournaments are particularly enjoyable to watch, as they showcase a high level of polo.
Glorious: Fabulous! Now, let’s say I’m a passionate equestrian who rides horses, does dressage, or showjumping, but I want to get involved in polo. How would you recommend someone learn and engage in the sport?
Hannah Henderson: Our governing body has a list of coaches and many polo clubs across the country offer polo lessons. I would suggest giving it a try and setting up a lesson. See if you love it. But fair warning, it can be quite addictive once you start getting into it!
Glorious: Tell us about the polo industry as a whole and the available opportunities.
Hannah Henderson: The polo industry is thriving and offers a great lifestyle. There are numerous opportunities within the industry, such as clothing manufacturers, branding companies, wellness ventures, such as India Parker-Smith’s Chukka Wellness, which supports the Ladies Polo Foundation. Many people have found success in setting up their own brands or pursuing careers as horse trainers, umpires, or even forming their own teams. It’s a vibrant industry that provides fun and excitement. Some individuals also take gap years and travel to places like New Zealand and Australia, where they work on polo farms and play polo. It’s a fantastic life, especially when you’re young and have the freedom to explore. However, people often underestimate the global reach and multifaceted nature of equestrian sports. There are countless jobs within the equestrian world that one may not be aware of unless they have a genuine interest in and understanding of horses.
Glorious: Now, looking towards the future, what are your hopes for ladies polo in terms of inclusivity and the development of the Ladies Polo Foundation?
Hannah Henderson: The Ladies Polo Foundation faced significant challenges due to the impact of Covid, but I hope it recovers and attracts more brand sponsorships. The foundation’s primary purpose is to support young, aspiring players in the sport, and I believe it can continue doing so successfully. In terms of the future of polo, I remember a wise and respected individual in the sport suggesting that the key to its success lies in nurturing grassroots participation. By continuously attracting and involving more people at the grassroots level, we ensure the sport remains strong. Ultimately, the sport needs individuals with resources and support, whether they are professionals or simply have financial means, to propel it forward. This creates a triangular relationship, and the key is to keep feeding the grassroots. Therefore, it’s crucial to encourage and support young people and newcomers to polo. We have witnessed many success stories of young players who started their polo journeys with us, and it’s heartening to see families getting involved and supporting their children’s passion for the sport. Polo reminds us of the importance of family and spending quality time together, surrounded by wonderful people on the polo pitch.
Glorious: Absolutely! It seems like polo offers not just a sport but a whole lifestyle. It brings people together, fosters friendships, and provides a platform for creating lifelong memories.
Hannah Henderson: Indeed, when it comes to children growing up, whether it’s in the workplace or at school, the relationships you form outside those spaces often matter the most. Polo offers the opportunity to meet amazing friends on and off the field. In my opinion, the best polo is played with friends. That’s why I believe events like polo matches and picnics with friends are so essential. In today’s society, where we are often engrossed in our phones, it’s crucial to prioritize real-life connections. Getting out on the polo pitch or simply spending time with friends at a picnic is far more rewarding and fulfilling.