Fast and fierce competition: the XPL according to Juan Gris Zavaleta

The 8 goaler from Ensenada talks about the connection between the polista and his horse.

First of all, how did you start in polo?

I come from a family with a polo background. My grandfather played, my dad, and all but one of my seven brothers all dedicated our lives to polo. I started very young, traveling with my dad for stretches of 5 or 6 months a year. It’s in our blood. I always liked it, when I was little. I remember that my friends were beginning to wonder what they were going to do, what school to attend, and I was already clearly set on playing polo for the rest of my life.

How would you define this sport?

Polo, apart from being a sport, is a way of life. When I was little, I used to move around a lot with my parents, we used to travel a lot. It is something incredible, the contact that one can have every day with nature, with animals. Everything that happens outside the field, our relationship with the petiseros, with the trainers, with the veterinarians, the different languages, all these things make it a very particular sport.

Plus, polo has a pool of details that one has to perfect to be prepared for gameday. We depend on horses, grooms, veterinarians, the weather, field conditions, wind, everything. It’s a lot of things.

Many consider polo to be an extreme sport, what do you think about it?

It is a high risk sport for sure; you are always at the limit. You go at speeds that can literally get you killed. It is very physical, it can be compared to ice hockey in that sense. The risk of an accident is always there.

If you had to choose 3 teammates, who would you pick?

Hillario Ulloa from Las Monjitas is a very impressive player. He has the right mentality, just his attitude; I would love to play with him. Facundo Pieres of the Ellerstina, and Nero too. They have a very particular style of play. Who wouldn’t want to play in a team with them?

Both will participate in the XPL in their respective teams.

What does the connection between the polo player and the horse mean to you?

The relationship between the player and the horse is definitely the most beautiful thing that polo has. You always have a favorite one, you see them every day, you know how their day starts and how it ends. In the case of breeding, you also know how it is born. This generates a deep sense of responsibility. The horse generates a very strong connection with the rider. You know when it's fine and when it's not. The day they are well, you get more confident, and everything becomes easier.

The highs are very high. You check on their progress, and sometimes they surprise you and fill you with joy. But there are also the lows. You suffer a mare's injury more than losing a match. It's very hard. That is why I value the work of the petiseros. It is a sacrifice they make throughout the year, every day. There is no rest for them.

Where do you feel you can generate an advantage as a player?

I think my biggest virtue is my speed. I am fast, and I like to run fast. Sometimes it is also my fault, because polo is a sport that needs rhythm changes.

What do you think about the XPL?

I love the fact that an idea is being worked on. It's hard for everyone to be happy, but it's super positive that it gets going. That competition that will be generated seems great to me. Freaks such as the 40-goal Dolfina can be compared to Jordan’s Bulls. They were amazing teams, that won everything. But thanks to that, the sport started to change. Broadening our horizons a little bit, I think the best thing for polo and for everyone involved is thave more even competition. What is going to happen is that people will want to see the games because you never know who will win.

All sports change. And polo is a sport that has a hard time dealing with it. I think it is difficult for us because we ask ourselves “why change if we are doing OK”; but I think you can always be better.

Today, it is difficult to play a competitive polo also delivers profits. Most teams lose money competing in the Palermo Open. And I think that this initiative to professionalize the sport is on its way to achieving that full picture.

The reality is that today the sport is a bit stagnant. If we do things right, with the technology that exists today, this whole thing will revolve around the world in 10 days. The 20 years we are behind already, we can recover from that. It is a complex sport, and I believe that technology can help people who never saw the sport understand it better, so that they can appreciate it for what it is.

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