Michigan State student polo club unites experienced and newbie horse lovers
Polo is a global sport, and increasingly, more colleges are adding clubs and programs. MSU’s polo crowd finds its fix at the Pavillion.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State is home to the Breslin Center, Spartan Stadium, Jenison Fieldhouse, and many more. All of these places host many of the mainstream sports on campus.
Another spot on campus, the Pavillion, is also hosting some significant sporting events - for the MSU club polo team.
Originating from the Central Asian Origin, a ball game played on horseback, where six athletes, three from each team, go head to head in scoring a goal, using only a mallet. Michigan State added a polo team back in 2002 a student organization. The team is broken up into three sections, club, JV and Varsity.
President Nicole Kemnitz plays for Varsity and has been a part of MSU polo all four years of college. She first learned about the polo team at the University’s annual Sparticipation event, an opportunity for new students to get involved with clubs and organizations on campus.
“They told me this would be the most fun you will have on a horse, and I said ‘Sign me up,” said Kemnitz.
There are 20 club members, who practice once a week at the pavilion and the JV is made up of six women who train twice a week, playing scrimmages against each other. Varsity has a total of 5 women who travel around the country and play in various tournaments and arenas.
Most members of the polo team had little to no experience prior to coming to MSU. However, most come from horse riding backgrounds, and wanted to continue riding one way or another. The team also offers lessons and training for those who have no experience.
“I've been riding for a long long time,” said Kemnitz. “I grew up trail riding with my cousin when I was three years old, and I kind of spiraled from there.”
In polo, the horses are referred to as “ponies”. Michigan State has 15 ponies on property, 10 are owned by MSU polo, and five are leased. Polo ponies last longer in their careers than other horse disciplines, because of the way they are taken care of.
“The great thing about polo horses is that they are treated like really high level athletes, so their bodies, their exercise is taken care of to a ‘T’ their whole life, because it's such a demanding sport, and they are taken care of extremely well, in terms of horses,” said Kemnitz.
Their season is in both the fall and spring semesters, and every pony participates in practices and scrimmages. Much like hockey, the game is played in periods, called chukkers - lasting anywhere from six to seven minutes depending on the team's level.
MSU polo, as a student club, is not funded by Michigan State. Funding is through member fees, donations, and sponsorships. On average, a polo pony costs close to $50,000, plus feed, board, and vet care expenses. Member dues are paid monthly and cover a small chunk of these costs..
“The scale for us, our expenses on a monthly basis push around the $6,000 to $7,000 mark, and that's at the peak of winter, when we use the most stuff,” said Kemnitz. “That just board, and feed, and stuff like that to take care of them at a base level.”
Compared to other universities, like Yale and University of Connecticut, MSU polo is small on the scale, when referring to finances. These schools have more sponsorships and larger support communities bringing in more donations for their teams. Madeline Frie, JV team member and fundraising co-chair, is in charge of finding new avenues to bring in money.
“We have our dues, but we can’t really live off of our dues alone, especially because we are intercollegiate and have to pay to compete in the USPA (United States Polo Association),” said Frie.
Fundraising has been a big component for team revenue. They host events such as Polo at the Pavillion to reach outside of the community and gain support.
“We have a full exhibition match, we also play against our coaches,” said Frie. “People buy tickets and we sell merchandise. We do all these fun things, where people can meet the ponies afterwards, and it’s definitely our biggest fundraiser.”
Funding for the club and horses is not the only expenses polo athletes have. Their equipment, which is most important for their safety and regulations, is also a hefty price. Each team member is responsible for their own gear.
“Polo boots and knee guards range from $100 to $200, and our helmets range from $700 to $800,” said Kemnitz.
These helmets are made specifically for the sport. In terms of protection, they are rated higher than football helmets and have special attributes needed for competition.
Members, like Nicole and Madeline, are in charge of bringing their own equipment, finding revenue to keep the club afloat, and taking care of the ponies every morning and night. Although it is incredibly hard work, these two could not imagine college differently, so much so, they never want to stop.
“After this, I have no idea, I'd like to stay in the horse world ideally, I don't know if it will still be polo but at the end of the day it will always be horses, polo or not,” said Kemnitz.
Resources to donate to the club as well as upcoming fundraising events can be found on the team’s Facebook page or website: Michigan State University polo club