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In His Own Words: Polo Player Nic Roldan On His Eye-Opening Trip to Guatemala

(©Enrique Urdaneta)

Nic Roldan is a fourth-generation polo player who made history at the age of 15 when he became the youngest player ever to win the United States Open Polo Championship. Since that time, Roldan’s successful career has included tournament wins on five continents of the world. But it is his recent trip to Guatemala on behalf of the equine welfare organization Brooke USA that’s foremost in his thoughts. As told to Nina Fedrizzi. 


I just got back from Guatemala about a week ago.

I was there for a week and we traveled to two regions and visited about 10 different communities up in the mountains. These were some of the poorest of areas on the outskirts of the country.

Brooke USA focuses on places where the families depend on their animals. In some areas they use donkeys, in some they use mules, and in other areas they use horses, depending on the terrain. There are three different regions in Guatemala and it’s amazing—each one is so different in its geography, weather, and landscape. One area was very dry and arid, another had very rich soil and there was a lot of rain.

(©Enrique Urdaneta)
(©Enrique Urdaneta)

There are some places where the families don’t have any animals because they can’t afford them. Some families have one donkey or mule, some have two or three. For the most part, these animals are in bad shape. They have parasites. Their feet are uncared for and they’re malnourished. Brooke has full-time staff in the country and they work on educating people, not just about how to take care of their donkeys and mules, but also how to be self-sustaining. They teach them what to grow in certain areas and what to feed the animals.

Many of these communities are just stuck in the old ways of doing things and they don’t know any better. The idea is to improve not just the lives of the animals but the lives of the families, themselves, and of their children. These are the animals that are feeding them, that are bringing in income, that are a form of transportation. They help them to survive.

I was surprised at how much the people in the mountains seemed to appreciate what Brooke was doing. They were enthusiastic about trying to learn and they were very welcoming to us. They opened the doors to their community and their houses. We got to meet so many nice families and kids.

(©Enrique Urdaneta)
(©Enrique Urdaneta)

We saw this one guy, Roberto. Brooke had taught him how to shoe horses and donkeys. He knew nothing going into it and we got to watch him shoe a horse—all four legs. So that was pretty impressive, to see how much progress was being made. Things like that that are so rewarding.

I’ve never traveled overseas to witness any of this before. For me, it was a really good and important experience. It’s an eye opener.

Many of us sort of grow up in this bubble where our horses are treated like kings and they have such a great life. My horses help me to make my living as a polo player, and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. For the people in Guatemala, it’s the same comparison.

(©Enrique Urdaneta)
(©Enrique Urdaneta)

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