This February, Adam Snow will be inducted into the Museum of Polo Hall of Fame in Lake Worth, Fla. Adam, along with his wife Shelley Onderdonk and their three children, owns New Haven Farm in Aiken’s polo corridor. He is a former 10-goal player with a career that includes too many major tournament wins to enumerate. He has been the United States Polo Association’s Player of the Year twice and the MVP of the U. S. Open once.
In addition to his playing, Adam is well known for the quality of his horses, many of which have earned the kind of name recognition that is reserved for only the most elite of playing ponies. His standouts include Pumba and Amy, who were Best Playing Pony in the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2006 respectively. His most famous mount is probably the legendary Hale Bopp, a multiple BPP dark bay Thoroughbred mare. According to Adam, the greatest thing about Hale Bopp was her ability to decelerate rapidly along with an uncanny way of reading her rider’s mind. “On Hale Bopp, if you would think it, she would do it,” says Adam. Now retired in Aiken, Hale Bopp is carrying her third foal, who is sired by one of her stablemate Pumba’s sons.
Adam, who is 49 and still playing professionally, was raised on the North Shore of Boston and represents the third generation of his family to pick up a mallet. He started playing when he was a child, and played in his first polo tournament at the Myopia Polo Club, in Hamilton, Mass. at age 12 along with his father, Crocker Jr., his godfather, Adam Winthrop (for whom Aiken’s Winthrop Field is named), and Bill Matheson, now also an Aiken resident. He didn’t fall in love with the sport right away, preferring other games such as hockey and lacrosse. (Getting bucked off by a quirky Argentine mare in that first tournament is still a painful memory.) But when Myopia started holding summer clinics for young players, his competitive instincts kicked in, and he began to get hooked.
In college at Yale, Adam shunned polo to play on the hockey and lacrosse teams. Then, after graduation, he played polo at Myopia through the summer months and went to Argentina in the fall. There, he rode horses for Hector Barrantes and became immersed in the polo culture. Returning to Florida that winter, he was hired to play professionally in the 22-goal, along with the 10-goaler, Alfonso Pieres. His rating had been raised from 4 to 5 that winter, and he impressed everyone. Although he had initially believed that he was taking a year off after graduation before getting a ‘real’ job, polo took hold of him and wouldn’t let go. His reputation and his handicap were on an upward trajectory, and he seemed to have little choice but to follow a polo career and see how far it would take him. He played all over the world on various teams, including the official U.S. team that played England in the historic Westchester Cup. (Adam played twice, winning the first time and losing the second.)
In 1997, Adam’s rating went down from 8 to 7 goals, and he says he briefly considered directing his energies elsewhere. “I was 33,” he says. “And I thought if I was already on the way down, maybe it was time to do something else.” But then, after consulting a sports psychologist, he recommitted himself to the sport, with the lofty ambition of reaching a 10-goal rating. He had help: his wife, Shelley, was a veterinarian and provided the best care for the horses; his staff and support team were of the highest level; his teammates and sponsors gave him the opportunity to participate in the best tournaments. In 2003, after a spectacular year on the field, he was raised to 10 goals, the sport’s highest handicap. At 38, he is possibly the oldest player ever to be raised to 10. In the 124-year history of the United States Polo Association, only 21 American born players have been rated 10: most 10 goalers are from Argentina.
Adam joins over a dozen polo players in the Hall of Fame who have Aiken connections. Other Aiken-based inductees include three Hitchcocks (Tommy, 1990; Louise, 1995; Thomas, 2002), Devereux Milburn (1990) Louis Stoddard and Alan Corey Jr. (1992) and Pete Bostwick (1996). More recently, in 2009, Adam’s neighbor and friend, Owen Rinehart, also a former 10-goaler, joined the roster.
“I’m really excited about it,” says Adam of his nomination. “It’s such an honor to be recognized at that level and to be in the company of so many great players.” He also sees it as a kind of validation. “It’s a relief in a way. My polo career has felt significant to me, and to know that other people also see it as significant is important to me. It’s a statement about my whole career, and that makes me really happy.”
Adam says that his career is far from over: in fact, he will be playing in Aiken this spring. But things are a little different now. “Ten years ago, I lived, breathed, ate, drank and slept polo. Now there are other things that are important, too.”
The induction ceremony, dinner and gala will be on Friday, February 14 at the Museum of Polo Hall of Fame in Wellington, Fla. Tickets are $200 per person. For more information: www.polomuseum.com.