Settled in one of Canada’s largest metropolises is the young and flourishing Vancouver Polo Club (VPC). Having opened the doors on the club’s current location only three years ago, VPC is solidifying its name in the Pacific Northwest Circuit by attracting new members and polo enthusiasts daily.
Polo’s history in Vancouver can be dated back as early as 1921, however over the years it was slowly displaced from the area as hunter jumpers grew in popularity. Although polo was gradually pushed out, there were still some very dedicated players in the area. Claudia and Tony Torquist, for example, played polo throughout the Pacific Northwest and have recently brought the game back to the area for special occasions such as the Pacific Polo Cup, an annual exhibition game.
In 2015 after one of the highly-popular exhibitions, Paul Sullivan decided to stay for a clinic to be held the next day. “At the clinic a bunch of dads like myself went and tried polo for the first time despite never really riding horses and had a great time,” Sullivan shared. “My daughters are big hunter jumpers and I am very much involved in their on-going careers as amateurs. I certainly wanted a place in the horse world given how much time I spent in it and when I tried polo I thought ‘alright, this is a lot of fun and the horses are reasonably easy to ride’ and away we went.” Within a year, Sullivan, the Tornquists and another polo enthusiast, Jay Garnett, purchased a 20-acre property in the nearby city of Delta to be used as the home base for Vancouver Polo Club.
The club’s first official season took place in 2016, the six members at the time playing on a patchy dirt field with a combined 12 to 15 horses. Aware of the need for an improved playing surface, VPC decided to rest the field for the following 2017 season. “Year two, we spent a lot of money redoing the polo field,” Sullivan recounted. “We put in drain tiles, all sorts of nutrients and additives to the soil, we reseeded it and bought an irrigation system. Year two we watched our field grow and did not play on it once. We have a little three-acre practice field and the 12-acre polo field we just watched grow.”
Now in their third season, VPC has 40 horses and a dozen members. This quick growth has incentivized the club to bring in an additional professional player. “We have a new clubhouse in place, we are doing a lot of lessons and there is a ton of interest,” Sullivan said. “We are really marketing polo aggressively in British Columbia, a person can go onto our website and book a pony, lesson, private clinic, or group clinic. It completely enables people to play the game. Obviously it is great to get people who have experience and who are riders, but this sport has not existed for the most part in Vancouver for over 25 years. So we enable people by letting them easily rent a horse or sign up for a lesson.” This strategy has proven successful for the club thanks in part to the easy-to-use website vancouverpolo.com. Once a person books a lesson or chukker, an email is sent to a coordinator who then communicates with both the club professionals and the client to schedule time in the saddle.
Once a person realizes that their life is not complete without polo, Vancouver offers a range of membership options suitable for all types. “We have half a dozen people a week taking lessons and some of those people have already leased horses, some are talking about buying horses and our membership is inevitably going to start growing now,” Sullivan said. “We have a social membership, we have half-priced first year memberships and family memberships. That works out well for a lot of us who have children who ride in the hunter jumper world. We just buy a family membership and they can come play with us all the time. It’s another great thing about our club, since a lot of our kids are riders, we can put a kid’s team on the field very easily if not two. We have been doing a lot of that lately and the kids are coming along quickly because of their riding skills, and no doubt will be playing better than their parents in no time,” Sullivan said laughingly.
Despite being relatively new to the scene, VPC has settled into their third season comfortably with one successful event under their belt and two more projected tournaments on the horizon. Polo in the City, held in May in downtown Vancouver kicked off the season with a bang. “The biggest event we have done in Vancouver to date was this year’s Vancouver Grand Prix,” Sullivan said. “We were asked to participate in the Vancouver Grand Prix by Thunderbird Show Park. It’s an international level show park just outside of Vancouver with large sponsors. They were putting on this event and they wanted polo to be part of it, and suddenly the media got really excited about polo! A lot of the equestrian writers in the Northwest started writing articles on it; it was in all of the local papers and thousands of people came and watched. We handed out flyers and stickers, but really we got out in the crowd and talked to people about the sport and rules and showed them the horses,” continued Sullivan. Planned again for next year, the event helps to tie together the various equestrian disciplines in the area by promoting a symbiotic relationship as well as exposing the club to a group of experienced equestrians alongside the general public.
The Pacific Polo Cup is also expecting another large annual exhibition match on July 28. “It’s all Vancouver Polo Club members plus our USPA Pacific Coast Circuit Governor Sheryl Sick and good friends,” Sullivan said. “It is a big party that goes from eleven in the morning and ends around five in the afternoon, then goes on with after parties until the wee hours of the morning. About a thousand people come and there are lots of ticketing options for spectators with several big food and beverage, jewelry, hotel and auto sponsors involved. We run it like a show with a parade and anthems and a divot stomp. People love to get dressed up and listen to music and watch polo. We always run a clinic the next day at the same location for anyone interested who may have seen polo the day before, and hope to get more people involved in the sport.”
New to the schedule for 2018 will be the first USPA-sanctioned tournament for VPC called the West Coast Polo Classic the weekend of August 11. “This is a big deal for us because we have spent two years on the road playing at everyone else’s clubs and we are hoping for a lot of participation from clubs in the region,” Sullivan said. “When we travel to polo tournaments, our crew camps at the field for a couple of days and gets to know everyone at the club. We have built a lot of great relationships over the past few years in the Pacific Northwest and in Indio. We hope that VPC can host a lot of those clubs now just like they have hosted us.”
Propelled by a forward-thinking board of directors and dedicated staff and members, Vancouver Polo Club has transformed over a short amount of time from a dream of having polo back in the city into an ever-progressing club. Growth is on the minds of everyone involved at VPC and we are sure to see more from this young club in the future. For more information on Vancouver Polo Club, please visit vancouverpoloclub.com and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.