Plan South America met up with 10-goal Uruguayan polo sensation, David ‘Pelon’ Stirling, to learn more about life in the fast lane…
By Carolina Beresford
Uruguay doesn’t have a big polo scene, how did you start playing?
I started because my father and grandfather played; my grandfather reached 10 goals and my father 7. My father was the first one to start traveling with the game; he played in Spain and that’s when he got given the possibility of managing the polo club in Sotogrande. We moved there when I was about six years old. As a young kid I didn’t like polo; all my Spanish friends played football and I preferred hanging out with them. It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I began to enjoy the sport – then it got me!
People often assume that the life of a polo player is all fun and glamour. What is the biggest sacrifice you have made in order to reach the top?
It seems like an easy life but polo is my work; you have to put the same amount of time and energy as you would into an office job. There are many things you have to sacrifice. Growing up it was hard, having polo every Saturday and Sunday morning and not being able to go out with my friends, knowing I had to perform the next day. I couldn’t turn up with a headache! Polo also requires a lot of travel, often alone, leaving friends and family at home. But what it really comes down to is time – the time you spend at the stables, the time you spend riding and stick and balling. You can have a lot of fun, but it requires huge discipline to make a living out polo.
In order to become a professional polo player one needs to be skilled with the ball, have good horses, be physically prepared – what aspect of the game do you focus on bettering day to day?
At this high level of polo the most important part of the game is the horses, and that’s what I concentrate on. It’s about trying to find that exceptional horse that will give you the edge; the organisation you have behind you is what really makes the difference.
Your team, La Dolfina, are reigning champions of the Argentine Open and winners of last year’s Triple Crown. Considering your victories at Tortugas and Hurlingham, you are well on the way to defending the title this year. Why do you think La Dolfina works so well as a team?
It helps that I have the best polo players in the world as team mates [Adolfo Cambiaso-10, Juan Martin Nero-10, Pablo MacDonough-10]! Every member of La Dolfina does everything possible to find the best horses and to play at the highest level. We also have great friendships on and off the pitch.
There is a constant exchange of horses between you and your La Dolfina team mates. What do you look for in a horse?
Considering my number 2 midfield position, I look for power and stamina in my horses, though at this level you need everything: speed, comfort, a good mouth.
You play in tournaments all over the world. How does the Argentine Open compare?
The Open is what you aspire to from the moment you start playing. I think that every polo player dreams of playing this tournament, and once you’ve played it you dream of reaching the final – and then winning! The best players in the world play the Open, and the number one ground at Palermo is very special. There are many tournaments across the world, but nothing in the same league. It’s the climax of the year.
You mentioned that your family started playing polo in Uruguay. What is the polo scene like in Uruguay now?
It’s very farm based; people just play for fun. The Uruguayan Open hasn’t been played in the past 5 years but we have set it up again and it will be played this year in Montevideo. We’re also working with a lot of kids, trying to bring them over to Argentina to take part in the Pony Club here. I’m trying to help as much as I can – last week I invited the Uruguayan national team to La Dolfina to play practices and train in preparation for the classification stages of the Polo World Cup that take place in Peru. I love being in a position to help polo grow in Uruguay and to encourage young talent.
You are Uruguayan, your wife is Chilean, and you have lived in Spain and England – where will you settle?
Despite living the majority of my life in Spain, I am very attached to Uruguay. Right now, I’m dedicated to polo so Argentina is the best base. I know my wife would love to live in Chile and I in Uruguay, so here, between the two, seems a good neutral ground – otherwise we’ll end up pulling each other’s hair out!