How Rinaa Shah Defied Age And Became First Indian Woman Polo Player?

In the conversation with SheThePeople, Rinaa Shah speaks of her journey as a Polo player, and the pressure she felt from her friends and family.

Snehal Mutha
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First Indian Woman Polo Player Rinaa Shah
Rinaa Shah can truly be described as a multi-faceted individual with ample achievements under her name. Shah is the first Indian woman polo player to make her pathway in the men-dominated game. Shah believes that- it is one life, we should do all that makes us happy and have been following the same in her life. Shah became passionate about polo much later in her life. Before that, she pursued fashion and Business Management from Harvard. She created a business out of her formal skills and launched her own fashion label Rinaldi Designs in 1997, it catered to premium high-fashion footwear for women & kids. She went on from the comfort of her studio to the nerve-breaking rigorous schedule of Polo. For her, the transition wasn’t easy.

In the conversation with SheThePeople, Rinaa Shah speaks of her journey as a Polo player, and the pressure she felt from her friends and family. Shah went on to discuss the challenges she faced in the initial years of her training. She discussed her achievements, highlights of her Polo journey, and how Polo is seen in India.

First Indian Woman Polo Player Rinaa Shah

1. How your growing years have been, did sports interest you then? 

Yes, since childhood, I have loved sports. My dream was to become a world-famous athlete. I was ahead in all the sports and was the game captain. I also reached 100 metres in running and swimming for nationals. But being a Gujarati, my parents did not see that as a career and did not push me toward that dream. 

2. You have a very colourful educational background with Kathak, fashion, and business…Did it anywhere help you with your decision to become a polo player? 

As mentioned, it was always a dream, but because I could not pursue it, I let it go at 21. Then I focused on my shoe business for 17 years. When I got the opportunity, I grabbed it, not thinking of age or gender, and wanted to give it my all for ten years to become a polo player. But sportsmanship was always there in me and will always be. 


 3. How life has been juggling between your brand and as a sports person?

 It was challenging for the initial five years. I hardly slept and had no life with friends or family, but everything was worth it. The satisfaction of playing a sport was just exceptional. But if there is a will, there's a way. And to achieve something, you have to sacrifice.

 4. What was the inspiration for that one moment you decided to pick up Polo? 

Sports were missing in my life. I always wanted to play a team sport, and that's when I went to watch a game and fell in love with the sport and the horses. I knew it was looking impossible, but I was always attracted to that impossible and gave one year, day and night, to riding horses to see if I could even take it up and then to Argentina Ana USA to learn Polo. I was lucky that few people helped me and believed in me. 

5. What was the first moment that made you well-known among the fraternity and people? 

Just being in an all-men world, playing my first game against all odds, and seeing my dedication was the moment. 


6. Was it difficult to start with Polo a little later, after accomplishing so many things in life? 

Yes, of course, I sat on the horse for the first time at 38. Which is almost impossible at that age as most of the polo players have been riding horses since childhood. It also helps that after achieving so much you become fearless and want to inspire other women to join Polo. But I have never seen things that way; what I had achieved as a shoe designer or running a business for 17 years had nothing to do with Polo as I had to start from scratch and got an opportunity that in this lifetime I was not going to give up.

 7. You also have your own team, what are the challenges with them? 

The team came much later, but I knew this was my only chance to own a sports team, and the men I was playing with were not showing me that respect, so I had to show them what women can do and when I started my team they were asking me if they could play in my team. I have decided that I'm going to change the way people look and perceive things in India. One step at a time. 

8. What would you like to say about the quality of training and other facilities for Polo in India? 

It's not good because we don't even have a Polo School or any kind of professional setup. That's why I had to go abroad to train, and that's why no women are playing. I hope to change that, too, someday. From the perspective of supporting the sport, the cost of starting a Polo School is extensive and as it is an upcoming sport, it is hard to find people who are willing to make that kind of investment. 


9. Did you face any hindrances to your Polo journey? If so, how did you grow from it? 

There were many challenges, however, I had made up my mind a long time ago about supporting the sport and changing the perception of the game. After me, there are 3-4 women who are playing and I am very happy about it. Growing and learning have always been a part of me, and I never let age or gender come in between, and I continue to encourage that. 

10. Have you experienced any discrimination in this ostensibly male-dominated field? 

It's a male-dominated sport and many people thought I was not cut out for the sport, considering I am a woman. Also, my age was a barrier from their perspective. But that only motivated me more, and now my achievements can speak for me. 11. How essential do you think it is for young girls to enter Polo? If you want to get into the sport, horse riding is basic. Girls already riding would try the sport as it's one of the best things in the world, in my view. The feeling is just the best adrenaline. But parents are not very encouraging with their daughters as it's a dangerous and injuries-led sport.

12. What are your future plans?

 'I don't plan my future, I go with the Flow. But I will always be involved in Polo somewhere or the other. The immediate plan is to enter the Rinaldi under-30 team to help and inspire young kids to play Polo, so the sport does not die.

13. Any message you would like to give to women who want to enter sports? 

Women have more in their lockers than they know. They can do better, have excellent concentration, and are always willing to work hard. India needs that, but most importantly needs people who will chase the POLO dream despite family pressure. We live once so do what makes you happy, and sports are the best thing to happen to a human. Believe in yourself and never back down!

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Rinaa Shah Woman Polo Player