Photo by Alex Pacheco
For many trying to make a living at polo, it can be a grind. Keeping your body at peak performance, pushing your string of horses to the limit of their ability, all while keeping your mind sharp and cool are the enjoyable parts of the profession. Finding a team and tournaments to make a name for oneself; currying favor with patrons on and off the pitch; travel, always travel; and money—nothing works without it—can be a difficult sea to navigate. Especially for a young player trying to advance through the tricky handicap puzzle, where a bump-up in handicap level, though nice, can have you sitting on the wrong side of the sidelines when trying to piece together a team within the 20- or 26-goal parameters. There needs to be a hunger, a dedication to the sport and a passion that fuels it all. The epitome of a player with the drive, skill and attitude to make that eventual 10-goal leap is current five-goaler Tommy Collingwood. Speaking with him, its easy to see why he is considered one of the up-and-coming polo professionals on the circuit—there is a single-mindedness and determination in the way he speaks about the game. This is beyond passion for him; it’s a way of life.
Turning pro at 15, the now 23-year-old is about to embark on his third high-goal polo season at the International Polo Club Palm Beach when he rejoins the Palm Beach Illustrated polo team for the Ylviasaker Cup, beginning on January 28, followed by the Iglehart Memorial tournament, running through March 7. Collingwood will once again play side-by-side with team captain, three-goal handicap and FAU freshman Jared Zenni; close childhood friend Facundo Obregon, a six-handicap and team PBI’s leading scorer last year; and six-goaler Michel Dorignac, who is filling the shoes of Magoo Laprida, last year’s top handicap on the team.
Collingwood made the most of his time on team PBI in 2014, making the jump from four goals to five after a stellar year at the No. 4, back position (he will be taking the No. 1 position this year). His stout defense helped make PBI, the youngest team at IPC, a contender in every 20-goal tournament they joined. But with polo, you can’t rest on your laurels.
Tommy Collingwood defending against Lucas Criado of Orchard Hill in the Joe Barry Memorial.
Photo by Abigail Duffy
“Polo moves around throughout the year,” said Collingwood, talking on the migratory nature of the game. “You have to go to where the polo is; if you don’t, you can’t be at their [the top players] level.”
Following his time with PBI, Collingwood played 12- and 16-goal tournaments at Grand Champions Polo Club, also in Wellington, winning the inaugural Santa Rita Abierto 16-Goal Tournament with Goose Creek, and the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament with Palm Beach Equine. “That was a good month,” Collingwood mused.
After that, it was off to Ocala for 12-goal in April before heading west to Santa Barbara for summer high-goal polo, playing with the 20-goal Lucchese Polo Team. “That was an amazing experience,” Collingwood remembered with enthusiasm. “I played with some amazing players. It’s the highest competitive level of polo you can play in the summer in the U.S., and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to do that.”
Tommy Collingwood (blue helmet) defending against Vills de Lago/Casablanca’s Iñaki Laprida in the Herbie Pennell Cup.
Photo by Alex Pacheco
Along with seven-goal handicap Jeff Hall, sponsor John Muse, and nine-goal Sapo Caset, who, consequently, was just raised to 10-goals, Lucchese won the USPA Silver Cup, and lost in the finals of the Pacific Coast Open. The chance to play with some of the best in the game, against some of the best in the game, and succeed, was an experience Collingwood relishes. “Playing with Magoo Laprida [on PBI] and Sapo Caset this summer…these are smart players on the field, you have to adapt to them to make the whole team work.”
Rounding out his polo migration with stops in South Africa, Alabama and Houston, he then headed to Argentina in November to practice with the Alegría Polo Team in preparation for the 2015 season at IPC. We spoke with Collingwood to get a sense of what the upcoming polo season will bring for team PBI and what he gained from his year on the polo circuit.
What’s your goal for the 2015 IPC season?
My goal for the season is to be in the best shape I can be, play the best polo I can—have a good string of horses and to be playing the best in handicap and more. If I am rated a five right now, I’m trying to compete with the six and sevens—that’s where I’m pointed. And if I get raised to that, I want to be better than the eights. It gives me a drive.
Where do you find your drive?
My parents, sister…they have sacrificed so much for me to become something in this sport, I can’t just throw that away. So it is really important for me to succeed in this. I love it, it’s a passion, but I am so hungry…I am so happy with everything I have accomplished so far, but it’s not even close to what I want to be.
What did you learn from this past year on the circuit?
This past season taught me a lot in the playing sense. When you are playing high-level polo, everything becomes so much clearer. There are so many things you can do differently to make a complicated play simple and an easy play even easier. It’s all about keeping your head cool and play it chukker by chukker. Polo is a long game; you are not going to win it in the first two or three chukkers. Keeping mentally cool while your body hot and aggressive, never losing your head, that’s the main thing I learned. I have seen a lot of polo players lose their head, and a game, in a matter of a few minutes.
This past year was a big change for me. It opened my eyes a lot more, honestly showed me how much your horses matter. If you are playing on a mediocre horse, you aren’t going anywhere. It pushes me. I want to get the best jobs because that’s where you can make more money, which means you can buy better horses. That’s the truth.
How is your stable of polo ponies looking right now?
I usually bring 12 for the Florida season. I am happy with my string. There is always room to improve but I have a base of six horses that are really nice. These are horses that you put a lot of time into; invest a lot of money into. Basically, with me, all the money I make in polo goes straight into horses; I am looking at the long term.