Friday, June 7, 2019

Polo With a Purpose: Interview with Chip McKenney

Last summer, I came across a short press release about the Gay Polo League, an organization that uses the sport of polo as a means to promote inclusion and support for those in the LGBT+ community. The League’s established team of polo players leverage their visibility in the name of acceptance. I was instantly intrigued, and when the stars aligned, I reached out to GPL's founder, Chip McKenney, for an interview.


It actually took another two articles before I decided to jump on this topic. In September, The Plaid Horse published Making the Horse World a Safe Space for LGBTQ Equestrians where Jess Clawson elaborates on their experience being queer in the sport. Not too soon after, I had the pleasure of reading L Williams' article Dear USEF: You Have a Representation Problem. I've griped about representation previously, but this was my first time seeing the topic discussed on such a popular platform. Both articles gave me a sense of pride, but, more importantly, they made me feel more powerful. By sharing their perspectives, Jess and L have opened the door for others to do the same. Consider this my first contribution.

Chip was happy to elaborate on his experiences in the equestrian sport. He grew up riding in the hunters, jumpers, and equitation in his youth and took time to ride for a sales barn after graduating high school. After taking a break from the sport, he came back at age 27 and rode in the jumpers until his 50s, only stopping after one of his horses became injured. It was at that point that he says he reconsidered what he was doing in life and wanted to pursue something different.

Chip in the jumpers
After retiring from the jumpers, Chip tried polo at the advice of a friend and immediately fell in love. When I asked what made polo unique, he relayed that young gay men rarely have the opportunity to participate in popular team sports such as football, soccer, baseball, and the like. While there are no physical barriers, the lack of acceptance for feminine traits in these hyper-masculine activities creates a toxic environment. This especially impacts young gay boys who want to participate and encourages them to either stay closeted or not play at all.

Chip founded Gay Polo League as a way to address his own experiences with exclusion. While he says that he has not felt out of place in the equestrian sport specifically, polo has helped him successfully promote diversity, inclusion, and acceptance with the aid of a few good horses.


This past April, GPL celebrated the 10 year anniversary of its International Gay Polo Tournament, the only gay polo tournament hosted in North America. As a newly established non-profit, they have been able to streamline their donations in support of local LGBT+ groups. They primarily work with Compass, a community center dedicated to helping at risk youth, and Sage, a group that advocates for LGBT+ seniors.

In our conversation, Chip described his team as playing polo with a purpose. While the players are mostly adults, he hopes GPL can encourage young people, especially athletes, to find comfort in being open about their sexuality. LGBT+ individuals should not feel pressured to hide essential parts of who they are just to ensure that they will be treated with respect. You can be powerful and athletic and successful without shielding your identity.


If you want to see the Gay Polo League in action, you can visit their annual polo clinic around Thanksgiving. I will absolutely share more details as the date approaches. For those who are inclined to travel internationally, the team will be playing in Windsor in September then India in October. This will be India’s very first gay polo tournament, and it is exciting to see this type of progress happening across the globe!

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All photos are used with permission from Gay Polo League & Chip McKenney

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Goals & all that hogwash

Prior to starting this blog, I didn't set many goals related to horses. I always had a general idea of what I wanted to accomplish, mainly relating to shows, but it was always vague. As I was scrolling through older posts, I realized that I've wanted to show at 3' for over four years now, and that stung a little. As a matter of fact, most of my competitive goals have remained unaccomplished after ending on a high in 2014. Regular breaks in my riding have also made it more difficult to progress, both physically and mentally.

I still have dreams about this horse
With this in mind, I'm treading lightly with goals at the moment. As a matter of fact, these goals are just for the next two months during which I'm almost certain that I'll be in regular lessons (key word is almost).

Go to a show

Literally any show. My preferences are limited. I would like to jump mainly because I can't justify spending money on the Dressage tests when I'm not seriously competitive in Dressage at the moment. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable over a fence and can actually think about my position. Next test would be to see if I can do the same thing under slightly more stress. If this one doesn't work out, a clinic would be a fine replacement, and an Eventing trainer might be the best option at the moment.


Get into a doable fitness routine

I've slipped over the past year, but most of that is because of my mental health. Working out is a double edged sword because it does make me feel better 90% of the time. I over do it the other 10% of the time, and it creates a cycle of self hatred when I miss a day or can't do something or feel like my routine isn't intense enough or don't see the results I want or . . . or . . . or . . . Virtually anything can upset me. It's really fun.

One hour post work out & one moment pre publishing this post
Fix my wrists

More on this later

Get a new saddle

Ye olde Mortiz has always had a not quite right fit on me. On the flip side, its shape makes it super versatile on a lot of horses, which is why I've kept it for so long. I also really like how flat and not bulky it is. It makes me feel like I'm actually putting in an effort instead of relying on blocks and "grippy" leather to keep me stable. The only notable issue is the flap shape, and I might actually spring for another Moritz if I can find one. They have a good life time, and I would hate to lose the versatility.

I also really like how it looks & don't wanna change
Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Fin

All things come to an end at some point. This isn't quite the end, but it feels like I've turned to the first page of the last chapter.

Last week was my final lesson with the IHSA team. It came after three days of final assignments and exams. On top of that, the past few weeks have been emotionally exhausting. It sucks to say that I was feeling empty when I got picked up and didn't really want to ride at all.


We're always given the option to pick the horse for our last ride of the semester. It doesn't always work out how we want, but our Coach does her best to accommodate our desires. Most people had their last lesson on the horse they rode for their first lesson. Y'all know who I rode for my first lesson?


Twinkles. No shade to my team's blonde haired beauty, but I still wanted a challenge for my last ride, so I chose Twister. He's the only horse that I had yet to ride for a full lesson, so it felt like a fitting way to close things out.

He got a long turn out that day so was a bit tired and lazy. It took quite a few kicks to get him going and then to get him going in the right direction. I felt decent on him. It was just hard to make him do anything. The canter transitions were especially dodgy. That being said, Coach had plenty of good things to say. Sure we were slow, but we were put together, and he Twisty didn't seem bothered at all by me swinging a leg over.


Jumping was shockingly better than flatting. He's usually a wierdo to jump. Legs go up and down obnoxiously and his head comes up as if he's about to take the biggest, grand prix oxer. For reference, we don't jump over 2'0" in our lessons.

Exhibit A
The horses have all been a bit aggressive about taking fences going towards the gate. It's just what happens when we start going outside. Twisty was cool, calm, and collected when we popped over a crossrail going towards the gate and offered a nice simple change afterwards. We got over a vertical very nicely afterwards.

We also went over the sunshine jump a couple times. First time was great. Second time, which was the final fence of my IHSA career, was not as hot. I guess it's not surprise that I never made it past Advanced WTC.
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