Mongolian Polo: The Exciting Life of Traveling Women Polo Players – Part 2

Equestrian business owner Elizabeth Welborn on her horse "Mono", which continues to inspire her to create products for her luxury brand "Stick & Ball"

Equestrian Adventuresses’ regular contributor Charlotte met Elizabeth during a summer playing polo in Mongolia in 2015. They connected over their love of horses, travel and the sport of polo. In this interview, Elizabeth tells Charlotte how she used her passion for horses and beautiful fabrics to create a luxury and sustainable equestrian-inspired brand of clothes and accessories. She shares the excitement and challenges of being a single mother of highly athletic kids, being an active polo player and sourcing the incredible materials and designs for her equestrian business from all over the world.

Author: Charlotte Kingsman

Question: How did your journey with horses, and then polo, start?

Growing up in South Louisiana, I spent most of my childhood outdoors as a born nature lover. At the age of 11, my parents sent my brother and I to live with my aunt in Scotland. There were stables down the road where I learned to ride and jump. I fell in love with horses and everything about them from the first day. I then went back home to South Louisiana and dreamed of horses for many, many years before I was able to begin riding again as there were no riding facilities close to where I grew up.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and had moved to San Francisco that a friend invited me to the local polo club. Back then there were no women playing at this club so I didn’t even know women could play! That’s until I travelled to Argentina in 2011 and had my first polo lesson. The professional polo players there were not used to women playing but, seeing my determination,  invited me out for the remainder of the week to play chukkers (polo matches). I knew nothing at the time but I held on to the saddle and kept up with the game. At that point my only goal was not to fall off or cause a crash!

Equestrian business owner Elizabeth in her "Stick & Ball" Airstream at the Oyster Cup Polo tournament on August 20, 2016.
Stick & Ball Airstream. Photo credits: Dominic James

Q: How did you come to create your clothing and accessories brand, “Stick & Ball?”

Since childhood, I have been a deep thinker and a creative person. My mind never stops thinking of new ideas, whether it is fashion, art, poetry or food, I simply love to make beautiful and inspiring things.

Journey from Horse-Lover to Creator of a Luxury Equestrian Business and Brand

Stick & Ball (S&B) is a lifestyle brand I created inspired by polo and the equestrian ways of life celebrated around the world. The brand reflects an authentic heritage sense of style with designs that are sustainable and classic to transcend seasons. My collections are inspired by my travels in equestrian cultures throughout the Americas and the world as well as my love for incredible textiles. I focus on a few different niches – hand woven ponchos, classic knits, hand sewn linens and kaftans, Italian vegetable tanned leather goods, silks and linens, equestrian inspired home decor, and hand-forged jewelry.

The company was born organically. I used to throw dinners and charity events next to the polo field and provide guests with ponchos for the chilly evenings. These ponchos were extremely popular among the guests so I began making them in the highest alpaca fiber I could find as well as making belts by hand.

My First On-The-Road Pop Up Shop

I will never forget my first on-the-road pop up shop. I traveled to New Orleans for my 40th birthday with my best friend. She walked into the hotel room to find me, sitting on the floor, finishing dozens of belts before our pop up at the New Orleans Polo Club.

Today, we have collections in many different categories. Coming up with the idea and design is not the hardest part, it is difficult to get them produced at the quality and sustainability levels we strive for. I call our business “slow fashion” like the “slow food” movement. But once we have created something, it is a piece you can keep forever.

Equestrian business owner Elizabeth Welborn on her horse "Mono", which continues to inspire her to create products for her luxury brand "Stick & Ball"
Elizabeth Welborn on horse, “Mono”, the Stick & Ball muse. Photo credits: Peter Michaelis

Q: Do you travel for work, as well as for polo?

I travel to visit artisans, source textiles and to host our many sales events. Wherever I go, I bring my boots and helmet and hope to play polo, ride with friends or at least visit a friend’s farm. I have traveled to many corners of the world playing polo.

Mexico, France, Argentina and Peru have been incredibly inspiring places to play but the most extraordinary travels have been, hands down, to Mongolia. I went the year I separated from my husband and was having a very difficult time. Mongolia pushed me towards a new perspective, a new way of seeing things. In addition to playing polo in one of the most remote polo clubs on earth (on Mongolian ponies, nevertheless), I did a weeklong trek on horseback into the Northwest corner of the country. There, I was away from all civilization – in awe of the vast open and undeveloped countryside with stars that never stopped. The beauty was juxtaposed with hardships as we camped each night in extremely cold conditions, rode horses in the cold snow and rain.

Admiring cave paintings of horses in a rock surface in Mongolia
During the Mongolia trip. Photo credits: Elizabeth Welborn

A friend and I came down with altitude sickness but we were taken in by a local family. I climbed my first mountain and, to this day, this still gives me strength. To push yourself to such extremes gives you incredible strength and gratitude. I have since returned to Mongolia with my son and look forward to another trip soon with my daughter.

Q: Has your equestrian business “Stick & Ball” enabled you to meet interesting people?

Almost all of our models so far have been equestrians who love horses. I ask friends to model, women I believe in, who embody our classic style and who inspire me with their strength, their stories and passions. There are a few as far as Africa and Asia that I haven’t yet been able to meet with to do shoots but have them in mind for new collections. As we begin designing and producing for men, I am hoping to choose equally inspiring individuals.

I have also worked with an incredible English photographer and friend, Dominic James.  Although he does not ride he is a very talented polo photographer. He visited California to shoot one of our matches and after, we did some impromptu fashion shoots. He has been my main brand photographer since. I am also proud to say I taught him how to ride a horse.

On top of a mountain in Mongolia in the snow
Happy on top of the summit in Mongolia. Photo credits: Elizabeth Welborn

Q: You have kids, horses and an equestrian business … how do you manage it?

I don’t! Well, at least, I don’t do any of them perfectly, but I try very hard to do each the best I can. Polo has had to take a back seat lately as my children do other sports at a competitive level – lacrosse, volleyball, football, rugby, etc. The time and money I am investing for my children in their sports is my sacrifice as a mom.  I love seeing them enjoy their own passions and advance as athletes. There are still 6 more years until they graduate which means that until then, if you see my playing, know that I probably had not been on a horse for months!

I Never Stop Working

As far as managing and growing the company, I really never stop working. There is always so much to do when running a fashion business – creating/designing, production of your ideas, managing inventory, marketing, selling, website, writing, bookkeeping… the hats are too many to name. I used to be that person that was on top of everything at any given moment. Now, I just try my best.  The reality of being a single, working mom is that you simply do your best. Sometimes the ball drops and you have to forgive yourself and give yourself a pat on the back for the things you have managed to get done right.

I currently have three horses, Mono, Beba and Summer. Mono is our muse at Stick & Ball. He is the perfect polo pony, originally from Argentina. He was my first horse and I learned how to play polo on him. His patience and athletic ability is what gave me confidence to play. These three polo ponies are just turning 20 and are now enjoying trail rides, pasture time and occasional kids chukkers.  I now mainly lease horses when I travel for tournaments. In polo, it is common to not have ridden a particular horse prior to playing them in a game. This is sometimes a little frightening as each horse just as each rider is very different and sometimes has some “surprise moves”, but this generally just makes me more aware as a rider.

Players and horses posing for the camera at the Genghis Khan Polo Club in Summer 2015
At the Genghis Khan Polo Club in Summer 2015. Photo credits: Elizabeth Welborn

Q: What’s next? Any bucket list equestrian adventures?

What’s next… business wise – fashion businesses tend to only do well financially when they are bigger due to the economies of scale. Huge is not my goal for many reasons, namely that we produce sustainably and that is harder to control if you are too big, but we need to reach a larger audience. I grew the brand mainly in our polo circles and a few special hunter/jumper events. We now will begin a push further outside the equestrian circles. In order to grow, we need a bigger team and new product offerings. This will require raising capital. I have bootstrapped our brand from the onset doing most tasks myself and with a few people but working 24-7 is not sustainable! So, growing our working capital, our team, our product offerings and reach is what’s next.

Equestrian adventures – there are so many wish list places.  A friend has invited me to play in Dubai where the polo field looks incredible. I remember Sunny Hale being the first women to play there in high goal many years ago. I am also looking forward to playing in England and Thailand with a friend of mine, Rebecca Walters, and in Jaipur, India, if we begin some silk production there and of course to visit you, Charlotte! India has such an incredible history with polo and textiles.  An adventure in Africa to both play and trek is also a wish list. I adore Mexico and look forward to playing at more clubs with my friends there. I have friends in polo all over the world now, the list doesn’t end. Polo certainly is the nomadic sport.

Now that you know equestrian business owner Elizabeth a bit better, we highly recommend to have a look at the incredible clothing line and accessories on the Stick & Ball website!

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For more stories about women polo players, check out our first article in this series!

Published by Krys Kolumbus Travel

Krystal Kelly is a California girl on a Quest to see every country. She is a professional equestrian adventuress and has worked internationally with horses since 2010. Since then she has worked at professional competition and riding stables in Egypt, Italy, Romania, India and Bhutan! "I love travelling and I love horses and I am very blessed to be able to do both of my passions for a living!" She now has her own company, Krys Kolumbus Travel where she strives to empower women to travel and provides resources, tips and online courses to encourage women to travel SOLO to unique destinations. www.kryskolumbustravel.com www.krystal-kelly.com

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