Argentina’s Female Polo Player Challenges Status Quo

FATIMA, ARGENTINA — In the male dominated world of polo, it takes a strong woman to shake up the status quo.

But in Argentina, a country renowned its for high standards in polo playing, one woman is doing just that.

In September of this year, 29 year old Lia Salvo held her trophy high as she became the first Argentinian female polo player to ever share the field with renowned male players.

With the help of the world’s number one polo player Adolfo Cambiaso, the La Dolfina – El Paso team won 16 to 12 against La Aguada.

It was the first tournament of Argentina‘s polo season, which runs from September to December.

“I hope that this means a lot for all the women who play polo in Argentina and in any part of the world. This can be done. You have to keep playing, practicing and surpass yourself every day. We’re positioning ourselves well in polo,” says Lia Salvo.

Lia plays several times a week at the Pilara Golf Polo and Tennis Club, 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of the capital Buenos Aires.

She confidently hits the ball down the polo field with the men following behind her.

She has a two handicap in the male category and a nine handicap in female polo. She is considered the best female polo player in Argentina.

A horse rider from the age of four, Lia started hitting the polo ball when she was just ten years old.

She made her first appearance at a professional club in Buenos Aires at 14 with other female players.

Her father, a former polo player, pays close attention to her technique from the side of the field.

“Stop (the ball) and move it backward,” shouts Hector Salvo.

Out of 40 polo players in this club, only three or four are women.

“Maybe (Argentina) is a macho society that has taken time to accept us, women. This has led to the fact there are still few women (playing polo). Also, there wasn’t that much interest before among women (in playing polo) as today. There are lot of polo players’ daughters who are playing,” says Lia.

Lia moves to Fatima town, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, for the polo season every year.

She carefully chooses her polo mallet before her training. It should be neither too stiff, nor too flexible.

She has played in global tournaments in the US, Europe and Asia and is one of the very few female polistas, as polo players are known in Spanish, to be sponsored by international brands.

Polo remains a male dominated sport in the South American nation.

The 10-goalers of the internationally renowned La Dolfina team are under the spotlight at the Tortugas Open today.

It is one of the three games of the prestigious Triple Crown, a one of the most important polo tournaments.

For legendary Adolfo Cambiaso, inviting Lia Salvo to play with famed male players was meant to foster change in the sport.

“(Lia) already has nine goals in Argentina. She is one of the best (polo) players we have in our country. Thanks to her, there has been growth in female polo. She is an important ambassador for the sport,” he says.

His teammate Juan Martin Nero, one of the best players on the field, is confident about the future of women’s polo.

“Polo has always seemed to be a sport for guys but people are realising that women can compete. They have to motivate themselves. Female polo has grown a lot in Argentina and in the rest of the world,” he says.

To play an active part in this change on the polo scene, Lia is dedicated to increase the visibility of female players.

With her father, they buy, breed and train polo horses specially for women.

These stallions have softer mouths and are easier to handle with a mallet in hand, says Lia.

She also helps find tournaments in Argentina for international female players.

The polo aficionado devotes her time to her four-legged companions all year long.

She makes sure the stables function properly and her horses are in shape and well fed.

For her, a woman’s ideal polo horse doesn’t have to be slower or weaker. They just need different features and qualities.

“I’m convinced that horses for female (polo players) need to be much more “complete” because they need to be much more sensitive and have a big mouth. The ability to start racing quickly is fundamental. (The horse) doesn’t have to be very light but it needs to be light on a few metres. This will help a female (polo) player to measure up to men (polo players),” says Lia.

Argentina is known for its horse breeding and for its players’ prowess in polo.

In this vast country trainers, known as petisos, care for horses from dawn to dusk.

Whilst one man wraps a horse’s leg with a bandage to protect it, another one brushes and ties up the animal’s tail.

For Ricardo Hughes, the president of Pilara Golf Polo and Tennis Club, Argentina‘s geography has all the perfect components to nurture polo champions.

“(Argentina) has flat lands so it’s easy to make polo fields. There are lots of horses. There are a lot of horse tamers and trainers. This has led to Argentina‘s supremacy internationally (in the polo world), over the United Kingdom, the United States and France,” he says.

While she dreams of having her name remembered among the polo greats, Lia Salvo is also committed to having more women take up the polo mallet in her country.

This video was produced exclusively for The Associated Press in October 2016. It was released on November 5, 2016. Click here to watch it. If the link does not work, search: ARGENTINA FEMALE POLO

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