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The new face of polo

Outdoorsy, active and passionate about polo, Kayla Swart would love to see the sport grow and thrive on the North Coast.

“I was on a horse before I could even walk,” laughs Kayla. The Ballito-based estate agent has been playing polo competitively for the last 10 years, and inherited her love for horses from her stepdad Lionel Foster, who is also passionate about the sport. Two years ago, the family started the Ballito Polo Club, where they teach people of all ages and abilities to ride and play.

For Kayla, the polo community is like a family. “The same crowd plays tournaments every weekend, so you end up spending a lot of time together. Polo is a generational sport, and very family-oriented,” she says. The club members are very social, often hosting cocktail parties after practices and going on holidays together.

“Polo has a stigma of being snobby, but it’s really not like that. Players walk around in their dirty jeans and slops afterwards! It’s a lot of fun!”
Many of polo’s traditions remain strong, but one significant change, says Kayla, is the rise of women in the sport. “Women used to be on the side making tea and eats, and looking after the kids. Now, they’re actually playing, which is nice.” There was a time when there weren’t enough women to play a tournament in KZN, and now there are a number of local women’s events planned, with the Ballito Polo Club made up of mostly female players.

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The bond Kayla shares with her horses is something special. “They are like my babies,” she says. “You have to trust the horse you are on, and they have to trust you.” This love of horses, along with the adrenalin that comes from playing the game, is what keeps Kayla coming back for more. “The horses give their hearts to us. It’s amazing to see the progress they make and their personalities grow as well.”

Kayla’s favourite quote is from Winston Churchill: “A polo handicap is your passport to the world”, and the sport has taken her on some amazing travels – from Egypt and France, to Argentina. Her family hosts international polo players almost every year, and she has met people from all over the world, with whom she has formed meaningful connections.

When it comes to training, it’s important to stay fit. “The more you ride, the better,” explains Kayla. During the season, there’s usually a tournament every weekend and players will compete for three consecutive days. Kayla spends most weekends on a horse, and keeps fit by training at gym every day of the week, or by running. She’s a farm girl at heart, and loves the outdoors. Kayla’s family founded the Ballito polo school because they want to bring new people into the sport, and it’s been well received so far. “Most of the girls at the Ballito Polo Club started off not even knowing how to ride, and now they’re playing tournaments,” she says.

The Ballito players currently play matches on the Ottowa polo field . “We have lots of old Springbok players in the area, so our practices are really good because we get to play with them,” says Kayla. The club members would really like the sport to take off in the area, and would love to extend the six-month season to a full year. The club is open to anyone who is interested, and even complete newbies are welcome to start with riding lessons before trying out the game for themselves.

Details: www.ballitopoloclub.co.za, @ballitopoloclub, @kaylaswart

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