La Patrona – a Mexican Polo Adventure
This is a guest blogpost by my lovely friend Larissa Esser. Larissa and I met and immediately bonded whilst staying at Polo Valley in Sotogrande this summer. We share the same passion for polo, travel and new adventures! Larissa is also at novice level, although having ridden horses since she was 7 years old, she only started with polo two years ago and tries to find time in her busy work and travel schedule for polo. Even if it means traveling from California to Mexico for just a few days of polo, actually especially if it means #TravelingForPolo 😉
It was on a rather chilly day in England that I first heard about La Patrona Polo Club from my friend and polo instructor Nacho Gonzalez – ‘you should go, you will love it! I will put you in touch with my friend Sebby’. I didn’t at the time realise that it wouldn’t be long before soon…
I was greeted at Puerto Vallarta airport by polo manager Martin Harriague. Martin managed several high-goal polo teams in his impressive and longstanding career and explained at length the history and philosophy of La Patrona on the car ride over…
It all started on a small mango tree field in the middle of San Francisco (or San Pancho); a small authentic Mexican village on the coast of Riviera Nayarit about 45 minutes’ north of Puerto Vallarta. The small field in the centre is now closed, and was replaced by a full-size equestrian centre – the most beautiful I’ve ever seen! Born as the brain child of Iván Echeverría and Gabrielle Weber, the name La Patrona stems from the way Gabrielle treated this ambitious and truly unique project as her pride and joy from the start – como una Patrona!
From the airport we went straight to the polo field! I could not wait to get on a horse as it had been a while… The ponies at la Patrona are an Arabian breed – stunning to look at, a delight to ride and perfectly accustomed to the warm weather! I practised stick and ball for the next 60 minutes under the watchful eye of Tommy (Tomás Elliot), 4-goal professional polo player and very knowledgeable instructor. What stood out to me in terms of his teaching is the strong focus on technique – Grip, Position, Swing! We practised at length on the wooden horse as well, using video analysis to perfect. Content and exhausted I retired to my apartment, with the feeling of being the luckiest girl in the world!
I went to the beach first thing in the morning the next day, which was only a 10 minute walk from my apartment! No mass tourism, just quiet and peaceful. The early bird surfers were already in the water and I watched them quietly whilst enjoying my morning coffee.
I made my way to the polo club for my lesson with Sebby (Sebastian Dawnay) at 11am. Sebby is a 4-goal player too and HPA Coach since 2004. It’s the highest qualification the HPA has for coaching. Sebby’s father Hugh Dawnay opened the first ever polo school in the world in 1975 and was one of the pioneers of the coaching system! Gabrielle and Iván wanted to add to the local community when they founded La Patrona, so they brought Hugh over and gave locals an opportunity to come and learn to work with horses and play polo, allowing them to grow and work with their passion.
We started with some work on the wooden horse before getting started with the real deal!
That afternoon I played my first chukkers, proudly wearing the Argentinian colours! I felt over the moon scoring a few goals as the number 1 position, carefully mentored and coached throughout the game by Sebby. I couldn’t be happier… We concluded the day with dinner on the beach where we enjoyed some fresh fish burritos.
Martin had mentioned La Patrona also had 2 purebred Dutch Friesian horses and I was thrilled to find out that on Saturday morning, Antonio and I would take the stunning Chloe and Paris to the beach for a ride! An incredibly noble and proud breed, I felt truly honoured riding Chloe. The afternoon was reserved for surfing and we made sure to catch some waves while the sun set – truly priceless experience…
I played my last chukkers on Sunday afternoon wearing the Tierra Tropical shirt! Still a bit sore from the previous days, and feeling warm from having spent the morning at the beach my play wasn’t as good as the previous time, which made me feel disappointed with myself! But that’s another great life lesson polo will teach you – it’s a difficult sport, and you have to make the mistakes in order to grow and learn. Sometimes in leaps, and sometimes in baby steps! Patience and perseverance will get you there and practise makes perfect…
Monday it was already time to leave which made me feel very sad – I wasn’t ready to go so very soon! I made some great friends in only a few days’ time; friends who share my greatest passion in life!
You feel in harmony with nature at La Patrona, and the effect it had on me is hard to put in words. It’s like resetting your system, and going back to your core! I will undoubtedly visit this truly unique place again, only to watch it flourish and develop to its full potential.