Polo Player

Champion horseman Domingo Questel rules the sport of kings

Photograph by Christina Gandolfo

➻ “I was about 17 when I started playing polo for Gulf and Western Industries in Casa de Campo, a city in the Dominican Republic. They had a polo club for all of the rich guys from the company. I started out as a groom and was put through polo training.”

➻Questel, 59, learned the sport from polo star Jabar Singh. Within three years of training, he was invited to compete in the United States. In 1985, after a five-year conditioning stint in the Central California city of Turlock, he began his professional career at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. He now trains horses and coaches players at the California Polo Club and plays at Will Rogers State Historic Park.

➻ “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been riding horses. My father was a policeman on horseback, and he’d go to work at 5 a.m. My two brothers and I would go to the pasture, pick up his horse, and put on its saddle while he was having his coffee. That was the routine every day.”

➻Think of polo as being a bit like hockey but with mallets and horses instead of sticks and skates. The playing area is about the length of nine football fields, with a pair of goalposts at each end. A match is made up of two teams, and there are four players per side. The objective is to whack the ball between your opponents’ goalposts while navigating a 900-pound animal.

➻ “A thoroughbred horse makes the best polo pony. You have to stop and turn and run; the horse has to tolerate all the hard work.”

➻Women didn’t play competitively until 1972. For 20 years, beginning in the 1950s, polo pioneer Sue Sally Hale competed—posing as a man.

➻ “My eye injury happened many years ago in the Dominican Republic. A player missed the ball and hit me. At first it affected my playing, but I never stopped. I would say I got even better.”

➻Questel’s son and younger daughter play polo, and his wife and older daughter care for the family’s 15 horses.

➻ “I never thought I’d become a professional polo player. I thought I’d be a cowboy. But polo is fascinating. You put on your white pants and hat, you get your mallet, and you forget about all of your problems.”