By Lauren R. Giannini
Loreto Natividad takes his passion for polo very seriously. His all-out commitment to polo is a recurring theme among members of Team USPA who all agree that whatever challenges crop up, it’s totally worth every effort to play polo.
“One challenge has been maturing as an adult and understanding that polo is not a walk in the park,” said Loreto, who turned 20 in March. “There are lots of things necessary to being a professional — taking care of your horses, maintenance of your truck and trailer, and insurance. You have to put in a lot of long days and late nights. It’s not so much quantity as it is playing quality polo that improves your game.”
Playing with and against better players is often cited as the best way to improve your game. High-goal players have one thought — to get the ball and score. That kind of polo, played fast with enthusiastic bumping and riding off opponents, is the ultimate in sport.
“When you get the opportunity to play, you have to be ready to go,” said Loreto, who spent part of January in California, playing 4-goal polo, then headed east to Palm Beach, Florida, where he was working in conjunction with his father showing horses for sale. “The goal was to sell some horses, pay some bills and find another gig,” he said. “I have my horses ready to go wherever polo takes me. If a gig doesn’t happen, I can go home to Midland, Texas, where I’m set up and can work on my green horses. I’m always doing something. I’m not one to sit on the couch.”
His father, Ernesto Natividad, got Loreto hooked on polo as a young boy. “Seeing how happy my father was playing this amazing sport made me want the same happiness,” he said. “I learned so much about polo and horses from my father, but the biggest lesson he taught me is that the best things in life that come to you are what you have earned; that if you work hard, you will progress. Hard work got me where I am now.
“I’m very fortunate,” he continued. “My mother Leticia is a very good rider, and my father was 3-goal and played as a professional for 15 years. Harley Stimmel, of Midland Polo Club in Texas, has been a good coach and gives me advice whenever I need it and I always listen to what the professionals say.”
Career highlights so far include winning the USPA Interscholastic National Championship in 2009 and playing on the winning team in 2013 with Jared Sheldon (3), Cholo Donovan (5) and Shane Finemore (-1) in the 8-goal tournament at Mashomack Polo Club in Red Hook, New York.
“My most memorable moment was traveling to Argentina from January to March 2014 and experiencing their culture and polo firsthand,” said Loreto. “Having the opportunity to practice and learn from some of polo’s greats was really life-changing.”
His ideal dream team includes himself playing number 1 with Facundo Pieres, Argentine 10-handicap professional, at 2; Adolfo Cambiaso, rated 10, Argentine and possibly the best player in the world, at 3; and Julio Arellano, 9-handicap and top-ranked American polo player, at 4.
Loreto, currently rated 2 in arena and 1 on grass, has set himself the goal of becoming one of the best polo players and playing in both the Argentine and the U.S. Open.
The best horse he ever played was a gray Thoroughbred mare named Mona Lisa. “We picked this mare up when she was 6 as a semi-made horse,” said Loreto. “After realizing she had a clubfoot and shoeing her accordingly, it took only about a month for her to make a great polo pony.”
His string includes 12 made horses and six green ones, primarily mares that are either Thoroughbred or Appendix-bred. “The horses are the best part of this sport,” he said. “They’re amazing animals to begin with and to be able to play a sport involving horses is something special. I look for the obvious physical build and ability and then it comes down to heart. No heart, to me, is a deal breaker.”
For Loreto, that’s true in all aspects of life. In high school, he belonged to Students in Philanthropy. “Every Thursday, we would have lunch with kids with special needs,” he said. “They were so innocent and enjoyed life as best they could. They made me appreciate everything that I have. Every chance I get, I volunteer and try to help out as much as I can.”
Team USPA, inaugurated in 2010, is a program designed expressly to remedy the decline of young Americans in the sport of polo by providing exceptional players, 18-23, male and female, from across the U.S.A., with unique training, mentoring and playing opportunities.