The Polo Community Mourns
by Pam Gleason, photography by Gary Knoll
The polo community in Aiken and beyond is mourning the loss of William Tyler Tankard. Will, 31, died in a motor vehicle accident on July 30 along with his dog, Chewy and three of his horses. He was en route from Lexington, Kentucky to the Darlington Polo Club on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, where he was scheduled to play in a Friday night exhibition match. Traveling over a bridge with his truck and trailer on Ohio Interstate 76, Will was unable to avoid a collision with a car and a semi-trailer that had unexpectedly slowed in front of him.
Will has been described as the heart and soul of the polo community, a promising young player who was hard-working, sincere and a team player in every sense of the word. He grew up in the polo world, playing his first chukkers by the age of 5. He went on to play in the interscholastics in Fort Worth, Texas, where he led his team to the national championship in 2002 and 2003. From there, he earned a partial polo scholarship to Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In 2006, Texas Tech won their first ever intercollegiate championship.
After graduation, Will was working in an insurance office and trying to figure out a way to continue playing polo. It was then that he heard of Team USPA, the United States Polo Association’s new training program for aspiring professionals. He was accepted into the program during its first year, and went to study with Adam Snow, a former 10-goal player in Aiken. Dedicating himself to the sport, he progressed rapidly, and he worked tirelessly to improve his playing and his string.
Will was soon in demand on many teams, and those teams found success with him. Among other accomplishments, his teams won the USPA National Copper Cup 12-goal in Aiken in 2012 and 2013, as well as the National Chairman’s Cup 12-goal at Myopia in 2013. He also played internationally, in Argentina and Chile, and represented his country on the winning team of the Bryan Morrison Cup against England. Although Will’s tenacious playing and accurate hitting were responsible for many wins, he was never a flashy player. Instead, he played for his team, always taking the role that would help that team succeed, and making his teammates play better because of it.
In the days following the accident, a Facebook page was set up, called In Memory of Will Tankard, and it was soon filled with pictures, tributes and stories, as well as an immense outpouring of support from around the country and world. People came forward with their memories of Will, many of which involved accounts of his lending a hand to someone when they needed help. It became clear that, as beloved a figure as he was in the polo world, his generosity with his time and his talent went further than most people realized.
Kris Bowman, who is the director of Team USPA, says that Will embodied all of the qualities that Team USPA was looking for.
“He did everything exactly how we imagined,” she says. “He mentored with Adam, who ensured that he had all the tools to go forward, then he started finding horses to take him to the next level. So many people had a hand in getting Will to the point where he had that success in his career and so many people believed in him. And he totally understood the concept of giving back. If there was ever anyone in the program who had a problem or was struggling a bit, I knew I could always send them to Will and he would help them every day. He was so patient with them.”
Seven of Will’s horses miraculously survived the accident. They were transported to Mike and Andrea Groubert’s farm in Canfield, Ohio, where they were treated by a series of vets and have been cared for around the clock by Will’s mother, Cissie Snow, and his longtime partner Samira Waernlund, who was driving in her car behind Will when the accident occurred. Cissie, Samira and the Grouberts were joined by an army of volunteers. There have been friends such as Craig Fraser who was already in Ohio and Summer Kneese, who flew up from Texas, and the Donahey family who opened their home to the people who came to help. There were countless people in the polo family who offered assistance, and many more in the horse community who arrived as well, bringing food, medical supplies, and helping hands. The local Tractor Supply donated equipment, and the local 4-H club in Ohio sent young people every day to clean the barn and hand walk and graze the horses as they recovered. Various fundraisers were set up to help defray veterinary costs and to pay for medical supplies, feed and equipment.
“It has been incredible,” says Cissie Snow, who is overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of support. “People I don’t even know are here cleaning the barn. Families keep coming by with their children, bringing us food or wanting to give us some bandages that they had for their horse that they don’t need any more. One man we met reached in his pocket and took out ten dollars and gave it to us and said ‘This is all I can do. Please take this for the horses.’ That’s the kind of people they are. Every time I look around there are more angels. It is testimony to Will’s life. He would do that for somebody. It gives you faith in a lot of different ways.”
Cissie says that they hope to bring Will’s horses home to Aiken as soon as they are well enough to travel. Back home, the community has rallied with offers of help from veterinarians, feed and shavings suppliers and many more people who have been moved by the story.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” says Cissie. “Raising a child as a single parent in the polo community has been one of the most incredible experiences. I think Will took the best of everybody that ever helped him. I think he made me a better person and I think he made a lot of the other people who knew him better people, and it’s because he was raised by this village, this polo community.”
An addition to Cissie and Samira, Will also leaves his father, Bill Tankard and a brother, Jason Melson. A celebration of his life is scheduled for October 3 at Whitney Polo Field in Aiken.
To make a tax-deductible donation for the care of his horses, send checks to AIPF, 12300 South Shore Boulevard, STE 218, Wellington, FL 33414 or donate directly at In Memory of Will Tankard on GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/c44cvmh34.