Polo spent five Olympiads as an official sport, but it hasn’t participated since before World War II. Equestrian competitors in general, however, have vied for medals in every Summer Olympics since 1912.
Ben Maher has competed in show jumping in the last three Summer Games, and owns a gold medal for his part in winning the team jumping event for Great Britain in 2012 in London.
Friday, I watched him ride in a polo match. The setting was a great deal less competitive than his normal sporting pursuits: a charity contest in Wellington, Florida. Maher participated in the final chukker (equivalent to a period or quarter in polo parlance), as both sides added a guest teammate for the final period. The Olympian found himself at the event in part because he’s affiliated himself with one of polo’s most prominent families.
The jumper’s girlfriend is Sophie Gracida (who played against her beau in that final chukker). Her cousins, professional polo players Carlos, Jr. and Mariano, spearheaded the event to honor the legacy of Carlos, Sr.
The young men’s father was once perhaps the world’s best player, and the whole family is filled with accomplished riders and polo players. Though Carlos, Sr. died after an in-game accident in 2014, the Gracida name still foments warm feelings within the polo community. The brothers leveraged the goodwill their father generated, along with their own friendly and unpretentious demeanors, to create Friday’s Equine Salute Invitational. They designed the event to benefit the Gracida Legacy Foundation, a charity they’ve started with the aim of helping underserved kids realize the benefits of horsemanship, and generate interest in their Gracida Wine brand, which was available at the match and subsequent tent party.
Maher and many others contributed his time to making the day a success. In the video interview that accompanies this post, he tells us what it was like playing a sport that is not his main one and how he feels watching an Olympics in which he didn’t participate, in this case the 2018 Winter Games, which were in their closing stages as he played in the polo match.
Disclosure: A company organizing the event hired me to help produce it.