Annabelle Gundlach got interested in polo when she bought a stable of studs — Kris Kampsen, Brandon Phillips and Nic Roldan.
Wait, that didn’t come out right. Gundlach bought five days of polo with the guys for her and her friends in 2013.
Two years later, Gundlach was playing full time. Last year, she formed her own team, named after her Postage Stamp Farm in Wellington, Florida, home of American polo and the Winter Equestrian Festival. She is the patrona of the Postage Stamp Farm team, which fans will see in action again this summer at Greenwich Polo Club.
Or, as she puts it with a laugh, “I’m the boss.”
Gundlach is breezy and open-hearted in conversation, very much a woman who can hold her own in what is still a man’s world, although she says “there are a lot of women in polo.” She points to Sunny Hale, a pioneer in the sport, who died recently of cancer. Maureen Brennan is patrona of the Goose Creek team. And WAG has written about the aggressive play of Dawn Jones, wife of actor Tommy Lee Jones, at the 2013 Sentabale Royal Salute Polo Cup at Greenwich Polo, which saw her take the MVP in a field that included Prince Harry and Nacho Figueras.
But being a woman among men — and a growing number of women — is precisely what Gundlach likes about the sport.
“It’s one of the few sports where amateurs and professionals play together and one of the few sports where men and women play together.
“Show jumping is much more of an individual sport. You can compete as a team, but it’s still mostly you and your horse out there in the ring.”
If there was ever anyone to compare show jumping’s yin to polo’s yang, it’s Gundlach. Growing up in Ridgefield, Gundlach started competing as a show jumper at age 10 and was on the A circuit two years later.
“The horses — all of this is because of the horses. They are the most amazing animals. Every horse has a different personality.”
At Postage Stamp Farm in Wellington — the 10-acre spread she bought in 2012 — she maintains a 20-stall show barn for her retired show horses and her children’s horses. (She has two daughters, who ride.) She also leases out stalls. (The polo ponies are housed at another facility.)
Gundlach’s avocations — she worked in asset management on Wall Street and is still a private portfolio manager — have given her a unique perspective on horses and two very different equestrian sports. She’s ridden mares, geldings and stallions and is fond of the adage: “You ask a mare. You tell a gelding. And you discuss it with a stallion.”
While stallions have a temperamental reputation, they can be quite gentlemanly, she says, particularly if they’ve never been bred.
As for the transition from show jumping to polo, it’s been a challenge, she says, in ways you might not realize.
“If you look at show jumping, the bodies of the riders are very precise. There’s not a lot of movement so that you can show off the horse and become one with the horse. In polo, you’re turning and maneuvering,” Gundlach adds of a game in which two teams of four are covering 10 acres on 1,000-pound animals at 35 miles an hour. So she had to overcome the superb carriage she was taught as a show jumper to be loose enough muscularly to play on a polo field.
“Women don’t have the physical strength that men have,” she says in terms of wacking the ball. The late Sunny Hale was a 10-goaler among women but a 5-goaler among men. (Polo players can have a handicap ranging from minus-2 to 10, with the combined handicaps of the players determining tournament and club play. So there is 40-goal polo in Argentina, 26-goal polo in Wellington and 20-goal polo at Greenwich Polo, the only American club to play 20-goal polo in the summer.)
On the other hand, “many polo players have taken it up later in life,” says Gundlach, whose handicap is 0. They don’t necessarily have her riding skills and her finesse, which she brings to the field, along with a competitive spirit honed on the Street.
Playing the No. 1 position — ”there are times when your job is to cover the other players and times when you’re positioned ahead of the other team’s pack” — and relishing its defensive opportunities, Gundlach set her sights on a big dream, playing center stage at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. To get there, she and her Postage Farm team would have to play Greenwich Polo Club.
“Growing up in Ridgefield and New York City, I had never been to Greenwich Polo. When we got there (last year) it was like ‘Oh, my God, Holy Cow.’”
Gundlach and her team reveled in the beauty, the facilities, the camaraderie — even the club’s slower turf, due to the kind of grass used. And while her team finished out of the money in three tournaments — the Monty Waterbury Cup, the Butler Handicap and the East Coast Open — Greenwich Polo was a springboard for bigger things. Postage Stamp Farm came from behind to win the Palm Restaurant Invitational at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington in October.
Then on New Year’s Day, Gundlach’s dream came true as her team took on Villa Del Lago Modere in the Herbie Pennell Cup at the International Polo Club. Steadied by 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Mariano Aguerre (see story on Page 102), Postage Stamp stayed in the mix before a respectable 12-9 loss. For Gundlach, being chased down the field by Hilario Ulloa and playing alongside Aguerre, his White Birch teammate at Greenwich Polo, made the day all the more memorable.
“That was such a special honor to have him join our team,” she says. “He’s really a master. He gets the most out of every player and he really wants the best for the sport. That’s what makes him special.”
As for Gundlach, she never loses sight of her amateur status. It’s what keeps her humble — and what keeps her having fun.