At just 18, Jared Zenni is one of the youngest players on any team in the International Polo Club Palm Beach’s 2014 high-goal polo season. Though young, Zenni has been handling polo horses nearly his entire life.
“I have been playing since I was 6 or so and played in my first tournament when I was 8,” says Zenni, whose father, Jim Zenni, is the patrón of Villa del Lago/Casablanca and the impetuous of both Jared’s love for the game and the formation of team Palm Beach Illustrated.
At a two-handicap, Jared is marking his third season of high-goal polo, this time with team PBI. His play has earned him a reputation as a hard charger who’s always on the move, trying to create space and make a play. In his role wearing jersey No. 1, this is essential to the success of the team. Jared is essentially a striker, whose job is to scoop in on long passes for one-timers and control the scoring of the team. This is a tall task for a young player, but his intensity on the field, skills as a rider and enthusiasm to the learn the game have made him a key factor for the success of team PBI. He's also a matchup nightmare for the competition—his 6' 3" frame and wingspan give him just a bit more reach and killer momentum on his follow-through. And he’s doing this all before graduating high school.
“I’m still learning,” he says. Despite his controlled aggression on the field, Jared is soft spoken and modest of his ability and skill on the field, deferring to horse before his play: “I try to be a horseman before a polo player," he says. All this makes him one to watch not only during the Ylvisaker Cup but for years to come.
Jared took a few minutes to talk with us about polo, the team and what’s next for the young gun.
Photos by Alex Pacheco
How’s the team meshing?
I think we mesh well together. We have a lot of good players that like to work and like to try. Everyone has talent, and we all feel like whoever has the ball can make a play, and if you don’t have it, work to get open and make some space for them on defense.
What’s your strength on the field?
I don’t really know my strength. I try to be as intense as possible, to always be moving. That’s my goal, at least—to be able to come off the field [and] say I tried, leaving nothing on the field.
|Jared Zenni speeds down the pitch in pursuit of a goal at the Joe Barry Memorial.|
What makes a good polo player?
You have to be calm but intense at the same time, to be able to balance the two. And everyone has to have good horses. Horses are 75 percent of the game. If you don’t have good horses, you won’t be able to make the plays you need to.
Do you have a favorite mount?
Novella and Rosita are probably my two best horses right now. Novella is smaller but has more power and is more explosive, has good handle. ... She basically has everything you need but is mostly explosive.
Rosita is huge and just fast. She is really handy and has good mouth, but her best attribute is that she is fast. So whenever I go up against these guys, I have the confidence that she can hit it and try to pass them.
Would you say this season has been a learning experience for you?
I am constantly learning from the guys. They are better then me, have been at it longer than me, have more experience, so I try to pick up anything I can from them.
I feel like moving and progressing in the tournaments has really helped me a lot, especially in learning how to prepare, be it watching tape, working out or preparing the horses. Every horse wants something different, so figuring out what to do with each [and] the perfect place for each is big. With some horses, you have to move them a little bit more before the game, while some may be a little older and you want work them less—it's totally different from horse to horse. They are just like people: They all have different personalities, different tendencies, so you have to figure out each one and correct it.
What do you look for in a horse?
You usually look for overall temperament, though all the attributes need to complement each other. I have a few horses that have a lot of talent, but their head [is] just not there. So you have to have a good head. You need to have a really sensitive horse that’s athletic, can move in and out and have some speed and explosiveness.
What should a polo newcomer look for to get an understanding of the game?
What I usually do is find the best player on the field and watch them. [I] watch what they do, try to get into their mind and think what they are thinking, [like] why they are in certain positions, why they do certain things on the field. If you can do that, you can start to understand the game a lot more.
And the best player is not always the one with the ball. He is usually the most vocal player on the field, facilitating most of the plays. So he’ll tell someone to go here, and he’ll hit the ball there. They’re always talking; [polo] is basically a chess match setting up his next move.
What’s in your future?
My goal is to make this a career, but I have to get my education first. Polo is like any other sport: If you get hurt, you’re done. So I will be finishing high school this year and I will be headed off to college next. I would like to work it out with my college so I can play some polo, whether it is local polo or in college. My top two schools are Texas A&M and UVA, so we’ll see.