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Expanding Their Horizons – From the Horse Show Arena to the Polo Field

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The team players ready for polo!

“Being a horseman isn’t something you put on in the morning and take off at night. It’s a state of mind. It’s excelling to the best of your ability.” – Arn Anderson.

By Delores Kuhlwein

It’s common in the horse industry to hear that we should expand our horizons; we’re encouraged to attend that clinic, buy that horse, take a chance, aim for a new goal, and live our best life to be the finest horsemen we can be.

What we don’t expect, perhaps, is to learn that lesson from the young – yet two youth exhibitors in Michigan may have set the bar, and in essence, expanded their horsemanship skills by trying something completely new.

Caroline Fabus, a 7th grader from Ovid, Michigan, shows her gelding Dry Tinsel in all-around and ranch events, and her best friend, Aleah Arthur, a 9th grader of Laingsburg, Michigan, trains with Jenny Bluhm Performance Horses and shows her gelding Iron Ride in the All-Around events.  They’ve been showing together for years, explains Caroline’s mom, Taylor Fabus.

In the fall of 2023, right after Congress, they picked up the reins of polo horses to ride with the only interscholastic team in all of Michigan in its first year, Flat Out Polo from Rockford, and Taylor says, “they haven’t looked back since!”

Wait – polo?! Isn’t that really, really fast?

“Polo ponies can be really fast, but I have never been scared while riding one,” explains Aleah.  “Playing polo can be very fast and I’ve seen some scary things, but never been personally scared,” agrees Caroline.

In fact, both young ladies concur the experience has not only been a blast because they’re meeting new people and learning new skills in new places, but it has challenged them as horsemen, too.  Much like college equestrians, the team players must become accustomed to riding horses they don’t know. They don’t have their own string, but many great choices, explains Caroline, such as Bruja, Khal, Zara, Cha Cha, Iris, Dumani, Little Mama, and Pitufa.

“One difficult thing about it is getting on a horse you don’t know; it could be the best ride of your life or the worst,” she reveals. “At first, I thought getting on new horses that I’ve never met was going to be terrifying, but in the end, it’s a great experience and it can test your riding abilities a lot.”

Aleah adds that one of the hardest aspects about polo is “forming good swing mechanic habits, along with learning to play as a team.”

The polo team, comprised of 7th-12th graders, is coached by Sarah and Paul Knapp, who served as the Michigan State University Polo Team coaches for many years. Two young men who began riding in the hunter world, Carter VanDeven, an 11th grader who attends from East Grand Rapids High School, and Rett Morris, an 11th grader who attends Forest Hills Northern High School, form the rest of the team.

The team provides the horses, tack, and equipment, and the parents cover travel and expenses.  “They are incredibly generous,” says Taylor.  “As you can imagine, polo requires a much different type of horse than we can provide!”

Taylor explains that from her perspective as a parent, seeing the kids work as a team has been the best part. “It’s not an experience we often get in equestrian sports. It’s been really incredible for them to experience an entirely different side to the horse industry and just goes to show how much more there is out there to explore!

Their team made it to their regional competition in Texas in February, and though they didn’t advance to nationals, they did go 1-1 and Taylor adds, “Everyone at the tournament just kept saying they were shocked they’ve only been playing for six months! The sport of polo has been so wonderful and welcoming to newcomers – it seems like they truly understand it’s what will keep the sport strong.”

Both young ladies urge others to try polo if they are so inclined. “What I would say to someone wanting to try polo is to find a good place to start, like nice people, fun horses, and people who want you to try it, too,” says Caroline. “I don’t plan to quit showing or polo anytime soon as I wish to get better at both. What polo made me realize as a rider is we have to appreciate all the work our ponies do for us!!”

Aleah explains, “If someone was interested in polo I would really try and encourage them to try it; it has made me an overall better rider. I am still showing, and I don’t plan on quitting anything soon. Playing polo has truly made me learn new aspects of the horse world.”

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