Ripples of change are percolating through the world of American polo, and the epicenter of that change can be found here in Wellington. Carlucho Arellano, the executive director of services for the United States Polo Association (USPA), is focused on making a big and positive impact on polo in the U.S.
Arellano is not interested in being a polo dignitary, who appears in photos and is seen at ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Instead, he wants to aggressively expand the polo universe in the U.S., which currently has roughly 5,800 polo players.
Arellano has been on the job for almost a year, and he hasn’t stopped promoting, publicizing and playing the sport since he took the position.
Of course, it’s also important to realize that Arellano is not an outsider with wild dreams and unrealistic expectations. His life is firmly entrenched in the sport and has been for years. “I started in the sport by grooming horses and cleaning out stalls,” Arellano said.
He was then given a chance to ride and play — and he hasn’t stopped.
Arellano was the Intercollegiate Player of the Year in 2000 while a student at the University of Virginia, and he has played several times in the U.S. Open Polo Championships. He remains active in the sport.
“I can still play, be competitive, and mix it up,” said the 40-year-old Arellano, who is currently a five-goaler.
It’s accurate to say that Arellano can “walk the walk and talk the talk.” During a recent interview, Arellano said that he has three main goals that he wants to achieve while serving in his current role with the USPA.
Firstly, he wants to get more young people playing polo. Secondly, he intends to put more emphasis on tournament play. Thirdly, he’s focused on raising the level of safety in the sport.
Along the way, he would like the U.S. to become the number one polo country in the world. Currently, Argentina rules the roost in world polo, while the U.S. and England are neck-and-neck for number two in the world.
In Argentina, polo is a way of life, where families have a legacy in the sport, he explained. Arellano is committed to bringing that same passion to the U.S.
To achieve that objective, he is working to boost interest in the sport from two different angles: from the grassroots up and from the top tier down.
At the grassroots level, Arellano is working to create more polo schools where the sport can be properly taught and developed.
“We are also in touch with more private polo families and private farms to get them involved in promoting the growth of our sport,” Arellano said.
While polo is known to be an expensive sport to play, Arellano counters by saying that it doesn’t take a big bank account to show an interest in the sport and learn to play, as he and his polo-playing brother Julio did.
Both were born in Nicaragua, but raised in Wellington, where they took care of horses, groomed them and fed them. “We did not have the same means we had in Nicaragua, so my brothers and I had to work hard if we wanted to play polo,” Arellano said.
Arellano explained how he and his associates at the USPA are working with American polo greats such as Adam Snow, Tommy Wayman and Mike Azzaro on having them sharing their expertise with young, talented, up-and-coming polo players.
According to Arellano, all three are great role models who are willing to share their knowledge, skills and experience with the next generation of American polo enthusiasts.
At polo events in Wellington, announcers are being trained to inform and educate those in attendance about what is happening on the field. Arellano explained that you can’t assume that everybody in attendance at a polo match truly understands what is taking place on the field and why.
“Every day, we are busy planting seeds of growth,” he stressed.
Another area of the sport that shows strong promise is with women’s polo. “Women’s polo is exploding,” Arellano said. “We have several great female polo players in the U.S.”
Arellano also noted that the USPA is updating and modernizing many of its instructional and educational videos, which people watch to learn about the sport.
At the top of the sport, Arellano wants to make the great events even better.
“I want to bring more prestige to our tournaments by having more prize money and getting more publicity and exposure,” Arellano said. “I really want to lift the quality of the sport.”
The three big events which he intends to make bigger are the C.V. Whitney Cup, the Gold Cup and the U.S. Open. All three events are contested in Wellington. The C.V. Whitney runs from Feb. 16 until early March, the Gold Cup takes place throughout most of March and the U.S. Open is held in April and concludes on April 21 to culminate the season.
The USPA is a sponsor of the new Gauntlet of Polo program that highlights these three tournaments by providing additional prize money.
Arellano is proud of the fact that every team entered into the U.S. Open this year has at least one American player on the squad.
Another feather in polo’s cap is getting CBS Sports to televise highlights from the finals of the U.S. Open, as it did last year. “It will probably be a 90-minute special,” Arellano said.
As for the issue of safety, by June 2020, all polo players will be required to wear a helmet that meets a certain minimum safety level, as determined by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), which creates performance standards for safety gear in other sports, such as football, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey and ice hockey.
“We must raise the level of safety in the sport,” Arellano said.
As he approaches his one-year anniversary at the USPA, Arellano’s main goal is to, “gain the confidence of all polo clubs that I am committed to improving the sport.”
As time moves on, there’s one thing that Arellano would like to see happen, which will confirm that his grand plan is working.
“I want to still be the executive director when we have our next American 10-goaler,” Arellano said.
That sounds like the dream of a man on a mission.