Ask Nic Roldan, the rising polo star, what drew him to the sport of kings, and his answer is simple.
“I think first and foremost, the horses. I always had horses growing up,” says the third-generation player, who was born in Buenos Aires but raised in Wellington, Florida, the capital of American polo. “They’re a real passion.”
So is Nic’s love for the fast, intense sport, which has been on display since he turned pro as a teenager. In 1998, a 15-year-old Nic became the youngest player to capture the U.S. Open Polo Championship, along with Escue teammates Sebastien and Juan I. Merlos and Stuart Erskine.
Now an eight-goaler (out of a possible 10), Roldan thrilled a Greenwich Polo Club throng as he scored the winning goal for Team Audi in a 14-13 upset of the home Team White Birch in the finals of the 2015 East Coast Open. In an equally taut rematch on Sept. 11 of this year, Team White Birch turned the tables, with Roldan nonetheless capturing the MVP. (He also played with Team Flexjet at the United States Polo Association’s recent National 20-Goal Championship at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, where the winter season gets underway the first week of this month.)
But if his 25 polo ponies — mostly mares with some geldings — are among his treasures, so are the less fortunate working equines of the world. And that’s why among Nic’s activities this winter in Wellington will be the second Sunset Polo & White Party March 24 at The Wanderers Club to benefit Brooke USA, the American arm of The Brooke — a nonprofit that operates in 11 countries throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, supporting working donkeys, mules and horses among the poorest of the poor with veterinary services, owner education and equipment. (The 2016 event raised more than $140,000.)
When Nic became Brooke USA ambassador last year, it was a natural fit.
“I have a working relationship with my horses, so I can relate,” he says. Indeed, in addition to team training three or four times a week and the cross training he does (cardio, Pilates, yoga) to maintain a lean but strong body similar to a tennis player’s for a sport that combines ruggedness and elegance, Nic spends a good deal of time training his horses. (A polo player may need anywhere from seven to 13 ponies in a match.)
In September, Nic accompanied Brooke USA executive director Emily Dulin to Guatemala to see how the organization is improving the lives of that country’s working equines. Roldan and the Brooke USA team traveled more than 2,000 miles in a week over tough terrain to visit communities in the Zacapa and Quiché regions.
“I was blown away by the number of people, particularly women, who rely on the donkeys they use to carry their essentials, such as wood, water and other goods,” Nic said in a statement at that time. “It was an emotional moment to see how these people live, how proud they are and how enthused they are to learn. It was truly inspirational. It was amazing to see where the funds that Brooke USA raises were being used.”
Now talking with WAG, he stresses that this is not just about animal rights.
“We’re helping animals helping communities,” he says.
“Community” is an important word to Nic, who is warm and friendly in our conversation. With its roots in the ancient Persian imperial cavalry, “polo has always been an elite sport,” he says. But stars like Nacho Figueras, WAG’s August cover guy, have sought to broaden its appeal, particularly through charitable efforts. “I’ve been doing the same,” Nic says.
He works with the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys & Girls Club in Wellington and the Kids Cancer Foundation in neighboring Royal Palm Beach. This internationalist, who thrives on the peripatetic life of a polo player, told Equestrian Quarterly that the polo in Wellington is nonetheless “the best of the best.” But Wellington is more than a place to ply his trade. It is home, where he was raised by his father, Raul, a polo player who once played with the Sultan of Brunei, and mother, Dee, an interior designer. (Nic also has a sister, Lupe.)
He’d rather talk about the community of Wellington than his work as a model, representing the watchmaker Piaget SA, among others.
“I don’t consider myself a model,” says Nic, a “diehard” sportsman who has played baseball, football, golf, ice hockey and soccer. “I’m an athlete and as a trained athlete, it’s all about building my brand.”
He’d certainly rather talk about community than his personal life, preferring to keep it and his relationship with Jessica Springsteen private. Springsteen, daughter of Bruce, is the brilliant equestrian who captured the 2014 American Gold Cup at Old Salem Farm in North Salem with a poised performance aboard Vindicat W. This past September, she scored her first five-star win aboard Cynar VA in the HITS Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix.
Show jumping is the precise yin to polo’s sometimes intricate, sometimes thunderous yang. Nic says Jessica has been out on the polo field, and he in turn has gotten into the show ring.
“It’s very tough to learn. The sport is so different,” he says. “But I’m passionate about it.”