Last year, I had the pleasure of taking a lesson amid the verdant backcountry expanse that is the Greenwich Polo Club. Among the players I met there was Argentina’s Joaquin Panelo, member of the White Birch Team — the club’s home team — as well as Team Audi, and a six-goaler (out of a possible 10). Joaquin is lean and tan with a certain swagger. When he’s on the field, you can feel the heat rising and not just from the exertions of thundering riders and Thoroughbreds.
For our lesson, Joaquin shared the history of the sport, with its roots in the ancient Persian cavalry, its rules and techniques. My southpaw heart sank a little when I learned that it’s a disadvantage to hold the mallet in your left hand. (Polo’s a bit like driving on the right side of the road.) But the great Mariano Aguerre — a 10 goaler who appeared on the April 2015 cover of WAG — is a lefty. So there’s hope for this Southern belle yet.
After a challenging day of trying to hit a small white ball with a mallet from a galloping horse, I sat down with Joaquin to learn more about the rare breed that is the polo player:
Who was biggest inspiration growing up?
“First, I would have to say my
father, Esteban Panelo. Then as I was growing up, I started watching Adolfo Cambiaso, who is one of the best polo players today and has been for the last 20 years or more. Then I started getting into more high-goal polo and started watching some of other players, horsemen, trying to learn from them like Mariano Aguerre. He is one of my inspirations. Every day, I learn something from him, from his horses to the way he does things with the horses. I am lucky I get to work with him and see him and play with him. I consider myself a lucky guy.”
What do you love most about the game?
“I think the most incredible thing about this game is the horses … what the horses can do when they are trained and when their fitness is 100 percent. It is unbelievable. How loyal they are. How they follow our commands. They can run full speed and they can turn and stop. Their ability for the sport, it’s crazy. Such loyal animals.
What is life like as a polo player?
“We basically live for the horses. Every day for us is wake up early, go to the barn and spend time with the horses. We ride them or play or practice, train them or whatever they need to do for that specific day. So, there is not a lot of free time, but whenever we have some free time we try to work on ourselves. We go to the gym or try to do something for ourselves. Horses must be trained every day if they are playing and competing, so they really can’t take the day off. It’s not like people who work in the office and have the weekends off.”
What are your goals for your life?
“My only goal ever since I started doing this as a professional and knowing that this is my life … is to be the best I can be. So if that means … being the best in the world, then I am going to go for it. But if I can’t do that, my life goes more towards the horses as a trainer, or just working for horses or coaching a team — that could be an option. But my goal right now is to just be the best I can be and hope I am on a good path. I try to get 10 goals and be the best player in the world as my goals.”
Where do you consider home?
“That is kind of a tough question since I am not home a lot, but my home is Argentina and it will always be. That is where I grew up and that is where my family lives…I feel home when I go to Palm Beach and spend a lot of time in Wellington. But my home is Argentina.”
Three words to describe yourself?
“Myself? Well, I might need a couple of seconds to figure that out. (laughs) I am passionate. Very passionate for sure. I feel I am a professional. I know exactly what I want in regards to my goals and my polo career. Very professional. I am also a very quiet guy. I don’t go out a lot and I don’t party. I don’t drink alcohol. Mostly pretty quiet guy. I do go sleep early if I am playing the next day. Try to eat healthy. I love eating. (laughs) Try to concentrate and not doing stuff that won’t help my career. I am dedicated.”
What is a typical year for you regarding polo and travel?
“The year for polo for me starts in Wellington-Palm Beach, January through April. …Then I go home to Argentina a couple of weeks. It is hard because then in the summer polo starts. I will go to California or Greenwich. …I have been in California for the past two summers. …Then for the fall, I am pretty sure I will be doing Texas for the next couple of years then go back home to Argentina. So that would be my tour. “
What is life like for you in Argentina?
“Well, I live in the country…about an hour and half from Buenos Aires … where we have all of our horses. We have a barn and a polo field. Whenever I go home, I spend time with my family. We have the beach, but it is about five hours from our place. We have mountains and the desert. There is hunting, fishing, skiing. We have pretty much everything in Argentina.”
Best advice ever received about polo?
“That if I am going to do this, I have to go all in. I must give my life to the horses and to the sport. I do whatever it takes to do the best job.”
For more, visit greenwichpoloclub.com or call 203-561-1639.