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Changing Tides in Collegiate Polo

COVID-19 brought Interscholastic and Intercollegiate Polo to a screeching halt. How are teams planning for an uncertain future? 

Elle Chrysler Polo Contributor

A year ago, not many would have believed what would transpire in 2020. Life, as we knew it, has changed forever. When events, schools and businesses shut down, Interscholastic and Intercollegiate (I/I) Polo was not spared by the coronavirus, and, unfortunately, seasons came to a sudden end as teams were separated indefinitely. 

Members of various I/I programs shared with Polo Lifestyles how they are dealing with the ongoing situation, what it was like to go through the abrupt turn of events, what their plans are for the future and the advice that they had for other programs going through the same circumstances. 

For the first installation of this focus on I/I polo, Yale University’s Elizabeth Brayboy provided her insights. Brayboy is a well-known and respected member of the polo community. Her titles include alumni advisor, Yale Polo Board president and former Garrison Forest coach. In our conversation, she shared the effects of social distancing and stay-at-home orders on their program, as well as plans for going forward.

EC: When the lockdowns were first issued, what transpired, and how has the suspension of the season impacted members of the team?

EB: “Of the three programs at Yale, the intercollegiate team was the most significantly impacted. They were away for spring break and basically told not to come back. This all occurred right before the men’s intercollegiate team was scheduled to play in the USPA regional tournament at Cornell. The team was just about to ship horses out when the tournament was officially called off. The players were disappointed to not finish their season but understood that it was necessary because of the circumstances.”

“From the intercollegiate team’s perspective, they were not gearing up for a tournament. The season was over for the most part, but they lost an additional month that they could have continued to play.”

EC: How has it changed how you operate?

EB: “The biggest issue for the program has been a loss of revenue. Normally, Yale would have active programs going with 30 horses to the middle of April and then 10 horses between April and May before ramping things back up again for summer polo. Due to COVID-19, the program decided to reduce costs by turning out most of the horses. The team took two shipments of horses to a farm in Virginia, leaving only 10 horses at the Yale barn in turnouts. 

EC: What are some of your concerns going forward with the operation of your team?

EB: “The Yale program has gone through a scenario modeling process, in which they looked at five different outcomes. The board will be talking through the models and using them to make plans for the program moving forward. They looked at reopening dates of June 1, July 1, August 1, and an additional scenario based on the [students] not returning in the fall. The board modeled out what the cost implications would be for each scenario and how they would need to respond. Would workers need to be furloughed? What would the program do with the horses? The biggest question for our program and everybody at this point is, ‘When do we come back?’”

EC: How have you dealt with funding your club during this crisis?

EB: “We were solid going into this – not that we can run without revenue for a long time – but we were okay. We did apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. The PPP requires a lot of paperwork. You submit all of your payroll information from federal and state filings; you show that you paid unemployment compensation, etc. We were in a good place because we have a great accountant. They were able to pull the work very quickly to submit the PPP application the Monday after the loan process opened. Yale Polo shortly after heard that the application had been submitted and approved by the SBA. The next step will take about 10 days for the bank to do the paperwork and complete the loan origination, and then ideally, we should see the funds in our account. All in all, it has been about a three-week process by the time that it is done.”

EC: Do you have advice for other programs?

EB: “Having your paperwork organized and easy to access made a big difference in helping our program to secure a PPP loan. Avoid taking shortcuts because they can be costly later.”


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