Agustin Arellano: Reigning the Field
American polo player Agustin Arellano shares his recent success at the World Polo Championship in The Palm Beaches and his dedication to conservation work.
Imagine growing up following the movements of the sun. For Agustin Arellano, this was his reality as a boy who was raised in a polo-playing family. His father, Julio Arellano, led Team USA and ranked as a top-rated polo player for decades. Travelling with the seasons, in the summer Arellano and his family would spend time in Sheridan, Wyoming and then, in the winters, in Palm Beach. And then during the off-seasons his family would either be in Argentina or South Carolina. But, despite the constant movement, Arellano always found himself at home on the polo field.
Perhaps for this reason, at 14 Arellano became professionally involved in the sport, following in his father’s footsteps. And at just 15, he represented the U.S. team in the under-16 tournament held in Tianjin, China. Despite how naturally polo came to Arellano, a career in the sport was never an expectation or source of pressure. “I was on a horse before I could walk. The nice thing about my family, though, is they never pushed horses on me. They weren’t like, ‘You have to like horses,’”
“Horses are such soulful animals that are incredible, and so I couldn’t imagine myself not having that in my life.”
If polo was Arellano’s first passion, philanthropy is his lifelong love. Working closely with the conservation organization Fauna & Flora International, his mother played a large part in instilling conservation work at an early age. “My upbringing was pretty unique, between [my dad] and my mom. She also played [polo], but she was such an animal person, so I feel like between the two of them, my mom is into saving animals. It made me who I am today, because I’m so passionate about horses and conservation.”
As the first openly gay player in the World Cup, Arellano is breaking barriers both professionally and personally. “I’m really proud to be the only professional polo player in the United States that’s out. And to be able to do that, especially because growing up I didn’t feel like there was that sort of representation.”
Not only is Arellano an athlete, he is also a model (which comes as no surprise given his striking looks and 6-foot-3 stature). “One of the biggest things for me was that I wanted a voice to be able to talk about things that I care about, and I think modelling is really giving me that.”
We spoke with the polo-player-turned-model to see what it’s like reigning the field.
Q: What does the connection with the horse mean to you?
A: I think that’s probably the most important thing to me when it comes to polo. If I wasn’t playing polo, I’d be doing something else with horses. There are so many cool facts about horses, like they can hear your heartbeat from five feet away. It’s just incredible to me that we get to have this big partnership like that with a 1,000-pound animal. They’re just these huge, amazing, soulful animals, and they totally create that connection and are able to do the amazing things that they allow us to do. To me, it’s phenomenal. There’s no other word for it.
I really want to live my life where I’m leaving wherever I touched a little bit better than I found it.
Q: How do you mentally prepare yourself, knowing that everything can’t be calculated?
A: It’s actually become a really big part of my life now, the mental capacity. I think any sportsman will tell you the same, but I’ve worked a lot with a coach on it because I was actually getting to a point in my career where I was getting really nervous before games and it kind of crept up on me. My whole career, I was never nervous for games, I was just excited to be out there because that’s where my mentality is just happy to be. But I was getting really nervous before games until the very second that I got on the horse, and it was really getting to my head. I started with a coach and she suggested meditation. And I said, okay, but I can’t meditate on the field. And she’s like, yeah, but you can visualize how the whole game goes beforehand, get your breathing in between plays, get your breathing right. We’ve really worked on breathing. I just recently finished the World Cup, where we got the silver medal, which is really exciting. It was a lot of pressure, but it came down to the breathing. If you can be really present, it makes you think so much clearer. And it makes it safer and everything because your mind is so clear. You can make better decisions.
Q: What would you say are the biggest life lessons that you’ve taken from the sport?
A: I think more than anything, I learn from horses. You know, you can’t really have a bad day when you have to ride a horse, because they’re reading so much of your energy. The other one is discipline. I think a lot of life comes down to discipline, and you’re not truly free unless you have control over yourself. I think horses have really taught me that. Their peaceful nature has also taught me so much about how we can create this partnership, and that bred a whole new sort of love for nature and animals because it’s just this sort of tranquil knowing and peace. Horses have brought me a lot of peace as well.
Q: Can you share why it’s important to give back philanthropically to the organizations that are closest to your heart?
A: Yeah, I’m a big philanthropist. My mom, specifically, did her own stuff, really saving the animals, and I took that and went into philanthropic work. One that I work with a lot right now is Fauna and Flora. They are a big conservation organization that works to conserve habitats, wildlife and animals all around the world. I’ve done a lot of work with them and it’s an organization that’s really close to my heart.
Q: What would you say have been your biggest personal and professional accomplishments so far?
A: I’ve got quite a few that I’m really proud of. One that would definitely be my number one: getting the silver medal in the World Cup. It was incredible, specifically because my dad, when he played, was the only time the U.S. won the gold medal ever. Then I played with my sister, and we were the first brother-sister combo to ever play, and my dad was coach, so that was just an incredible experience. And then besides that, I’ve won over 25 tournaments. I’m really happy with myself for that, being someone that’s 25 years old. And then my favourite, besides the World Cup tournament, is that I won a tournament with my dad, my brother, my sister and me all together and I ended up getting most valuable player of the tournament. So that was really, really fun to win.
Q: What are some of your personal accomplishments that you’re proud of?
A: I’m really proud to be the first openly gay player in the World Cup. And to be able to do that, especially because growing up, I didn’t feel like there was that sort of representation. And obviously, now there’s Gus Kenworthy. My family really was amazing. I credit them everything for my upbringing and for not making me feel like I’m any different from anybody else. They allowed me to show that to the world, as well, like having had that background. So that’s been really a big personal accomplishment of mine. And yeah, I’m dedicating a lot of my life to conservation. I want to and I think everybody should be like this. I really want to live my life where I’m leaving wherever I touched a little bit better than I found it.
Q: What qualities do you believe make up a great athlete?
A: I think that hard work, obviously, is probably the number one — focus, discipline. I think the biggest thing for me in my life, and the people that I’ve seen, is that people who, like, don’t take no for an answer, right? I think our minds are so strong, and especially, in so many ways, mindset is so important when doing anything. I think that when you focus on your mindset and growing it and trusting yourself, it’s unstoppable for your goals.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
A: I’d love to continue to grow my voice and be a force for good. I think that would be my number one thing in my life, that I’d love to be a force for good, for conservation of animals, and beauty. I’d love to be the face of a couple of campaigns. A really big dream of mine has always been to start a polo-horse breeding operation and train them with natural horsemanship, which is basically like the granola, organic version of horse training. And none of it is fear-based, it’s teaching horses through partnership and kind of becoming the alpha of the herd. So, it’s teaching these horses by being a leader to the horses. So, I think that’d be really cool to introduce that into polo and start an operation like that.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I think it would be a mix between Diane Keaton coastal grandma, for sure — like all-white linen shirts — and preppy all mixed together.
Q: What health practices do you do to stay fit to play polo?
A: The horse does a lot of the work and people see that. But it’s staying on a horse that is going fast with people bumping into you. That’s not easy. So, a lot of core strength, and a lot of leg strength, obviously. And then hitting the ball comes with the arm. I tried to do a lot of weight training to really get my body strong. And then I do yoga to prevent injuries. And I think nutrition plays a big part in all of our lives. But I think it plays a big part with athletes. As an athlete, you want your body to work at full function for as long as possible, right? And so that’s where nutrition and fitness really come in.
Q: If you could live anywhere, based on what you’ve seen, where would you live?
A: I love Palm Beach, Florida. I like where it’s like my home. This summer I went to the south of Spain to Sotogrande, right next to Marbella. They have this amazing polo community. Basically, there’s a community on the beach of fitness lovers. And there’s polo right on the water like that. It’s the most amazing weather. You can see Morocco from the beach and I got there and I was, like, I don’t know why anybody would live anywhere else. I was only there for 10 days and I was, like, Mom, I’m not leaving.
Q: What does la dolce vita, the sweet life, mean to you?
A: I think my dream moment is being in the sun, at my barn, drinking maté [national beverage of Argentina], and I’ve got a sweet pair of shades on.