Meet the Patrons: Guiliani, Ballhaus, Parr, and Steiner

Written by Kailey Cheng | Photographed by Raphael Macek | Jewelry provided by Mystique Jewelers | Clothing by Tri-County  

As one of the world’s oldest team sports, polo has found a distinguished place here in Virginia. 

From cities to suburbs, this spectator sport has fostered a supportive, growing community in Virginia. In 2019, the Virginia United Polo League was born to unify polo in the state. It has fields at Beverly Equestrian, Kingland Polo, and Foxlease Polo, and 6-goal, 8-goal, and 12-goal teams throughout June, July, August, and September. It’s open to anyone as long as they comply with USPA team requirements for tournaments. 

The league began as an effort to maximize fields and club amenities for existing and new players to Virginia. Polo is funded by patrons who create teams, and most of Virginia’s patrons play it. Here, we’ll look into the sport through patrons of the Virginia United Polo League: Tanya Guiliani, Bill Balhaus, Cristina Marie Parr, and Eric Steiner. 

Tanya Giuliani

What’s the name of your team and who’s on it? 

It’s Springbok Polo, and of course it’s me, then I have my husband, Isy Giuliani, and then I have two polo pros: Luciani Diaz and Duilio Diaz.

Where do you reside and where do you train your horses? 

I actually live just outside Middleburg past Greenhill Winery on Route 50, but we have a farm out in Unison … and that’s where we keep all our horses. We have a polo arena there and we have a field, so all our playing and our riding, if we practice with ourselves or we invite a couple people over would be in Unison, Virginia.

How long have you been playing polo, how did you get into it, and who trained you?

I never rode horses until my early 40s, so it’s just something I decided to take up and it’s been about six years from learning how to ride to playing polo. Since we built the farm, I figured we have this land — and living in Middleburg, everybody rides horses — so I thought I’d give it a try. I found Luciani who’s my pro now, and he had some great horses to ride. I just got into it like everybody else, and then it becomes a bit of an obsession. And then we had the farms and we could keep our horses there, which made a huge difference for us. We went from two horses, [and] over the winter, we’ll have 23 horses.

Luciani, my polo pro now [trained me]. He started with us first and started teaching me how to ride, how to play polo. And the other pro that I have is his brother. He started with us about two years ago and he also trains [my husband and me] as well.

How has COVID-19 affected the Virginia season? 

We’re a little bit behind, because normally we have … Luciani come in April, so that’s taken a little longer for us to start training because we don’t train over the winter; we stay here and we don’t actually ride horses. Thankfully Duilio, my other pro, lives in Florida, so he was able to make it up here to come work with us.

But I would say particularly in Virginia, some of the clubs canceled most public events because we can’t have close contact. We can’t have a lot of people come in to watch arena polo on a Saturday night or on a Sunday. So COVID-19 will definitely affect the season and people being able to play. Hopefully it all goes well, but I also know there’s a lot of people that haven’t been able to make it back.

Bill Ballhaus

What’s the name of your team and who’s on it? 

Our team name is Beverly Polo representing Beverly Equestrian located in The Plains. This season, I will be playing with Tolito Fernandez OCampo, Hilario Figueras, and my son Wil Ballhaus. The four of us have played together for years in Florida and Argentina, and for the first time this season in Virginia.

Where do you reside and where do you train your horses? 

Our polo organization is based at Beverly Equestrian where we not only train and practice, but we also offer polo lessons and host practices and games. We have all-weather training facilities with indoor and outdoor arenas and a full-size Bermuda grass
polo field.

How long have you been playing polo, how did you get into it, and who trained you?

I was first exposed to horses as a young boy by my grandfather who rode cutting horses. Beyond that, I never had the opportunity to ride until much later in life. In 2011, I went to watch my wife, an avid three-day eventer and show jumper, take a polo lesson and decided that I had to give it a try. I was immediately hooked. Having played a variety of sports growing up and lacrosse in college, I was inspired by the skills required by the sport: horsemanship, riding, mallet skills, and game strategy.

Since that first lesson at the age of 43, I began riding nonstop throughout the year, playing arena polo and then on the grass. At Beverly Equestrian, we have an indoor arena, so I was able to stick and ball and ride in the Virginia off-season nearly every night of the week. After a couple of years, I began playing in Aiken and Florida in the fall and winter and have continued to do so.

What does the future look like for the VA United Polo League? Any goals?

We are off to a great start in 2020. We have 10 teams with phenomenal polo players competing in two leagues in June. In July and August, we will be expanding that number as we add higher levels of play. Notably, this season we are hosting three premier USPA tournaments: the 6-Goal Governor’s Cup, the National 8-Goal Championship, and the Eastern Circuit 12-Goal. These tournaments will present the highest level of grass polo in Virginia for the 2020 season.

Cristina Marie Parr

What’s the name of your team and who’s on it? 

The name of my team is V02 Max. I have two different tournaments that I’m playing in. So, for the 6-goal, I’m playing with Rebekah Greenhill, Justo Mourino, me, and Juan Sanchez. And then for my 8-goal, I’m playing with my husband, Bob, me, John Gobin, and Juan Sanchez.

Where do you reside and where do you train your horses? 

I live just outside Middleburg, Virginia, through Leesburg. It’s right on the other side of Aldie. I keep my horses at the Middleburg Training Track. It’s always been a place that people with racehorses keep their horses. There’s a racetrack and there’s a lot of barns. So, I rent a barn there and I use the track, because in polo, you use the track just like racehorses do because your horse is in shape. That’s what appealed to me about that place.

How long have you been playing polo, how did you get into it, and who trained you?

I’ve been riding since I was 3. I used to do jumpers and racehorses. John Gobin took me under his wing in 2008 and taught me the basics of playing and hitting. In 2017, I hired Juan Sanchez as my full time pro to play on my team and help me take my game to the next level. I already had the basic skills down, but he taught me how to play like a pro. He taught me how to use my horses better in the game, more advanced strategy and plays, and improving my swing so I can hit the ball further.

I hope to one day soon be a professional women’s player for women’s tournaments all over the world. Being a female athlete and polo player has inspired more young women than I expected, so I hope to continue using this platform to inspire future generations of women. Polo has always been a man’s sport. I love that I can go out there and show young girls that we too can be strong and athletic enough to keep up with the boys.

Can you tell me about the process of choosing players? 

I have to know them, know how they play, what positions they play well. My one pro John Gobin has been playing for 40 years. He’s won numerous global championships. His strategy areas, like knowing where to be on the field and all the strategies of the game, are just unbeatable. Juan, my other pro, he played for the Chilean national team and he can crush the ball. He’s very calm, he’s a classy player, he doesn’t foul a lot. You want your team to play well together. You don’t want people to be butting heads or yelling on the field … I like to choose people that can play the game well and also be calm and collected — classy players.

Eric Steiner

What’s the name of your team and who’s on it? 

Team is Foxlease. I usually play with my daughter Julia, however, this year she is pregnant, so she is not playing. I will therefore be playing on other teams; Beverly is the first one in the 6-goal tournament.

Where do you reside and where do you train your horses? 

Home is at Foxlease Farms in Upperville, Virginia. This is also home to all
my ponies.

How long have you been playing polo, how did you get into it, and who trained you?

I started playing polo in 1983 in Paris, France, at Polo de Bagatelle with Lionel Macaire who was then one of the top-rated players in the world. I have been riding horses since I was 5 years old. In the ’80s, I lived in Paris and rode jumpers at the equestrian club where all disciplines were happening. One day, I was at the side of the polo field and saw but mostly felt the ponies galloping towards me. That incredible sensation is what made me want to play.

Virginia has seen great growth regarding polo in the last few years. Why Virginia?

I have been playing polo in Virginia for 20 years. When I started, there was just one arena and one grass field being used as a spot for friends only. That field has an amazing story as it was built early in the 20th century — can’t remember when — by the Phelps family, one of the top polo playing families in the U.S. at the time. Most of the polo at the time was played in Maryland in Poolesville with the Muldoon family. I decided to sponsor more polo in Virginia and built my own field and started a local league. Polo in Virginia has since exploded with several more fields being built, grass and arena, and polo schools being developed. This has attracted more polo players and created the desire for many to start playing. We are all so happy about this. ML

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.