The Snow Queen of the Sport of Kings

By Sue Weakley

 

When polo takes to a converted, snow-covered Aspen rugby field in December, Melissa Ganzi will be perched aboard a polo pony and poised to claim another title in the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship. The first woman to win the world snow polo crown in 2016, Ganzi is a professional player and one of the top ambassadors for the game of polo, also known as the sport of kings.

She and husband Marc Ganzi, along with pro polo player and Ralph Lauren model Nacho Figueras, will co-host the final stop on the world snow polo tour for the sixth consecutive year in Aspen, Colorado, December 18-20. The tournament attracts top polo players as well as high-profile fans and celebrities from around the globe who gather in heated tents to enjoy the action. Play begins with the first round-robin match December 18 with the finals slated for December 20. A gala, appropriately named The Snow Ball, will be held at the St. Regis Hotel December 22 to benefit The Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.

Snow polo, introduced in 1985 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, is played on a smaller field than the traditional game and features three players on a team instead of the usual four horse-and-rider combos. The ball, larger and lighter than the white one used in regular polo, is either red or purple to stand out in the winter landscape, and the horses wear special cleated shoes to improve traction.

Melissa Ganzi, the first woman to compete in the St. Moritz Snow Polo World Cup, is poised to layer up under the traditional white polo breeches and again claim victory for her team, Flexjet. She’ll go up against a host of high-profile players, including her husband, who will play on the St. Regis team, and her 20-year-old son, Grant, a member of the U.S. Polo Association team.

“Our entire family plays polo,” Ganzi said. “I have played with and against my husband, son and daughter, and it is truly a family affair. We all love polo and play at every level.”

Grant Ganzi is a junior at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, and 18-year-old daughter Riley Ganzi is a freshman at Georgetown University. “They both started playing polo as toddlers via the PTF, or Polo Training Foundation. The PTF is a wonderful organization. I am on the board of directors.”

In addition to snow polo, Ganzi regularly plays professional high-goal, spring, summer and fall polo and captains Team Flexjet, based at the Ganzi’s Wellington, Florida, Grand Champions Club.

A trailblazer in raising the status of women in polo, Ganzi was named the first female United States Polo Association’s Florida Circuit governor in the Southeastern United States. She was the first woman to win the Monty Waterbury Cup at the Saratoga Polo Club in 2001, just one year after she started playing the game full-time. In addition, she is one of only a few women in the world to compete in the C.V. Whitney Cup, the USPA Gold Cup and the U.S. Open. She was the first woman to win the coveted Molina Cup at the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships, the most attended polo event in the country. She also is the first woman to win the 2017 United States Arena Handicap Tournament. Ganzi has claimed the Ylvisaker Cup, the Butler Handicap Cup, the Hall of Fame Cup, the Western Badge and Trophy 20-Goal, the Mayors Cup, the Miami Beach Polo World Cup, the North America Cup and the U.S. Open Women’s Tournament.

And as the queen of polo, she has played against Prince Charles, Prince Phillip and Prince Harry. A champion of diversity, Ganzi’s vision is to promote the sport of polo among the general public, including women, kids and juniors. In order to mainstream the sport, she played an integral role in introducing ChukkerTV, the leader in livestreamed polo broadcasting of games, highlights and shows around the globe.

“I believe polo, when experienced in a positive manner, has something for everyone,” she said. “Polo can be enjoyed as a player, sponsor, participant, horse lover or spectator. It’s unique in that men and women play together on equal footing, but it’s unpredictable due to the equine athlete teammates component. And, polo can be played in many different venues: grass, snow and the beach, as well as indoors.”

She and her husband maintain The Grand Champions Polo Club in Florida year-round. In addition, they co-founded The Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale, Colorado and created The Polo School in both Florida and Colorado to nurture players at any level.

“Our polo clubs, The Grand Champions Polo Club, The Polo School and The Aspen Valley Polo Club, are full-service clubs,” she said. “They feature our groundbreaking concept of ‘Polo on Demand,’ a turn-key polo experience at any and every goal level. We can take you from never riding a horse to playing polo with great players of the sport. I truly believe there is something for everyone in polo.”

Ganzi also stages events to increase diversity in polo, including the Women’s Championship Tournament and junior tournaments in the fall, winter and spring seasons.

“Our clubs offer many programs for children and youth polo,” she said. “We have patient horses available for lessons, club chukkers and games. In addition, The Polo School runs a Ladies Polo League, which runs January to May.”

In an effort to introduce the game to more people, she launched PET (Polo Education Tour), where she traveled to various libraries in south Florida educating adults and children about polo with a full display of polo equipment in tow.

“It was a wonderful way for me to educate the local community about polo,” she said. “We had a few different nights, and one evening was specifically for children. Everyone who attended loved seeing the equipment and hearing about the equine athletes.”

She is also the president and top fundraiser for the National Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame Board of Directors, as well as the secretary-treasurer of the Polo Training Foundation. Her longterm impact on her community and her desire to bring polo to the public make her passionate about the sport of kings.

“I am passionate about the sport of polo and wish to share my enthusiasm with others,” she said. “I believe it’s important to give and make an effort to do so in various aspects of my life.”

But when it comes down to it, for Ganzi, it’s the partnership with her horses that keeps her enthused about her sport.

“For me, polo is more about the relationship with one’s equine athlete teammates and less about who else is playing against my team,” she said. “It is important to have a good working relationship of trust with your teammates; the gender or ethnicity doesn’t matter.”

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