Polo is one of the world's oldest known team sports, but it remains slightly elusive to most everyday people. Always wanting to broaden our knowledge of everything active, Swet Tailor jumped at the chance to design jerseys for the California Polo Club match at the beginning of December. Lucky for us, we got to know one of the star players, Gonzalo Novillo Corvalan.Originally from Argentina, Gonzalo has been playing professional polo for over half his life and travels all over the globe to play in tournaments. Before he jets off to India for his next match, we sat down to discuss how he got started, his experience training polo horses, and which match he still thinks about today.
Hi Gonzalo, we're so thrilled to chat with you! Many people know polo on a surface level, but what would most people find surprising to learn about the sport?
Polo is considered an elite sport, and it's pretty exclusive. The main reason is that it's expensive, and in the US especially, finding places to play is challenging. A polo field requires a large piece of land to accommodate eight players and their horses. But once you connect with a horse, it's addictive—lots of adrenaline in this game. The polo environment is incredible. The people are amazing, and you make really strong connections.
How long have you been playing, and at what age do players typically start training?
I've been playing since I was a young kid, and you have to start young to go pro. I went pro when I was 17. The thing is, 70% of polo is riding. You have to be a skilled rider and adapt to playing with different horses. You're not always playing with your own horse; during a match, you'll play with up to four, and sometimes you rent a horse you've never ridden until it's time to play.
Every polo team has four positions. Which position do you play?
In polo, you don't always play with the same team, or stick with the same position. You get sponsors or patrons that hire you for matches. My position depends on the level of the tournament I'm playing. Often I'll get hired to support a team, and make them more competitive. In that case, I typically play position four, so I can help the beginners. I'll create the plays and help them get more involved so they have an easier time scoring.
When did you realize you wanted to go pro?
After I took my first trip at 17. It was addictive. I loved traveling and meeting new people, and it opened up my mind. It's also a great way to make business connections with people all over the world.
Polo is in your family's blood. Not only was your Dad a pro, but your brother, Lindor Novillo Corvalan, is also a pro polo player. Do you typically play against each other or on the same team?
Lindor lives in Chicago with his sponsor. We have a lot of fun playing together when we can and played a few tournaments together out there last year, but it's unusual to be on the same team or even play in the same matches.
Your family also has a farm in Argentina that breeds some of the best polo ponies in the world. Tell us about it!
Our farm is called Los Algarrobos, which is a type of tree. It's a family business between my Dad, my brother, and myself. It's perfect because when my brother and I are on the road for matches, our parents live on the farm and are always there to take care of the horses. My Dad has been running the farm since he was a teenager.
How long does it take to train a horse for polo, and at what age do you start?
You start riding and training them when they're about three years old. When the horse is seven or eight, they are typically ready to play. It's a long process, and training them is a high risk for injury. A lot of time and money goes into them, and sometimes they just don't work out.
What's your favorite match you've ever played?
When I was 20 or 21, I went to Morocco to play in a match for the King. It's kind of like a World Cup that they organize. I got hired to play with a friend and two of the King's soldiers, and they treated us like stars. And yes, we won!
Have you ever had any scary injuries or accidents while playing?
I've been very lucky, as I've never passed out during a match or broken a leg or arm. The worst injury I did have was a broken bone in my face near my jaw. The threat of injury is why I went to college at the same time as playing pro. I knew if I suffered a severe injury, I would need to have a backup plan. It took a long time to get my degree because I was on the road a lot, but I made it work.
Swet Tailor made jerseys for your recent California Polo Club Match, and the photos are incredible. Have you been rocking any other Swet gear?
Yes, we also wore the Duo Pants in white. Those pants are amazing; I cannot tell you how much I love them. Sincerely, they are my new favorite pants. I was astonished at how good they were for polo when it's not a polo-centric brand. I'm excited to try all the other styles!