By: Wahengbam Tiken
Imphal, Nov 29:
The United States Polo Association has been sending a USA team from 2013 to the Manipur Polo International tournament without a break, save the times when the tournament itself took a break in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid pandemic.
The USA team this time is also led by Jorge Vasquez as in the 13th edition of Manipur Polo International tournament held in 2019. Jorge is a two-goal professional polo player who besides playing polo, also coaches the University of Kentucky polo team and gives polo lessons to high school kids. He plays for the Gainesway Farm Polo as also manage the team.
Jorge started riding a horse when he was barely 5 years and started playing polo around the age of 17. What Jorge found the most exciting about the game of polo is the freedom to do anything in the field, riding at high speed, coming to an abrupt halt, changing directions, among other things.
Recalling previous experience of playing here, he said it was an honour to play in the oldest living Pologround in the word. Having been here in 2017 and 2019, Jorge feels “great to be back, it’s like coming home”. He loves the people of Manipur and “considers them as friends”.
He found it amazing how spectators got behind the home team cheering them every moment of the game. He also found the tournament very competitive and liked the idea of swapping the horses, which gave both the teams a level playing field.
The second member of the team, Nik Feldman, 31years started riding when he as just around 6 years of age. At present, he has a handicap of 4-goals in arena polo and 1-goal in outdoor polo. He was coached by Kelly Wells, who has been here in Manipur a couple of times with the USA team and by Jorge Vasqueze in the summers.
He was part of his school polo team in Baltimore and while representing the Cornell University polo team, he was selected as one of the All Stars player. He won the Arena Delegates Cup for three years in a row – 2019, 2020 and 2021. He considers it a great honour to have played for Crab Orchard Polo Club, one of the most prestigious clubs in the USA at the invitation of George Rawlings, the owner.
Highly impressed by the Manipuri polo players, Nick says, “they are incredible, world class, disciplined He and very stoic on the field”. He has given himself five years’ time to get them to the USA, “I would like them to play there, especially arena polo”.
On his impressions about the Manipuri ponies, Nik says, “they are fun, like little cars, fast, unpredictable, made for polo”. As for the tournament, he thought it would be for entertainment, “but turn out to be very serious stuff, have fallen in love with it”.
He feels the best polo players should come here and play, “polo has given them everything, time to give back to the game and pay homage to the place of its origin”.
Besides playing polo, Nik Feldman is a well-established hotelier, who owns, develops, designs and manages hotels. When I learned about it, asked him about the hotel he is staying at present, the Classic Grande, he had this to say, “I really appreciate the service, found the staff very attentive to the customers”.
Will Boldman, 45 years, who used to play professional polo till 35 years of age and used to be a 3-goaler, is the third member of the USA polo team. At present, Will is into building and managing commercial real estates in Louisville, Kentucky.
Starting to ride around the age of 8 years, Will took to polo when he turned 12. Polo runs in the family as both his father, James Boland 81 years (who still rides) and brother, Brent Boland are polo players. Will worked his way up in polo circuit by starting off as grooms for local clubs and polo professionals.
Earlier he used to breed and train horses for races with partners. He also used to acquire horses which are racetrack rejects and train them for polo.
Asked about his opinion about the Manipuri pony, Will feels they got very good stamina, “a thorough bred can play one and half chukkers but they can play the full four chukkers, seen nothing like them”. As for the tournament, he says it gives level playing ground to every team.
Saying that he has come here, the foundation of polo to pay his respects, he feels, “everyone whose heart is in polo needs to come to Manipur, the root of it all”. As for himself, he says he would like to come back again if given a chance.
The last member of the team is JP Vasquez, 24 years, who incidentally happens to be Jorge Vasquez’s nephew. JP is a third generation polo players with a handicap of 3-goals in arena and 1-goal in outdoor polo, was born in New York but now lives in Florida.
JP learned the nuances of the game of polo from his two uncles, Jorge and Christian Vasquez. JP used to play competitive arena polo for six years. He also played for Blue Grass Community & Technical College from where he got an associate degree in science.
Now retired from competitive polo, JP is into managing equestrian estates and big farms worth upto 30 million dollars. He still plays polo, practices every weekday before work, after work and on holidays. JP dreams of becoming wealthy one day and owning a polo team.
JP feels honoured to be playing in the oldest living polo ground in the world and says that he will be grateful for the rest of his life for the opportunity. About the Manipuri pony, he says “they are a lot smaller, tag differently, very unique in its own way”. “I would love to take them home with me if I could”, he added.