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Judy Foreman: Doreen Ladin Rides Tall as Women’s Polo Ambassador

Chairing Maria Caleel Memorial Tournament is the latest milestone in horeswoman’s long career in the saddle

Doreen Ladin, left, and her polo-playing family: husband Joel, daughters Courtney and Nicolle, and son Matthew.
Doreen Ladin, left, and her polo-playing family: husband Joel, daughters Courtney and Nicolle, and son Matthew.  (Coral Von Zumwalt / Santa Barbara Magazine file photo republished with permission)

Polo may be called the “sport of kings,” but women’s polo is the fastest-growing segment in the game. That’s not news in Santa Barbara, where men and women compete every year at the historic Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club.

One of the most distinguished women polo players locally is Montecito resident and retired polo devotee Doreen Ladin.

Ladin has served on the boards and leadership of many local nonprofit organizations, among them Cyanotic Heart Association, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, National Charity League, First Ladies of the Dream Foundation and the One Hundred Committee of Girls Incorporated of Greater Santa Barbara. But it’s the polo community that holds a special place in her heart.

She had an illustrious decades-long career as an equestrian and polo player and was part of her family team, which included husband Joel, daughter Courtney and son Matthew. NICOMA, their team moniker, is an acronym for their three grown children, Nicolle, Courtney and Matthew.

While living in Los Angeles in the 1970s, the Ladins joined Foxfield English Riding Academy in Westlake Village, where they were formally trained in hunter jumper and dressage.

Women’s polo pioneer Sue Sally Hale and some other players convinced Joel, at the time a corporate attorney in Century City, to bid on an equestrian facilities contract at Will Rogers State Historic Park in the Santa Monica Mountains above Pacific Palisades. The family got the contract and, from 1984 to 1994, they were business partners with the state of California.

Doreen ran the daily operations, which included the polo club, English riding academy, horse boarding and children’s pony rides, and oversaw all the still photography and films made at the park. The Ladins’ children literally learned how to ride horses before learning to ride bicycles.

In 1991, the Ladins moved to Santa Ynez to give their children a countrified lifestyle and made Santa Barbara their home polo club. When Ladin started playing polo in 1991, she was the only woman player in the club, which had 55 male members.

“When I rode out to the field to play, I didn’t go as woman but as member of a team with a job to do!” she recalled.

The family team won numerous polo tournaments over the years, traveling to play around the United States, in Argentina and in England. Counting 30 horses in their string, they added to their herd with mounts they bought in Argentina and had flown home. In 1993, meanwhile, they hosted the English team at their Santa Ynez ranch while they competed in Santa Barbara.

The Ladins moved to Montecito in 2000 to be closer to the polo club. Until recently, they were the only family to live and play full time in Santa Barbara.

“I have seen the sport for women develop over the years in an impressive manner,” Ladin said.

This year, she was asked to help promote women’s polo as a member of the Federation of International Polo, which has polo ambassadors all over the world.

“I strive to promote the sport for women, increase public awareness of women’s participation in this great sport, and enhance polo relationships internationally,” she explained. “I love giving back to the sport of polo that has enriched my family’s life and me.

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘A polo handicap is passport to the world.’ This quote resonates with our entire family, which has friends all over the world in the polo community.”

Ladin also has been invited to chair the Women’s Polo Tournament Committee at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, where she’s assisted by committee members Paige Beard, Alison Hansen, Melania Jones, Ariana Nobel and Claudia Uretz.

From Sept. 19-21, the club will host the Maria Caleel Memorial Tournament, which had been hosted for 25 years at Oak Brook Polo Club near Chicago before Ladin was able to have the event moved permanently to Santa Barbara.

Caleel, the daughter of Annette and Dr. Richard Caleel of Montecito, was a 21-year-old veterinary medicine student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when she was fatally stabbed in her off-campus apartment in 1988. Her attacker was never identified and her murder remains unsolved.

The tournament in her honor is U.S. Polo Association- and Women’s Championship Tournament-sanctioned and will attract a stunning roster of the highest-rated women players from around the country. Among those competing will be Hale’s daughter, Sunny Hale, the highest-rated women’s player and a close friend of the Ladins.

Jewelry by Gauthier of Santa Barbara is sponsoring the event. Owner Scott Gauthier, a jewelry designer, has created custom-made white gold horseshoe necklaces with diamond pave for the winners. Gauthier also will host a cocktail party for the players and VIPs  during the weekend of the tournament.

Play will continue throughout the weekend with the finals set for 3 p.m. Sept. 21. This is the first time that the women’s finals will be played on the Holden Field No. 2 for spectators.

Girls Incorporated of Greater Santa Barbara will be the beneficiary of the event’s proceeds. A silent auction will be held Sept. 21 and the public is invited to attend any or all of the events that weekend. There is no entry fee for spectators who mention at the gate that they are attending the Girls Inc. event.

To RSVP or for more information and to purchase tickets, email [email protected].

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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