The BLOG: Lifestyle

Leaping barriers with the Wellesley polo team

Legend has it Winston Churchill once said: “There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” Wellesley College students agree with the sentiment, but as they tell the “tail,” horses are good for women as well.

The women of Wellesley have a long history of trailblazing. A few of their many notable alumni include, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (1959), movie screenwriter Nora Ephron (1962), journalist Diane Sawyer (1967) and former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (1969).

Kelsey Brooke Burhans’ sweet demeanor and long blond mane compliment her academically rigorous ambitions as she pursues a double major of International Relations-Economics with Chinese language and literature. Like her accomplished predecessors, galloping into big projects isn’t new for this gal.

As a high school student, Kelsey spearhead development of a squash team. Little did she know the challenges of organizing a sport, establishing its charter and finding team members to play while satisfying academic expectations would be a path she’d follow again in college.

(Courtesy of Wellesley Polo)

(Courtesy of Wellesley Polo)

Last October she began coordinating efforts to add polo to the athletic profile of Wellesley. Her enthusiasm for the sport sparked an idea to approach the head coach of Boston Polo. To her surprise, Mark Tashjian suggested a “grand and seemingly unattainable goal” of organizing a US Polo Association-sanctioned team.

Campus emails and meetings confirmed an interested group of women were eager to participate in this sport that teaches as many life lessons as it does equestrian skills. A long series of bureaucratic disappointments, injuries, and lack of official status foreshadowed a fall from the high hopes of being granted fully sanctioned recognition by both Wellesley College and the USPA.

Refusing to be thrown from their goals, the girls, with Tashjian’s support, remained committed to practicing and playing without official status. The women of Wellesley made it known to polo teams at Brown, Harvard, and Yale they’d be interested in competing. Without hesitation the unsponsored, rag-tag team of Wellesley women, with widely disparate riding abilities, were wholeheartedly welcomed to a new playing field of collegiate completion.

Yet to win a match, the women of Wellesley continue to practice the skills necessary to become competitive in polo and in life. Tashjian, a former polo player at UConn, infuses his coaching with ideals that go beyond the dirt-covered ring. By design his drills encourage ambition, acceptance of hard bumps, and the rewards of picking yourself up fearlessly after a fall. His constant reminders “not to worry, just go for it,” “knowing who has your back,” and reliance on intuition when you feel corralled are intentionally part of his teaching mantra. With every prompt, Tashjian reiterates the psychology of trying.

The coach is aware he’s mentoring future legends of the arts, business, law, politics and science. He stands in the practice arena encouraging teammates to sit taller, speak up, and step over crap. He sees their leadership skills increase with every pivot. Viscerally the women change as they learn to push their giant partners to ride faster and play harder with them.

Parents, coaches, and anyone who’s ever mentored a pee wee, high school or collegiate-level player has had a sideline seat to the innumerable and transferable lessons taught through sports. All sports begin with the spark of an idea, harness organizational thinking, and enhance the essential skill-set required to live a successful life. The best plays will always be made with the aggregates of ambition, imagination, tenacity, and teamwork.

For this team, psychological lessons of polo will transcend the arena. The horse sense of their time together staying focused, with a sense of humor and humility in victory, but more importantly in loss, will be a lasting reward. For them, for all of us, sweating, getting dirty, and embracing risk while charging full speed ahead is the ultimate goal, paying long-term dividends well past the W.

For more information contact, email [email protected], call 508-735-6416.