Polo Life

The love of all things equestrian is a common theme in Aiken SC, and we reflect that passion in a lot of our interior designs and the merchandise that we put in our Aiken Store.   That is one reason that we were so open to hosting a book signing event for Shelley Onderdonk and Adam Snow, the husband wife team behind the newly released book The Polo Life, Horses, Sport, 10 and Zen.

Polo Life by Adam Snow

The other reason is that I personally know Shelley & Adam and respect the success that they’ve both had in their respective fields. I felt that our clients would enjoy hearing from a couple who had actually lived the “Polo Life.” It wasn’t until after I had finished reading their book that I became really enthusiastic about sharing this with our friends and clients.

Aiken is steeped in the tradition of the equestrian life and the elements of equestrian design run through many of our projects. Although I myself am not an equestrian, I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky: the thoroughbred capital of the world.  Jim (my husband, business partner and the CFO of Nandina) spent the first 10 years of his career in the thoroughbred racing industry. I considered myself a little more informed than the novice polo admirer that associates polo with the glamor and wealth of a “Palm Beach” lifestyle.  I had a rudimentary understanding  of  the game and I thought I was aware of how athletically demanding the sport is.  Chapter after chapter of the words so skillfully strung together by Shelley and Adam, I was awestruck at how uninformed I was.

This book is much deeper than polo— it is about relationships, the commitment to excellence, the art of being in the moment, and living a life intimately intertwined with beautiful and strong animals.  This book was a cover to cover read for me from the moment I started the first page.

Let’s find out more…

I had the opportunity to probe a little deeper and ask Shelley and Adam to answer a few questions. Their answers below only serve to enhance the tightly articulated story they have jointly shared in Polo Life. Enjoy!

Shelly Onderdonk and Adam Snow, Aiken SC

Shelley and Adam on their horse farm in Aiken SC

Both: This book is ultimately about relationships; the relationship you have with each other, the relationship you have with the ponies, and the relationship you have with yourselves.  How has polo made these relationships stronger? What obstacles to building good relationships did polo create?

Shelley – From the outset, polo was a source of friction in Adams and my relationship; I had only agreed to marry him if he quit! The nomadic lifestyle, the perceived frivolity, and his devotion to the sport were all difficult obstacles for me to overcome. As we write in our book, it was really the horses that were the glue that held us together. With time, I grew in my capacity to “work within the system” by serving horses in the polo community and become less judgmental of my husbands choices. Our relationship was certainly strengthened through adversity (more on that in question #5). The relationships with the ponies has been one of the most rewarding experiences I can imagine in life. There are many reasons to spend a life with horses —first of which, they challenge me to bring out the best in myself.

Adam –  Ultimately, I think Shelley’s and my partnership around polo has strengthened our relationship. Early on this was not the case, when going to play another season was what always took me away from home. Even once Shelley decided on her Veterinary path, there were many times when the work load–and relative rewards of our partnership–seemed skewed. She had the kids, the care of the horses, the farm, and her career, while I dropped everything and played the game I loved from one tournament to the next. Still, she supported me with everything. And when I began slowing down my travel time, we bred a few of our best retired mares and began training their offspring together. This was when I came to fully appreciate the strength of our partnership as it relates to the training and maintenance of “our” horses. We both get to utilize our strengths around a shared love and passion. And we enjoy working together.

Adam – Can you share with us three of the highest highs in Polo and three of the lowest lows?

Three highs:

  1. Winning the Westchester Cup in sudden death for the United States in 1991 in Windsor, England (with Owen Rinehart, John Gobin and Rob Walton), and getting to shake the Queen’s hand in the trophy presentation
  2. Winning the US Open with Coca Cola for my first time in 2002, also winning MVP and BPP (with Pumbaa) for this match and realizing it gave me a shot of going to 10 goals
  3. Playing in the Argentine Open in Palermo for the first time on field #1 (La Catedral) in 1999 against Chapaleufu I, still with all four Heguy brothers.

Three lows:

  1. Losing the Westchester Cup on US soil in 2009 by one goal with a team I captained.
  2. Getting fired from a job for the first time after the 1994 summer season in UK.
  3. Losing Beach Bum, a horse that Shelley and had trained, to colic (just after she played her first tournament successfully at age 6) because I thought I was too busy to drive her to the University Hospital in Athens, GA (which would have been the safest thing to do). I chose the easiest thing to do (a local clinic), rather than the safest (UGA 2 ½ hours aways) and–even though there is not a guarantee UGA could have saved her–I will never let myself forget this brutal mistake.


Both: What do you love about Aiken, SC?

Adam –  I love Aiken for being home to a diverse group of people as well as a calm environment for our kids (who grew up exploring trails in the woods and sometimes sleeping under the stars), for its’ farmland–agricultural, as well as equestrian–immediately outside city limits, for the relatively low cost of keeping and maintaining horses, for it’s good restaurants, Hitchcock Woods and New Moon Cafe. 

Shelley – I love Aiken because of the eclectic nature of the people and its commitment to open land preservation. 

Adam Snow Polo Life AikenAdam: Obtaining top 10 ranking is a huge life achievement. Do you have any advice for someone reaching towards a major goal?

The factors that helped me achieve my major goal were:

  1. Being all in (a lot gets sacrificed with this attitude, even though I only appreciated/realized many of those things later–and am not always proud of them).
  2. Focusing on the journey and not the destination (or potential pitfalls).
  3. Not worrying about things out of my control. Aspects of these three ideas would be involved in any advice I could offer towards others’ ambitions…even while I don’t really feel qualified to offer it.

Shelley: Marriage to someone who is wholly dedicated to his sport must have had its difficulties. Did this affect your relationship? How did you work together to ensure successful marriage? How did you shield or include your boys in the polo world.

Spending most months apart over decades was not easy for us as a couple, but I refused to not have a career, and then later even more importantly, I refused to allow my children to not have what they needed in terms of school and extracurricular activities, so it was necessary. I believe Adam and I persevered due to our inherently serious and dogged natures; we sort of just refused to give up. In terms of our boys, polo provided spectacular opportunities to travel and live in different places. There wasn’t much need to shield them from our polo lifestyle, (which focused on the barn!) but I was certainly aware that others’ polo lifestyles were not perhaps as wholesome.

Shelley: Your quote from the book is very inspiring: “I approach a problem with no preconceptions – make my mind a Tabula Rasa to assess the situation”. Do you have any advice for dealing with stressful situations and obstacles that may pop-up in life?

I think my best advice is to strive to be non-reactive. Develop habits which allow you to, when in a stressful situation, process information with a rational mind, keep your heart rate and breathing steady, and assess before you respond. Both my background in cognitive science and my current practice of yoga point to the efficacy of using techniques such as mindfulness to find better solutions to problems, and decrease your stress in doing so. Give yourself time to let in a wider perspective so your response can be thoughtful rather than reactive.

We hope to see you at our book signing event December 2nd from 5 to 7pm! Adam and Shelley will be giving a brief presentation at 6pm — you won’t want to miss it!

Check out the Facebook event and share with your friends: Polo Life Book Signing


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