Profile: Livi Strang-Steel

We sat down with Livi Strang-Steel to hear about her role within the St Andrews Polo Committee ahead of the annual Polo Tournament on 21 April 2018.

1. How did you initially get involved with the St Andrews Polo Tournament Committee?

St Andrews has an accomplished polo reputation which I was keen to be involved with. I subsequently followed the online application and interview process to join the polo organization team under Hannah Cope. After being part of her team in first year, I then progressed into her role as Polo Director in 2017.

2. Explain your role. How accurate is the definition of what you actually do?

I coordinate a team that organizes the entire polo aspect of the tournament. There are multiple associated branches that create a complex web of roles within our sub-committee.

Broken down, the polo organization team are relied upon to connect with universities, Scots Dragoon Guards, Help for Heroes, and professional players to synchronize a spectrum of divisions and matches at the tournament. Regular updates are provided detailing regulations, invoices, accommodation, after party and travel information. We manage horse hire and transport from across the UK to provide an accurate number of ponies for each player over the weekend. There is a strong overlap with the finance department as we provide invoices to players, whilst accounting our expenditure for the polo aspect. Having secured the pitches and final field with Dundee & Perth Polo Club and Jamie Heriot Maitland, our team finalizes a vet, horse ambulance, and medic. Closer to the tournament umpires, commentators, goal-judges, scorers, and time-keepers are confirmed. Team shirts and final awards are also provided in close operation with the Sponsorship department.

3. What does a typical day look like in your role?

No day is the same, and the demands of the role vary throughout the year. In September the Tournament Committee is decided for the year and most departments can start to get ahead with their work. Aside from player invites to the event, most of our work doesn’t begin until January as it is unrealistic to expect people involved to be able to commit to the dates too far in advance. Typically, polo organization involves continuous contact with all involved, fortnightly meetings with my sub-committee, weekly meetings with the other directors and a meeting as a full committee every few months. I do, however, often find myself in a rabbit hole of emails and planning, so regularly sit down with the intention of replying to one email and find myself in a warren of finances and planning hours down the line.   

4. What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of your role?

The position can be hugely satisfying, and one of the most fulfilling parts is undoubtedly networking with so many new people. However, this comes with the added frustrations of changes in plans and commitments falling through which can be stressful to overcome under temporal and financial constraints. Additionally, it is difficult to know when to make appropriate sacrifices, whilst keeping the happiness and satisfaction of everyone involved at the forefront of the tournament.

On a more personal level, juggling the tournament with my degree, Investment Society, CalSoc Committee, catering with Ginger Snap and training my own young horse on the British Eventing circuit can be challenging and requires strict time management.  

5. What experience do you have with planning/participating in an event such as the St. Andrews Polo Tournament?

I am lucky enough to have been involved in the equestrian world since I was about two, starting in Pony Club, and now competing up to an international level in British Eventing. This experience has developed a huge range of contacts in the equestrian sphere. I worked for international event riders Harry Meade and Wills Oakden, giving me direct experience of coordinating teams of horses, people, and owners on a daily basis. I regularly compete at national and international Horse Trials of an even larger scale, so have an in-depth understanding of how these events run most efficiently and the best way to optimize athlete, supporter and spectator experience.  

6. Who, if anyone, has helped you along the way in planning the tournament?

I am lucky enough to have a lovely team on our sub-committee who all work to ensure jobs are completed before their deadline and to the highest standard. Hannah Cope, who worked to develop the tournament in its early stages and whose role I took over, is always at the end of the phone. The club president, Jim Bliss, is also an invaluable support and as a regular player himself, he has close connections amongst other universities and horse hirers. Thom Bell and Gilly Lockhart at Kinross Polo are a huge help to the tournament annually and provide assistance on a regular basis.  

7. Can you describe what setbacks you’ve had while planning and how you’ve solved these problems?

The biggest complication we’ve faced are commitment creating issues in developing an alternative, especially at later stages in the planning. Whilst this can seem like a minor challenge, the knock-on effect can be extensive. There is always a solution to any setback and with a strategic mindset, there is always an alternative. Predicting potential outcomes in advance and preparing a Plan B or C for possible scenarios helps to drastically reduce the effect of such setbacks.  

8. What would you like outsiders or guests to take away from the Polo Tournament and how are you trying to achieve those things?

Polo is one of the singular sports which is mixed gender at all levels, from small university tournament teams to the Cartier Queens Cup, with both men and women featuring equally in matches. As a sport, polo has always been outstanding in its field for driving gender equality, generating a hugely important message for spectators to take away.

For me, it’s also very important that there is a huge awareness at the event of Help for Heroes as a charity. So often, well-intentioned university-run charity events don’t thoroughly convey the significance and prevalence of the charity which they support. For our committee Help for Heroes are the backbone of our tournament. With the H4H match and the promotion for the charity before and during the event, I hope will expose the importance of H4H to spectators and supporters.  

9. What have you taken away from this experience?

Organising an event at a national scale, despite its pressures, is a highly rewarding job and has allowed me to develop both extensive communication skills and has improved my ability to be flexible. I am instinctively a very methodical person, but this experience has helped to encourage a relaxed mindset given the nature of running such an event. Although heightened prior-planning is vital, anticipating and accommodating change is also necessary, demanding the ability to adapt to shifting circumstances.   

10. Do you have any advice you would give to someone who is thinking about joining the St. Andrews Polo Tournament Committee?

Be open-minded in your approach to the tournament and have the confidence to introduce new ideas and suggestions to improve the event itself.

11. Describe your favorite moment in planning the tournament or your favorite memory from previous tournaments.

The satisfaction of the finals when spectators and players are hopefully able to make the most of all the hard work that has gone into its creation.