As the members of this year’s Gold Cup winning UAE Team celebrated on the pitch, Kayley Smith joined a very select group. At that moment she became one of only two women to ever play on the winning team of the British Open for the Cowdray Gold Cup.
On its own that’s an incredible achievement. To reach this level in only her third professional season is extraordinary. Her opportunity came when she was called in as a substitute for team patron, Sheika Maitha, and she certainly rose to the occasion.
We caught up with Kayley to find out all about her route into polo, the Gold Cup experience and why Midhurst and Cowdray hold special places in her heart.
From football to polo and setting up in Midhurst
“I was originally an avid football player” explained Kayley. “When I saw my first polo match I was mesmerised by the agility and ability of the horses and the way their movement was incorporated into team play. That was it – I was hooked!”
“I also knew that all the best polo and players could be found around Cowdray so, if I wanted to have a career in polo, the Cowdray area was where I needed to be. Then I had a stroke of luck because Martin Glue had space for me to have my two horses at his farm. Shortly after that I was gifted a third horse and then loaned a fourth by a friend and suddenly I had my own little string to play.”
Progressing through the ranks
“I started 2019 playing off a -1 handicap and had a pretty busy season. I got picked up for some good polo in both England and abroad and I knew I wanted to keep improving from there. 2020 was my first professional season, playing for Monterosso Ladies – we won everything we played and that gave me the boost I needed to continue to grow my career. There are so many female players out there encouraging younger girls to take up the sport and the growing number of women’s tournaments is making it possible for women to play almost anywhere in the world.”
The Gold Cup experience
“Just being part of the UAE Team for the championship was an amazing experience but then to be subbed on for the final was incredible and I’m very grateful to Sheika Maitha for the opportunity. She’s an incredible sportswoman and person so she’s a real inspiration. Winning was the proudest moment of my life so far. It was also a huge relief – all the stresses and nerves disappeared and I was just so, so happy.”
Next season and beyond
“I really want to continue competing in High Goal and play as much top-level polo as possible. Looking further ahead my dream is to compete in the Women’s Argentine Open one day and I hope to be back at Cowdray on a winning team before too long as well!”