Jennifer Luttrell and Heather Souto are making a name for themselves on the American polo scene
Two clubs 2,500 miles (about 4,000 km) apart have been growing steadily in the United States: Cotterel Polo Farms in Idaho and Farmington Polo Club in Connecticut. Behind them are two strong women, Jennifer Luttrell Benardoni and Heather Souto, with a passion for polo at the helm of these institutions, which are becoming increasingly important in the American polo scene.
Not only do they both have a female figure in common, but they are also organisers of major tournaments who surround themselves with good professionals, have well-implemented marketing plans and have a responsibility towards the communities and the environment.
Prensa Polo got in touch with both leaders to find out more about their history and the success of the two clubs.
Tell us your story with Polo and how you get to manage the club?
Jennifer: I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. My mom showed Saddlebreds and Arabs, so I grew up riding horses. I saw polo in magazine and movies and always wanted to try it, so when I attended Colorado State University, I joined the polo team. After that first hit of the ball, I was hooked. After college I moved to Denver and began playing outdoor polo in the summers and spending the winters Indio California. About 8 years ago, we decided to move our polo operation to our family farm in Declo, Idaho and build the club. We built 3 fields, 8 barns totaling 180 stalls, exercise track, and we converted an old bran into a 25-bedroom lodge for our polo playing guests to stay.
Heather: I was transitioning from a show pony to a horse one summer and in the process of looking for a new show mount, I joined the summer league at UCONN. I came home in tears after the first lesson. I could barely hit the ball and I was yelled at for unbuckling most of the bridle- per my H/J training. A few more lessons later and I learned I loved a speedy pony and I was addicted. I played interscholastically at UCONN but we were always short a third teammate and I stayed focused on my Jr/Amateur Jumper career. Flash forward to senior year of college and I noticed an ad that Newport Polo was offering arena polo. One chukka later led to my new found polo family. I went on to groom that summer for multiple club members and never leaving the city by the sea. Eventually I built my own string and highly enjoyed my years playing with Newport Polo Club. While my polo was growing, my professional life was stagnant. I was yearning for a way to grow and give back to my community. Then one unexpected phone call about polo and farm operations led to the management position for then newly acquired Farmington Polo Club.
How is a typical day the club? What are your daily activities?
Jennifer: During the summer here in Idaho, the days are long and very dry. We are able to play polo 6 days a week. Our typical schedule is slower chukkers Tue, Thursday and Saturdays for green horses and less experienced players. Then we play 14 to 16 goal polo Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. However, we will cater to the schedules of our guests as we need to. We like to play in the morning, then we have the afternoons to stick and ball or go out and explore the nature that Southern Idaho provides. We are minutes away from the Snake River, and within a 1hous drive of several lakes, reservoirs, golf courses and Parks that provide fishing, water sports, hiking and biking opportunities. There are also miles and miles of ATV trails around the area as well.
Heather: Right now we are in the middle of our summer season. We teach lessons & Leagues 3 days a week, with practice 2 days a week and every Saturday our matches are open to the public to tailgating and VIP experiences. I am at the barn from start to finish. From lesson scheduling, team line-ups, social media & website content, ticketing, managing the Hunter/Jumper program, our Special Olympics program, town events and answering phones you name it my hands are on it. This job has been a continuous labor of love. My professional life surely isn't stagnant anymore (haha)
What is the most special thing the club has?
Jennifer: The most special thing, besides being our home, is the fields. We have been working with Alajandro Battro for the last couple years to continually improve the fields. This past weekend we were able to play a 24-goal test match, and all the pros were impressed with the quality of the field, the footing and how the ball played.
Heather: I think what makes our club special is our philanthropic roots. We host several events with our sister organization, The Hometown Foundation, Inc a non-profit charitable organization committed to supporting the community and those in need. Through the Hometown Foundation we have been able to grow our Equestrian Grooming program with Special Olympics of CT as well as with Kid Sanctuary and Sea Turtle Adventures when we are in Wellington, Florida. This week is our biggest event of the season, Dream Ride. (https://dreamride.org/ ) Our club members put on an exhibition match for the athletes and Sponsors on Friday followed by two full days of Police K-9 competition, athletic events, awards, dancing, world class car shows and more. There really is nothing else like it.
Being also a player gives you another vision towards the event organization?
Jennifer: As a player, I am very thankful for the horses that allow us to play this sport. So, I like to make sure that the horses are always recognized with Best Playing Pony awards.
Heather: For me as a player I have always loved to test myself. To be able to bring in new players each week as well as teams from other countries helps keep it exciting.
We see the club growing everyday a bit more, how do you see the club today? And how do you see the Polo of the region?
Jennifer: Building a club in Idaho has presented its challenges, mainly being in such a remote spot. We have been working hard on word of mouth and social media to show what we have to offer, and with that we are growing slowly. Heather: I feel like we are entering a new chapter. I don't want to jinx it, but I feel like 2022 has been a year of growth and 2023 is shaping up to be where we need to be. There are a lot of competitive teams and established clubs in our area and it is nice to put our own unique touch on things.
Every day we can see more woman managing important institutions, this speaks of a growing equality also in the world of polo?
Jennifer: It’s amazing to see the women in polo grow as a whole, on and off the field. Heather: This job has opened my eyes to a lot. I think it is great that more women are managing and in lead roles.
This interview involves also another successful woman, how does it feel to be part of the most important scene of this sport in a country as big as the United States?
Jennifer: I feel humbled and privileged to be a part of women in polo. Heather: It’s an honor. I was given an an incredible opportunity and I want to make the best of it.
What are you more passionate about in your role?
Jennifer: My role here is multifaceted, not only managing the polo, but I have a hand in the breeding operation, and that is truly the best part of my job. For me there is no better feeling than playing a horse that was bred and trained within our organization.
Heather: I think we all have had that one person or that one experience that has touched us, changed us- I want to make sure I provide that to our club members. From good horses to great fields and arenas, supportive and kind Pro's and sportsmanship on and off the field. We are an amateur based club with key upcoming youth members as well as patrons, and I want to make polo fun and as enriching as I can.
What would you like to improve to offer to your partners/players?
Jennifer: We are continually trying to improve the amenities offered on the ranch. The next project to be finished is a gym for our pros and guests. Heather: I would like to see our youth polo grow as well as more USPA rated tournaments.
What ideas you took from other clubs or did you see other clubs took from yours?
Jennifer: Having played in many clubs around the US and Argentina, I see that it is important for the players to have good relationships both on and off the field. We like to have Asados every Sunday bringing all the players, grooms, and guests together to help build camaraderie. Heather: Offering good instruction is important and trying to be as organized as possible. Our staff works incredibly hard from the care for our clients to the care of the horses and they really make the difference in our polo experience.
What are the plans for the near future?
Jennifer: Our plans for the future is to continue to grow, play the best polo possible, and continue to improve the bloodlines of our stock. Heather: Really hoping Wellington is in the cards for 2023 and we have some nice green mares that will be getting some arena play time this fall. I love watching them progress.
About Farmington Polo Club
Located in the heart of Farmington Valley, Farmington Polo Club is a historic equine facility offering Hunter / Jumper and Polo disciplines. Exhibition Polo Matches are held every Saturday from June – September.
Situated on 80 acres with indoor and outdoor event spaces, the Farmington Polo Club is the perfect venue to host your next special event
About Cotterel Polo Ranch The scenic location in southern Idaho is the ideal place to play polo in the summer. Imagine horses galloping through the lush green fields as you feel the fresh mountain air hitting your face as you stride toward the goal. That’s what it’s like to play polo at Cotterel Polo Farms at 6S Ranch. Aside from modern, manicured playing fields, your group might need lodging, exercise track, and other resources to make the season stress-free and fun. Declo, Idaho is a city of approximately 350 people in southern Idaho. Declo is in a region that has a semi-arid climate, which means its precipitation level is just below average when compared to the rest of the country. For polo players, this translates to well nourished, but not wet and mucky fields in the summer.
By Darío Welschen
Pictures: Pablo Ramirez / CJ Yoop