Polo Players Edition

JAN 2019

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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POLO P L A Y E R S E D I T I O N 31 As the oldest son of one of the best polo players of all time, Carlitos Gracida grew up around horses and polo. While others may see it as a novelty, for Carlitos and his brother, Mariano, it was all they knew. "I loved the horses, so for me that is something that I always enjoyed. It was always a part of my life so for me, home is the barn ... just being here with the horses and the dogs," he explained. "This is what makes me feel at home because homes always changed for us." Carlitos' father, Carlos Gracida, reached a 10-goal handicap by the time he was 25 years old and held onto it for 15 years. He won nine U.S. Opens, five Argentine Opens and 10 British Opens. On three separate occasions he won the U.S., British and Argentine Opens in the same year, something no other player has accomplished. At the height of his career, in 1994, not only did he win Opens in three different countries, but he also won the Argentinean Triple Crown. That year, he was the only foreigner to ever win Most Valuable Player in the Argentine Open. Carlos Gracida was also known for his incredible horses. Always willing to learn more, he studied under famed horse trainer Monty Roberts, and in 2012 he was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts to eliminate violence in the training of horses. While Carlos was a highly-respected international polo star, for Carlitos he was just dad, and their polo lifestyle was nothing out of the ordinary to him. "It was just our life. ... I still don't know any different," explained Carlitos. Carlos passed along his love of horses to his two sons. The boys began riding by the time they were 3 or 4. He taught them to ride and care for horses and had them learn from others as well. "He taught me what he knew from his father as well as what he learned on his own," said Carlitos. "We also did dressage lessons with [polo player] Joel Baker's wife, Charlotte; I did vaulting growing up; and ... spent a lot of time with Monty Roberts. "I learned you can always improve on your horsemanship and see what's best for the horse with different ways to approach it," explained Carlitos. With an open mind, he was able to take in a lot, even getting the most out of dressage lessons to learn about different aspects of horsemanship. "[The dressage lessons] taught us a lot," he said. "It taught us to slow down what we were doing and focus on little movements and little things that you maybe don't think about as a polo rider. Monty taught us that any relationship is mental and there always has to be a boundary of respect and space. It has to be enjoyable for both of us so I have to enjoy it and the horse has to enjoy it." Carlitos says he tries to apply the things he has heard and seen through those experiences by replaying them in his mind. Once they were comfortable on a horse, the boys began stick and balling with their dad and eventually playing. When Carlitos was 15, he got an opportunity to play in the 2006 U.S. Open, filling in for Kevin Mokarow, who reinjured his groin in the first chukker of the Mokarow Farm team's first game. The team included his dad, his Hall-of- Fame uncle, Memo and Temmy Willington. At the time, Carlitos called it the biggest game of his life but today he admits he wasn't that focused on polo then. "I was going to school and doing other sports as well. At that time, it was just part of my life, it was just there," he said. It wasn't until he finished high school that he began to take polo more serously. In the Open game, his dad was nervous for him, telling reporter Sharon Robb after the game, "I was very nervous for Carlitos, because he is still very green, and to come in the U.S. Open against one of the best teams was asking a lot. I didn't want to push him because he is my son. I was thinking if we lost, I hope he doesn't quit polo. But I am very happy, he did very well." The team went as far as the semifinals. Over the years, Carlitos and Mariano got to play a lot with their dad, who imparted a lot of polo wisdom on them. "He would always tell me, 'it's a difficult sport, so you have to simplify it and not make it so difficult. It's already difficult GABRIELLE STODD

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