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Fiesta Kings Cup aims to make polo more than just the ‘sport of kings’

Polo players and their horses during the 2024 Fiesta Kings Cup at the San Antonio Polo Club
Lily Brennan
Polo players and their horses during the 2024 Fiesta Kings Cup at the San Antonio Polo Club

Fiesta is the 11-day party offering more than 100 events, from parades to street fairs. Among them is the Fiesta Kings Cup, an annual polo tournament held by a club with more than 130 years of history.

Every year since about 1902, there has been a polo match during Fiesta. Today, the San Antonio Polo Club carries on the tradition. The Club is a member operated non profit located on Specht Road near Camp Bullis. It aspires to take what is widely known as a sport for the elite and make it accessible to all.

“We have players, all the way from Houston. Some players from Mexico. Players from Argentina. But a lot of local players too,” said Ursula Pari, president of the San Antonio Polo Club.

The club has been in operation since the 1880s, making it one of the oldest polo clubs in Texas. Each year, the club hosts teams of local and international players to compete for Fiesta fans.

“We try to make this an opportunity for polo players to practice their sport, their hobby, in front of a crowd. So we will fill this place up, have delicious food, drinks, wine, entertainment, silent auction. But the main thing is to keep [people aware of the] whole sport of polo … educate them about it,” she said.

Field polo is played with three riders per team on a stretch of land equivalent to about nine football fields. The game is broken up into six seven-minute periods known as chukkas.

Each team works together to move the ball — about the size of a baseball — across the field by hitting the small target with their mallet, which can only be held in the right hand.

Polo ponies can reach a top speed of 35 miles per hour. Scoring happens when the four inch polo ball hits between two field goals in the ground.

The UTSA Marching band can be seen in the Fiesta Flambeau Parade on Saturday. It and Friday's Battle of Flowers Parade follow the same route from San Antonio College to the Alamo and past City Hall.

Like many Fiesta celebrations, the profits from this cup enable the San Antonio Polo Club to give back to the community.

“It underwrites free polo for our girls at Trinity University,” Pari said. “It provides free polo for our high school teams, our middle schoolers. It keeps our lessons super cheap for little ones that want to learn how to play and also [for] people looking for a new hobby.”

That includes sponsoring, coaching, and creating matches. The group’s assistant coach, Callan Harrison, competed in the 2024 Fiesta Kings Cup on Saturday. She said it helps new players access the game.

“We take girls who have ridden or even have not ridden horses before, and we got them out there playing polo, and it's just a great opportunity to cater to people that have expressed interest before, or just have had no idea about it in the past,” Harrison said.

Sean Azarro, another one of this year’s competitors, called himself a lifelong player. He said the game involves more than one mind.

“Polo is an amazing sport because it's two athletes. It's not just one,” he said. There's a horse and a rider — and professionals. They'll all tell you the horse is 70 to 80% of the game. That's what's so special about it and for beginners. … You're learning to connect with another personality.”

Other sporting events during Fiesta include a gold tournament, track meets and even kayaking. Evangelina Flores, former president of the Fiesta Commission, said this cup highlighted the diversity of sports in San Antonio.

“I believe that the more exposure we have in San Antonio to a variety of sports, the better,” she said. ”Polo is certainly something that is not very common to most of us, because it requires a certain skill. It requires taking care of some exquisite animals … it requires where to keep them and a little bit more maintenance. But at the same time, I think it brings great value to our city.”

This year’s cup brought in an audience of about 200 attendees, and with it, new chances to change polo’s reputation from the sport of kings into the sport for all.

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Lily Brennan is a junior Communications major and Creative Writing minor at Trinity University. She is co-editor for the Trinity Review, the university’s student literary magazine, the vice president of the Trinity University Polo Team, and an intern at Trinity University Press. Off campus, she is an intern with Texas Public Radio and Global Polo.