The state of Maryland is no stranger to polo. With several registered USPA Member Clubs, and many who are active in youth and interscholastic polo, Maryland can certainly be considered a state that yields active polo players. Programs such as Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Maryland, have put their name on the map by producing some very well-known American women players in the sport today. Maryland Polo Club’s youth program in Fallston, Maryland, rivals many around the country with several National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) Championship winners to their name and an excellent grass polo program. Settling into the ranks of this thriving polo culture is Seneca Polo Club, located less than an hour outside of Washington D.C. in Poolesville, Maryland.
Built several years ago by longtime Poolesville resident Wayne Briere, Seneca Polo Club had humble beginnings as a private family farm for local players and boarders. “Eight years ago the El-Hibri family gave me an opportunity to build the best arena that I could. I wanted to promote the game of polo to everyone and provide polo opportunities to young people, just like Hal Vita and Big Joe Muldoon did for me,” said Wayne Briere. “It is our mission to grow the sport of polo in the Washington D.C. area by running a polo school for all ages, hosting low goal tournaments for local players, connecting with other local clubs and maintaining a family friendly environment.” According to neighbor and USPA Umpires, LLC Executive Director Charlie Muldoon, “What Wayne and his wife Kate do is bring people into polo, keep them safe and keep them in the sport. They have not fallen into the trap of trying to get several people quickly and not retaining them. They have a long-term player plan that has really worked.”
Seneca Polo Club’s secluded property provides players with an on-site mallet shop operated by Briere himself, a 12-stall barn, acres of turn out and a club house that overlooks a world-class arena. “It is one of the best arenas that I have played in, the turf is awesome, it is good for the horses and Wayne makes everyone feel comfortable and welcome. It is a great family oriented club,” said Muldoon.
Although the Brieres invited many friends and family to play at the club for several years, they knew they could do even more with the property, provided they had additional help to bring new players to the arena. In the Fall of 2015 Jenny Schwartz was hired to help manage and teach lessons at the club. “They always wanted to do something with the arena,” explained Schwartz. “Wayne and Kate approached me as I was completing an internship at a different club in the area. The three of us worked together, made a plan and started from the beginning by registering with the USPA. I said, ‘let’s make this a real club.’”
Schwartz brought with her a well-rounded background in polo and a determination to grow Seneca Polo Club. Her love for the sport started at Garrison Forest School where she played for the interscholastic team winning two Girls’ National Interscholastic Championships. After graduation she attended Virginia Tech, where she started an intercollegiate polo team that she coached until graduating in 2015. Since graduation, Schwartz has managed National Youth Tournament Series Qualifiers, interned with Capitol Polo Club in Poolesville, Maryland, and Justin Powers (USPA Director of Club Development), and became a Level 1 Certified Polo Instructor. Most recently, she received the USPA Polo Development Individual Excellence Award in the Fall of 2016.
“Jenny is a great asset for the club,” stated Muldoon. “She has worked with the USPA along with several great polo club managers such as Melanja Jones at Capitol Polo Club. People love her, my members love her and she does great with her students. She is inviting and inclusive, not exclusive. She tries very hard to bring all of the area clubs together. She is really a great ambassador for the sport of polo in the D.C. area.”
Bringing area clubs together is part of the plan that Schwartz put together with the Briere family. “We don’t have membership fees, it is pay-as-you-go polo because there are so many clubs in the area,” said Schwartz. “We really wanted to build up the polo school so that it could be a place where players learned. Our concentration here is horsemanship and getting everyone to focus on their riding in order to become better riders and therefore better players. We wanted to create an environment where people feel comfortable to play grass polo at neighboring clubs, but still want to come back and play in the arena here. We have barbecues after chukkers and its really fun and family oriented. Our USPA tournaments are where people get a little more spirited, and those provide the competition that is needed, but Seneca remains a place where everyone comes together to have a good time. We have tried to set ourselves apart by having myself as a Certified Polo Instructor here and emphasizing that the overarching goal is that we want to improve the quality of polo in the area and help all of the neighboring clubs. We are doing this by providing the area with new players that are well rounded, safe and knowledgeable about the sport.”
Schwartz has been able to give many new players their start in polo through Seneca Polo Club’s school horses. The Briere family own 12 versatile horses that can play grass and arena polo, but are still safe enough for new and timid riders. These horses will play a large role in the newest venture for Seneca Polo Club: The Youth Arena Summer Tournament (YAST).
Schwartz has created a three-day overnight clinic that is modeled after Scott Brown’s East Coast Arena Tournament held at Brandywine Polo Club in Toughkenamon, Pennsylvania, several years ago. Seneca recognized that they can take ideas that have worked for other clubs and make them their own. “I am not re-inventing the wheel here,” said Schwartz. “Brandywine stopped doing it about seven years ago, so it was something I wanted to bring back—it was such an amazing experience for me when I attended as a young player. So while I can’t take credit for it, I really want to revive the concept and hopefully inspire other clubs around the country to use this format.”
YAST will take place at Seneca Polo Club July 20-22. “Polo players will be broken up into groups based on their skill level. USPA Polo Development is sending a clinician and we will have local coaches, vets and farriers teaching different seminars. They will be playing chukkers every day and watch game tapes afterword,” said Schwartz. YAST will differ from the traditional summer polo camp in the sense that it will incorporate many of the activities of traditional youth camps. Players are invited to camp out on the property under the supervision of adults, meals are provided and a talent show will take place. For those that participate and want to show off their new skills on the grass, a NYTS qualifier is being hosted on July 23. “Right now we have 15 signed up,” said Schwartz. “I am hoping to get around 30. We provide horses for rent and there is no shortage of horses in the area. We have a really nice relationship with polo clubs nearby, so we can help facilitate horse rentals for those that need them.” Aside from youth polo, Seneca Polo Club offers Intro to Polo Clinics, club chukkers, USPA tournaments and a Margarita League. “I will be taking over the head coaching position at Garrison Forrest School next year,” said Schwartz. “Garrison has used our arena for practice in the past and I still plan to work at Seneca while coaching at Garrison. I hope to encourage those at Garrison to come play at Seneca as well.”
The focus on growth and bringing new players into the sport through the arena warranted an application for USPA Polo Development Initiative (PDI) funding. “We got the funding we applied for and have used some of it for local advertising, but most is going towards building a hitting cage. Built by Wayne, the cage will be state of the art and will add another element to our lessons and clinics. It will also be available to area players to come use and practice on,” said Schwartz.
As Seneca Polo Club continues to develop Schwartz has high hopes for the club. “I would love for Seneca to have higher-rated polo in the arena. What Gladiator Polo™ has done is bring arena polo to a new audience and draw them into the action. Seneca is built to accommodate something like that, I want to get the D.C. area involved and come and watch polo in the same way people watch Gladiator Polo™.”
In only a couple of years, Wayne and Kate Briere along with the help of Jenny Schwartz have elevated arena polo at their club and in the Poolesville area. With a focus on safety, learning and most importantly having a good time, Seneca is quickly making a name for themselves among the well-known clubs in the state of Maryland. To learn more about Seneca Polo Club, please visit their website at www.senecapoloclub.org and follow them on Facebook.