By Kerstie Allen
Santa Barbara, California, is known as the American Riviera, and for good reason. It’s situated between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean and is the closest thing to the Mediterranean that you can find outside Europe. It’s also home to the most prestigious polo event of the summer season in the United States, the Bombardier Pacific Coast Open.
I especially love Santa Barbara because it’s another one of those rare places where you can play polo at a world class level at the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club and then ride your horse down the road a bit for a gallop on the beach. The Polo Club here is more than 100 years old and is the third oldest continuing member of the United States Polo Association.
The Pacific Coast Open Trophy was initially named the All American Trophy. The trophy was commissioned in 1908 in California and is a 5-foot-tall silver and gold vessel. The trophy found its permanent home in Santa Barbara in 1962.
Coming back to Santa Barbara also gives me a chance to catch up with old friends, teammates and competitors. This year I had the honor of playing again for the ERG (Energy Reserves Group) Polo Team. Our team consisted of brothers Tincho and Sebastian Merlos, Remy Muller from the Houston Polo Club and of course Scott Wood, the founder and leader of the ERG team.
A few days after I arrived, I got a call from Martin Nunoz, the manager of ERG and the Brookshire Polo Club. He informed me that Scott would be unable to play and that I was named his replacement. You can’t imagine my excitement! It’s such an honor to be chosen, especially as the only woman to participate in this traditionally men’s-only tournament. Of all the times I’ve been here in the past to watch the high-goal season, I’ve never seen a woman play. I had to pinch myself … this was really happening.
In front a packed grandstand, we went on to win the semi-finals against the Wildcat Polo Team. It was a little strange playing against my old teammate Paco de Narvaez. I played with Paco in Palm Beach this year on the Crab Orchard team when we won the 20-goal Butler Handicap Trophy. Paco was unable to finish the tournament due to a broken hand. Polo can be a tough sport.
The following week, Scott Woods hosted the biggest and best polo party of the year. The event was so completely over the top. They transformed one of the fields at the Club into a full-blown night club with stages for live music, DJ areas with dance floors, special lights and drapery with private seating and on and on. Not to mention the amazing display of food and endless drinks! The best part of the entire party was seeing everyone from grooms to veterinarians, farriers and fashionistas and players and princes all in one place celebrating our common passion … polo!
After all the celebrating it was time to get serious — the finals. When I arrived and saw my name on the scoreboard, the reality of the whole situation overwhelmed me with gratitude. I then looked around the stands and saw tons of friends who had come to support me. It was really quite emotional in a great and positive way.
After six tough chukkers, we managed to defeat the Luchesse Polo team. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to see these awesome athletes making amazing shots and executing precise riding maneuvers — and I truly had the best seat in the house! It was challenging to jump on 12 of the most fit and well-trained horses that I had never ridden before and then play against these guys. I didn’t even get the chance to hop off and get grounded as we had to jump from one horse’s back directly onto the next one and rush back onto the field.
Immediately after winning, we hurried back to our tent where the team was waiting for us with an ice chest full of freezing water and we all took the ALS ice-bucket challenge. Soaking wet, we chanted our way to the awards ceremony. After the presentation, I was interviewed for TV by Bombardier representative Charles Ward, who introduced me as the first woman to ever win the Bombardier Pacific Coast Open.
I made history and didn’t even know it — I was just following my heart and that’s where it led me. After leaving my friends and family in Australia and dedicating my life to my passion, the old saying, “All dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them” is in fact true.
If you just take that chance, you never know where it may lead you. A dream is a wish your heart makes. Listen to it.
About the writer: Kerstie Allen is a native of Melbourne, Australia. Her passion for horses has taken her on a worldwide adventure exploring and mastering nearly every discipline in the equestrian world and opening doors of opportunity for women everywhere.