Underneath her bubbly exterior, luminous smile and self-proclaimed big hair, USPA Rocky Mountain Circuit Governor Erica Gandomcar-Sachs continues to dispel assumptions with wholehearted investment to the business of polo, taking the reins from her parents and reviving the game on the family-owned facility they established together. Carrying on the Gandomcar equestrian legacy, the vivacious Colorado native inherited her immigrant father’s deep passion for polo and diligent spirit, managing and growing both Denver Polo Club and Cottonwood Riding Club in Littleton, Colorado, alongside her sister Tara. Now surpassing three decades of USPA membership, she has more than demonstrated her longevity and commitment to the sport, having assumed the leadership position at a young age. An accomplished, self-made trainer and USPA Certified Polo Instructor, Gandomcar-Sachs has dedicated her life to sharing the gift of polo with everyone, including her young daughter Sydney, while working to foster a close-knit polo community in her home state.
Eagerly stepping into the Circuit Governor role in 2014, Gandomcar-Sachs intentionally pursued the position out of a genuine desire to be more connected to the sport she loved. An intercollegiate polo alumna, she has competed nationwide and internationally, traveling to exotic locations including Singapore, New Zealand, Jamaica and even Argentina to participate in the inaugural Women’s Argentine Open. A prominent advocate for women’s polo within the Association, she not only chairs the Women’s Polo Committee, but has co-founded the Women’s International Polo Network, a nonprofit international online community of women polo players. Taking some time out of her busy schedule, Gandomcar-Sachs opened up about how her parents’ stories shaped her polo career and lessons learned over the past four years representing the interests of the Rocky Mountain Circuit.
What made you want to become a Circuit Governor?
“Polo is in my blood. My parents, John and Chris Gandomcar, started the Denver Polo Club over 35 years ago so I grew up involved in all aspects of the sport from grooming, to sponsorship and marketing, once I took over the business. I serve as a board member on the USPA Marketing, LLC, and I thought about the position years prior to being elected. I was not only one of the younger Circuit Governors stepping in at the time, but also one of only two women. For me, the fun part about the position is that I get to be directly involved and have a voice in the sport I’m passionate about. The amount of work that is completed at the USPA on a volunteer basis is incredible because regardless of how different everyone’s background is, they give their time because they genuinely love polo.”
What is your equestrian background and how did you become involved in polo?
“I started riding when I was two or three years old, but my dad was the first one to put a polo mallet in my hand when I was eight. I tried jumping prior to polo, but I’m such an adrenaline junkie and jumping was only 30 seconds of fun whereas polo is a two-hour adrenaline rush.
My dad fell in love with the sport while growing up in Iran. His father had a textile factory right on the walls of the racetrack and in the center of the racetrack was the polo field. My dad would go over and watch his father ride and play polo. My mom was from a small town in Iowa and her father was a veterinarian. They met in Greeley, Colorado, and at the time they were by no means wealthy, she was a small-town farm girl and he left home at a young age. My dad would go riding with his friends down the High Line Canal which runs through the middle of the property where our main facility sits now. He fell in love with the land, formerly a junkyard, and on a $10,000 loan from his parents he was able to purchase it in 1982. Little by little my parents built it up, never in their wildest dreams thinking they wanted to build their own polo club. When a friend would ask if they could keep a horse there they would build a barn or a stable to accommodate them and now over 300 horses later, here we are!
Every dollar that my parents made went right back into growing the business. My dad had friends from other countries so he would host international charity matches and invite teams from India, Pakistan, and England and we would have a tournament every weekend. As a kid my job was to flag during games and my sister Tara would groom so the whole family was involved. Polo was our dad’s passion, but we also had other equestrian disciplines at our Cottonwood Riding Club facility including western, jumping and dressage.”
How did your college experience influence your career path?
“Just before I went off to Colorado State University (CSU) my parents stopped playing polo. At that time the economy took a downturn, so they shifted their focus to the hunter/jumper business. Prior to college I had only ever played outdoor polo so playing intercollegiate polo at CSU was my first experience playing arena. I learned a lot in the arena and being on the team gave me the opportunity to travel and meet people outside of Colorado. The experience also gave me my own name and polo identity.
When I started college I wanted to be a cardiologist or a neurosurgeon, but I switched my major to speech communication and journalism and graduated in 2003. Towards the end of my college career I knew I would take over the family business so when I returned from college I started to slowly bring polo back to our facility.”
“I love being able to see everyone at their happiest every day because they are with their horses.” – Erica Gandomcar-Sachs
What is the biggest goal you hope to accomplish for the Rocky Mountain Circuit?
“I have one state in my circuit, but we have prominent polo families established within Colorado including the Jornayvazes, Ganzis and Bellissimos. It’s my challenge and vision to have these three passionate families work on a project together for the greater good of polo and equestrian sport. Next year we host the Silver Cup®, the Colorado Open and the Federation of International Polo (FIP) Women’s Invitational so to have three high-goal tournaments here is incredible and everybody is working together to make it possible. We have a team mindset so we view it as Rocky Mountain Polo or Colorado Polo, not specifically Denver Polo Club, Aspen Valley Polo Club (AVPC) or Valiente.
To encourage travel, I scheduled to shut down our club for a few weeks and send the players away to play at other clubs. The field and facilities were closed and this year we caravanned up to Boulder, Colorado. People also go up to AVPC for a couple weeks and the Ganzis have a program where you can opt to bring your horses or not. If you want to play with Adolfo Cambiaso, Nacho Figueras or just enjoy green horse polo you can do that all in the same week because we play -2 to 20-goal polo in the region. In 2019 we are planning to take a group up to Wyoming as well!”
What hobbies do you enjoy outside of polo?
“I love live music and sports as well as hanging out with family and friends during the off season. I also get a chance to travel and play in various tournaments so it’s nice to be able to have enough hours in the day to recharge and reboot. In the off season I love breaking and training the young horses. As my responsibilities increase, I don’t get as many opportunities to do it, but it’s truly a passion to see a horse that you trained playing for one of the top polo players or even just making a match between a young girl and her first horse. I love being able to see everyone at their happiest every day because they are with their horses.”
Tell us about your favorite horse.
“As a family we own over 50 horses, but my favorite is an incredible dark bay mare named Sorpresa (Spanish meaning ‘Surprise’). I got Sorpresa’s dam from a good friend and I was training her when I started to notice that she kept growing fatter and fatter and was losing her topline. I wasn’t sure what was going on because we never dealt with pregnant mares, but one day I was brushing her when I felt the baby kick. I never expected that she would be pregnant, but I ended up birthing the foal and that’s how she got her name. I have been offered a lot of money for Sorpresa, but I will never sell her. She is a part of me and plays the game just like I do. I think it and she does it! She will be 11-years-old this year, and she’s a machine on the field! Everyone here knows her and loves her.”
Why are you so passionate about polo?
“Polo is life. As I reflect on the past 35 years, it’s made me who I am. Over the years the people, the opportunities and the horses have given me an education that you can’t learn from school or books. Each aspect of the sport gives you something so special and unique, you just have to be open, listen, and learn. Everyone from every walk of life can teach you something.”
If you’d like to get in contact with Erica about your club, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.