The Lady on the Team
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
When the Northwood polo team takes to the field tomorrow at the Mercedes-Benz Polo Challenge, all eyes will be on Ashley Schiff.
It’s not just because she’s the only woman player in the tournament or because she is from a prominent New York family. It’s also because she happens to be one of the highest-ranking players in the Northeast — and she’s making a comeback after a three-year hiatus.
Ms. Schiff’s team will be facing Blackwatch, whose players include one of the best in the world, Facundo Pieres.”It will be a really tough game,” Ms. Schiff, a strong offensive player known for her near-side shot, said. “But I just love to play, so I am excited to get out there and ride and do my best.”
Ms. Schiff’s introduction to polo came in college, when she dated a polo player, but it wasn’t until her 20s when she became a serious player with a heavy tournament schedule in the Northeast, Florida, Argentina, and Ireland.
Though she brought home several trophies, the time commitment required got in the way of her work. “I didn’t just want to play polo. I also love my job,” Ms. Schiff said.
So, in order to focus on her work, she quit the polo circuit, hung up her mallets, and sold her horses, except for one, Satchmo.
It paid off: She’s now vice president of corporate public relations at the international firm PMK/HBH. She also started taking guitar lessons (she’s learning Clapton at the moment) and joined the board of Jazz at Lincoln Center, where her mother serves as chairwoman.
But in the last three years, she missed being a part of the rarified, international culture of polo. Nick Manifold, a player and friend, let Ms. Schiff ride his horses when she could, and last year pushed her to reconsider her decision.
“I encouraged her to come back because she was really good at it and I knew she loved it,” Mr. Manifold said.
And so Ms. Schiff is back — on her own terms. That means work comes onto the field with her. “My teammates tease me when I’m on my Blackberry,” she said.
She is playing two tournaments this year (the one at the Bridgehampton Polo Club and one in November in Buenos Aires, a side tournament to the sold-out stadium tournament, which draws more than 20,000 spectators).
Getting back in the game meant going on an expensive shopping spree. She bought new boots and kneepads and mallets and seven new horses named after jazz musicians. There is Satchmo, Billie, Sassy, Dizzy, Ella, Dinah, Sol, and Faylan. A full-time groom takes care of them at the Southampton Hunt & Polo Club.
To train, Ms. Schiff runs and lift weights and rides as much as she can. “The best training is playing,” she said.
On the weekends she rides 4 1/2 hours a day, playing six chukkers in the morning and riding in the afternoon. She is also taking lessons with one of her teammates, Andres Weisz.
“He’s a really talented teacher. We’ve been working on key riding skills. Being able to control your horse is essential. The stick skills follow.”
As far other sports go, the only one she’s found helpful for polo is boxing. “Not fighting, but the workout gets the core really strong.”
As tough as this weekend’s match will be, Ms. Schiff’s family will not be on the sidelines. Her parents, David and Lisa Schiff, fixtures of New York society, are in Europe.
Her extended family has a long history of horsemanship. Her grandfather John Schiff hunted foxes, played polo, and bred thoroughbreds.
Ms. Schiff first learned to ride at his estate in Oyster Bay, but didn’t have the chance to discuss polo with him, as he died when she was 12 years old. A portrait of him, dressed in his polo uniform, has a place of honor on a shelf next to the fireplace in Ms. Schiff’s Fifth Avenue apartment.
Schiff was the grandson of Jacob Schiff, who came to America from Germany when he was 26 and achieved prosperity that he passed on to his descendants. The owner and publisher of the New York Post, Dorothy Schiff, was John Schiff’s sister.
Looking at the portrait — surrounded by several others of her playing polo or picking up a trophy — Ms. Schiff summed up what draws her to the field. “It takes strategy, strength, and courage. And all the people out there love horses,” Ms. Schiff said.