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A Lifelong Dedication to Polo: The Journey of Joe Henderson

Two years ago, Henderson was hired as assistant director for USPA Umpires, LLC. In that position, he helps with scheduling, evaluating and supporting professional umpires. He also travels quite a bit, visiting as many clubs as he can. “I meet with club management, talking about the umpires and what the program can do to help them,” he said.


Joe Henderson Assistant Director, Umpires LLC


Born and raised in Durban, South Africa, in a ranching and farming environment, Henderson started playing polo with his family when he was just 10 years old. His grandfather, father, uncles and cousins all played. His father held a 5-goal handicap and an uncle was 6 goals. His sister Alison currently lives in Aiken, South Carolina, where she plays. “When I was a kid, we didn’t have trucks and trailers, so we used to ride our horses out to the polo field on the weekend, play them Saturday and Sunday, and ride them two hours home,” he explained.


He attended Hilton College in KwaZulu-Natal where he played rugby and cricket. Following college, he completed two years of compulsory military training. “All I wanted to do was play polo, but there were no professionals in South Africa, so that wasn’t an option for me,” he said. “The only place you could try to make a life was in the U.S. or England, and the U.S. was year-round.”


His dad encouraged him to move to the U.S. when he was 20. He landed his first job in Detroit, Michigan, as a groom. When a playing opportunity came up in Los Angeles, California, he moved West. He went on to play throughout California, at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club and Empire and Eldorado Polo Clubs. He also played occasionally in Florida and England. Later in his playing career, he split his time between California and Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


He went on to earn an 8-goal handicap on grass, and compiled an impressive list of tournament titles, including the Pacific Coast Open, C.V. Whitney Cup, America Cup, North America Cup and the Bronze Trophy. In the arena, he rose to the pinnacle of the sport as one of only four players to ever reach a 10-goal handicap. He made a name for himself in the pro arena leagues in Los Angeles, and counted wins in the U.S. Arena Open, the U.S. Arena Handicap and the Arena Delegates Cup.


He was recognized in 1993 as the Most Valuable Player of the U.S. Open, and won the Hugo Dalmar Award for sportsmanship in 1996. “Polo is the only job I have been lucky enough to ever have, first as a pro and now working for Umpires LLC,” he said.


Though not in an official capacity, Henderson had plenty of experience umpiring. Most of his playing career was before there were professional umpires. Back then, the pros would take turns umpiring. Eventually, he did get an umpire certification. He still rides in the summertime, and outside of polo, he likes to play golf and fish. When time allows, he loves going back to Africa, taking trips to see the country’s wild animals. He also enjoys quieter times, doing the New York Times’ Sunday crossword puzzle. Someday, he would like the opportunity to travel around Europe.


By ML Staff. Content/Image courtesy of United States Polo Association


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