After the Academy of Washington folded in 2015, Sarah Lee Garrett was looking for an activity to replace her time occupied with the long-time social club for drag performers.
A former Miss Gaye Universe with the Academy, Garrett has spent most of her life involved in equestrian sports. Her search for something new needed to be LGBT-friendly and horsey. An internet search turned up the Gay Polo League.
Last month, the ninth annual Land Rover Palm Beach International Gay Polo Tournament was held at the Wanderers Club and International Polo Club in Palm Beach, Fla. The event drew 5,000 spectators over four days of social activities and polo matches.
Garrett was given a choice while attending private school in her youth — gym class or riding lessons.
“I loved the danger and being a part of the community of humans and animals working together,” Garrett says. “The animals test you. You can’t lie to a horse. They zero in on aspects of your personality.”
Garrett continued to ride in college and spent time as an assistant trainer at a breeding farm in Frederick, Md. She competes periodically in dressage to see how she compares to other people.
Along with her friend Tula, Garrett decided to make the trek to the International Gay Polo Tournament in 2016. Three years later, it’s the main event of their social calendar.
“A lot of people are cautious of the perceived elitism in the sport of polo, but it is the complete opposite. They treat everyone extremely well,” Garrett says. “It is a beautiful venue and everything is first class all the way. The tailgates are amazing because the Gay Polo League ramps it all up a notch.”
Garrett says the sport itself is fast-paced, intense and holds people’s attention. After three years of watching it, she may be ready to give it a try herself.
“It has been on my mind to take lessons locally,” Garrett says. “I am used to cantering at a regulated pace. These polo players are riding by the seat of their pants.”
Phil Tremo was at the first International Gay Polo Tournament in 2010 as a spectator and returned to his home in D.C. where he began taking polo lessons. He is now one of the players and in a leadership role for the League which has chapters in 11 countries.
Locally, polo instruction can be found at places such as the Congressional Polo Club and Great Meadow Polo Club. Individual lessons are also available from local pros.
“It’s a beautiful sport, super-fast and really thrilling,” Tremo says. “Our League is very inclusive and includes all genders and sexual identities. The teams are not divided by gender so there can be any combination on the same team.”
Last month’s tournament included the annual Gay Polo League Polotini party which featured the theme Wigstock. The night served as a fundraiser for Compass Youth Services who help at-risk LGBT youth in the areas of education, health and homelessness.
The following day was the International Gay Polo Tournament consisting of two polo matches with tailgaters lining the field to take in all the action.
“Everyone has a shtick and the tents are full-on set design,” Tremo says. “You will see everything from Titanic to Grey Gardens to a hair salon.”
On the final day, spectators enjoyed a lavish brunch while watching the pros play in the 114th U.S. Open Polo Championships.
The tournament in Palm Beach is their flagship event, but the League has also hosted a tournament in Pilar, Argentina and are in talks for a tournament in London. Last fall they played at the straight-based Victory Cup in Governors Island, N.Y.
“The Gay Polo League was started in 2006 by Chip McKenney in Los Angeles as a hobby to meet other LGBT people,” Tremo says. “Since then it has grown out in several directions. This is really the rainbow here.”
Sarah Lee’s girlfriend Tula wasn’t sure what to expect when she signed up to go to the Tournament for the first time in 2016. She only agreed that they needed to find some nice gay social events.
“I was very uneasy and wasn’t sure if it was going to be really posh or too snooty. Also, I am not a horsey person or a sporty person,” Tula says. “The Tournament turned out to be a great experience and is one of the best gay social events I have ever attended.”
Tula points to the beautiful setting, warm weather, chatting with new friends and being in a fresh environment as things that have kept her involved. The pair have also been to the Victory Cup in Governors Island to support the Gay Polo League.
“You know, it is always my mission to be unnoticeable. I spend half a year planning my outfits for the event,” she says. “I am enjoying watching this sport and I love that we have found something new. It’s a win, win in many directions.”