Polo families Part 1: On the road
Let's face it, families are a huge part of polo all around the world. In many cases the unwavering support from parents or partners is important, and, once the player becomes professional, crucial. So, it was great to to catch up with one of my favorite polo families @Chiemsee polo club. Patricio Gaynor, gentleman polo player, quiet and precise, his partner Gabriela Benoit, chic and charasmatic and young Patricio junior never seen without a foot mallet in hand. Gabriela once said "The car is our home", and so I decided to have a chat and find out a bit more about their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Waiting until Patricio had caught his breath after his games on the first day of the Chiemsee Cup tournament, I ambushed the family field-side with my notebook and my questions.
Patricio's great-grandfather went out to Argentina from Westmead in Ireland, buying the farm that Patricio now runs in Lobos. He himself, wasn't into polo, possibly way too busy carving out a new life for his family, and so it was not until Patricio started playing that a polo field was established on their farm: San Patricio. In pride of place on the wall of their family home there is a copy of their family tree, a prized possession. Last year the Gaynor Benoit family unit, including his father and two aunts went to Ireland to visit the country and county of their forefathers. This was an extremely moving experience for the family and Patricio's father in particular, who is extremely proud of his Irish inheritance. Patricio also was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play some polo on Irish home turf.
On the Road
For the last 25 years Patricio has been traveling between Argentina and Europe leading a fascinating dual lifestyle, packing family and luggage into a car and driving all over Europe to play at tournaments. All three find being able to stay put for a week or so a luxury, but after a maximum of two weeks start getting itchy feet and are ready to move on. They enjoy being in different locations and meeting new people. Of course, they now also have friends all over Europe. When asked about the most difficult part of this lifestyle both answer together and like a shot from a gun: "The packing!". Gabriela elaborates by confessing that they both get pretty short tempered and bicker about what goes with and what gets left behind. She says that this is the one thing that hasn't changed in 15 years of road-trips together.
On a visit to their farm in Lobos I fell in love with Patricio's homebred ponies. I have a weakness for roans and he has them in all various degrees of shading from strawberry to blue. Patricio started the breeding program 25 years ago and feels it's developed well over this time. He's brought at least 30 ponies over to Europe for the European polo world to enjoy. The ponies he plays himself are usually his own breed but these he seldom sells. He likes to let them retire gracefully when their playing time is over. Asked about the best horse he's ever bred he answers without hesitation "Cash", a pony he loved and I can remember him playing. Another favourite was Palola, his well-known pinto, who's now had her first foal in Mallorca.
The Next Generation
Patricio junior is now 11 years old and is usually to be found tapping a ball along the sidelines of the polo field. He and his Dad have played a bit together and last year they had a chance to play in France with Gabriela. This could be the start of a formidable family team. Patricio junior is enjoying his polo immensely and his parents are preparing the way for him to take up the sport seriously...but as Patricio says: "Let's see." I asked if he thought his son would be good, to which he replied he couldn't really say, but his eyes said it all, personally I'm sure we will have a star in the making especially taking into account the fact that he won the Potrillitos Cup in December 2019, the most important children's tournament in Argentina, hosting a total of 40 teams. This was not only a great success, but also a great experience and a chance to play with and against the sons of world famous 8-10 goalers.
Europe vs Argentina
Playing across two different continents requires a very different game strategy. In Argentina, Patricio plays a lot on his home ground and with and against other professionals. So here, he plays an open, fast, tactical game. In Europe, he's often playing with 3 amateur players and his goal here is to facilitate the participation, enjoyment and success of the team. For him, these are are the most important aspects, involving the whole team and helping his amateur players to improve their game.
Polo in the time of Covid
So how has this pandemic effected the family? Well, they were on the farm and Gabriela sent me some lovely photos showing lockdown at its most attractive. They were able to work and play their ponies, but tournaments in Europe were cancelled and this delayed their trip over. However, now, with their first tournament just completed at Chiemsee Polo Club they are ready to enjoy their nomadic lifestyle again...but a word of advice...just avoid being around them during their early morning packing session!!
Thank you Patricio, Gabriela and Patricio junior for giving me your time and all the best to you for the rest of the season.