On a cold, bright afternoon in Dripping Springs on Saturday, Zubair Hamir called out from atop his horse to the Texas polo team. “What did you guys see?” Hamir asked the watching players. They had just seen Hamir and three of their teammates play part of a polo match, and all were full of questions about polo strategy and rules. Hamir listened patiently as the players, all UT students, shouted out their observations.
Polo, a sport in which players on horseback use long-handled mallets to push a small plastic ball into the opposing team’s goal, had more liabilities than the University felt comfortable handling. In the spring of 2011, this concern led RecSports to pull the club’s sponsorship and put up for auction the horse trailer the team used, as per University policy for surplus property. That’s when Hamir’s generosity began.
At five-foot-six-inches, with dark hair and a youthful face, Hamir speaks eloquently and endlessly about the esoteric sport he has no choice but to love.
“Polo’s kind of a combination of ice hockey, golf, maybe soccer,” Hamir said. “Throw in your equestrian discipline and maybe some chess in there and that becomes polo. On a horse. It’s sort of that sort of thing.”
Hamir began playing polo in high school and found himself addicted to the sport.
“We have a saying in polo: the only two ways to quit the sport are to either die or go broke because once people start polo, they very seldom quit,” Hamir said.
Hamir and his wife moved to Austin from Washington two years ago when his wife, Dr. Heather Barclay Hamir, was appointed director of Study Abroad at the University. Mr. Hamir had recently retired from the banking industry and “was just looking for something to do.” He heard UT had a polo team and began to help them out in a volunteer capacity. But when the trailer went to auction, Hamir went to bat, buying the trailer and forming a nonprofit called Longhorn Polo that would support the club. Now club members pay dues of $500 a semester directly to Hamir, who also serves as their coach.
The club’s new facilities are at Hamir’s property in Dripping Springs, a stunningly scenic spot with a stable, 14 horses and a polo arena, the last of which Hamir built with his own money after buying the land.
Hamir and his wife moved to the property, according to Hamir, “Because we just thought, well, the club needs a place. [The club] had been moving around everywhere and that’s hard, and definitely there’s a huge cost for the students, and we want to keep that as minimal as possible.”
Polo is by no means an inexpensive sport. Looking around the room where he keeps the polo equipment, Hamir makes a quick tally of the costs associated with playing.
“A good bridle will cost you $700, $1,000 ... good saddles, like my saddles, they’re about $2,000 apiece. A good mallet is about $200-$300 ... a good helmet’s about $600, boots are about $1,000. So as you can see” — here Hamir imitates the sound of a cash register — “ching, ching, ching. It gets pretty expensive.” Which is why Hamir’s generosity means so much.
Ethan Galis, a biology senior and the Texas Polo Club’s current president, who met Hamir in 2011 and introduced him to the UT club, said that the recent growth the club has experienced can be “chalked up to someone who’s willing to donate his money on a regular basis to keep this running.”
By subsidizing the club dues and offering up his facility for use, not to mention coaching for free (Gallis describes Hamir as a “great” coach who is “really good at getting people to fall in love with the sport”), Hamir has made a sport that is often inaccessible to anyone outside the 1% affordable for UT students.
At last weekend’s practice, Vicki Oladoyin, a sophomore biochemistry student, and Samantha Maher, a Plan II international relations and geography senior, said they found out about the club online and through organizational fairs. Now they both attend practice regularly.
“I just felt like jumping into something new and exciting,” Oladoyin said.
As practice wraps up, Hamir and the students bring the horses back to the stable and put away the equipment. The students will all carpool back to Austin, another cost-saving measure Hamir is quick to note.
“We just want people to come out,” Hamir said as he turned to help the students clean up the stable.
Printed on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 as: Polo team gets back in the saddle