WILD WEST.
Western Women’s Challenge attracts 10 teams.

Eldorado Polo Club in Indio, California held its annual Western Women’s Challenge from March 4-7. The women took over the fields for an unforgettable weekend, including festive parties, ponies aplenty, sponsors celebrating and crowds enjoying it all!

This Ladies Tournament was started 35 years ago by John Oxley as an East Coast/West Coast competition played in Florida called The Ralph Lauren Challenge Cup. It was in 1982 that Oatsy von Gontard, Jan Walker Roenish, Mary Alizon and Susan Walton represented the West Coast when the tournament was moved to Oklahoma. In Tulsa they played a team captained by the famous Sue Sally Hale (first women to ever play in coed competition) and mother to Sunny Hale, the highest-rated women player in the world. With victory going to the West Coast women, the tournament was moved to Eldorado Polo Club in 1983 and called the Western Women’s Challenge.

Women polo players on the West Coast worked together with the new Eldorado polo management team, general manager Jan Hart, polo manager Scott Gundlach, tournament chair Geri Dardi and team coordinator Kim Kelly to put on a memorable tournament and raise the level of women’s polo at the club.

The tournament planning got started with Hart and Dardi hosting weekly meetings for the women’s committees at the Eldorado Polo Clubhouse. At least 10 to 12 women were present every week to go over progress for the tournament. Thanks to the efforts of committee members Kelly, Tania Paneno, Janet Ludwig, Jessica Bailey, Kate Weber, Cybele Jordan and Abby Riggs, all was in line by tournament time to celebrate the club’s foray into The Women’s Championship Tournament series.

Eldorado took pride in hosting an exceptional USPA/WCT Open Flight qualifier match on a stunning 75-degree desert day, with three capable teams playing in a round-robin format over two days. Each game was hard-fought with impressive efforts from all team members. Two-goaler Canadian Dayelle Fargey was joined by 1- goaler Riggs, and A-rated Kim Kelly and Terese Volmer for Shanghai/Cam Clark Ford/World Gym. The team surfaced as the WCT flight winner.

A battle between Lampire Biotech Labs/ South West Aquatics, with 3-goaler Sunny Hale, 1-goalers Bailey and Jordan, and Arated Susan Guggenheim, and Regal/ Primetime Produce International, consisting of 2-goaler Caroline Anier, 1- goaler Erica Gandomcar, and A-rated Vicki Owens and Gina Padilla, failed to identify the runners-up, so a coin toss made the determination. Regal took the second place spot, while Lampire took third. Riggs, who couldn’t seem to miss the goal if she tried, was awarded MVP, and Caroline Anier’s, Taxi was tapped as Best Playing Pony. The American Polo Horse Association award for Best String of Ponies was presented to Fargey, who was playing two of her own horses and four of Shanghai sponsor Stephen Armour’s ponies.

With the support of top players from all over the world including Hale from Florida; Anier from France; Fargey; Gandomcar from Denver; and Californian Riggs, who combined with top local talent, including Bailey, Weber, Malia McCoy, Kelly, Jordan, and Stacy Galindo, the tournament was an action-packed success on and off the field.

Along with the players, several local businesses helped sponsor teams in an effort to attract national and international talent to the tournament. First time sponsors included Lampire Biotech, Ocean Mist Growers, Prime Time International, California BIO-MASS, Volwood Farms and South West Aquatics. Additional sponsors included World Gym, Merial Company, Triple Crown Feeds, and Platinum Performance. Prizes and gifts were envied by all with participants receiving fleece vests and hats customized for the tournament and designed by Dardi and Hart.

Pablo’s Mallet’s donated personalized mallets for all three levels of MVP’s and Dardi graciously donated embroidered coolers for Best Playing Pony awards.

Program umpires included Brian Middleton, Rob Yackley, Fernando Pliego, Fergus Gould and Ricardo Garcia. Entertaining announcers were William Devane, Mike Jordan, Kevin Ittig, and tournament veterinarian Mike Manno.

All three flights, a total of 10 teams, exhibited exceptional mallet work and drive making all levels of play exciting to watch and fun to play!

The B flight, set at 0- to 1-goal, with four teams entered, played two days of exceptional running and hitting. Stacy Galindo’s G & L Ranch/ Volwood Farms, with A-rated Briana Galindo and Megan Scanlon, and B-rated Ronai White, dominated the consolation flight against Shoot For The Moon’s Bailey, B-rated Paige Beard, and A-rated Trish Fitzgerald and Kirstin Ludwig. California BIO- MASS, with Riggs, Gandomcar, A-rated Sheri Gundlach and B-rated Tania Paneno, took the B flight honors over the Ocean Mist Team of Weber, 1-goal McCoy, A-rated Corinne Middleton and B-rated Roseanna Elordi. Riggs won MVP honors and Weber’s Stuart was nominated Best Playing Pony.

The C flight was set at -1 to 0-goals, with three teams playing round-robin style tournament play. The Deer Creek team dominated this flight with MVP Bobby Mero, Padilla, Kit Neacy and Lynnie Hutton. Neacy’s pony, Angel captured the Best Playing Pony Award. Deer Creek topped both Carnation Farms, consisting of Dina Stuart, Kaylee Sherbinska, Megan Kozminski, and Suki Piper, and Merial, with Sinead Divine, Geraldine Schumacher, Lani White, and Daisy Winner.

Social events began with a cocktail party, hosted by Eldorado Polo Club, to celebrate the tournament draw. A special silent auction, including hitting lessons from local professionals, a coaching video from Corky Linfoot, teeth whitening from Hoolian Dental, polo pony stud fees for Jordan’s stud, Tabasco, and a 2-hour Rege Ludwig clinic for four helped raise funds for the tournament.

The players weren’t the only ones enjoying themselves. Ocean Mist’s Dave Tottino consistently added comic relief by insisting he was the Ocean Mist’s team owner and controller, not sponsor! Local polo professional Jason Crowder was staging plays and strategies for his girlfriend Kaylee Sherbinska’s Carnation Farms. One of the plays, coined “hammered,” might have also been referenced to some of the activities off the field! All the ladies were dressed to impress in their fashionable couture.

Friday saw a fabulous Asado hosted by Weber at her Deer Creek Barn, with Carlos Cremaschi lending his expertise behind the grill. Eldorado hosted a spectacular Saturday night dinner for the players and their sponsors with a magnificent ice sculpture, exceptional culinary display of fresh seafood and an extensive Mexican feast.

The finals proved to be a big crowd pleaser with all three levels of finals taking place on the main Empire field. A hospitality tent was set up fieldside and a fabulous caterer was arranged by Paneno and Jana Ilorde that added to the festive atmosphere.

The club hopes to continue its efforts next year, raising the WCT tournament qualifier to 3 goals and above, growing participation, and including a charitable component to support women’s health worldwide.

 

 
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