A Day with Polo Star Nic Roldan
By Bill Kearney
2 p.m.—Ferragamo, Bal Harbour Shops
I rendezvous with Nic Roldan and his mother, Dagmar, as they walk into Ferragamo for a fitting—the Italian clothing company dresses him for appearances wherever his polo life brings him. Nic—lithe, tan, and athletic—strips out of his khakis, V-neck tee, and orange-soled wing tips and reappears in a slick berry-colored suit. Dagmar frowns. “I don’t like it,” she says with a German accent. “If she’s got an opinion, you’re gonna hear it,” Nic adds playfully.
The manager puts him in a handsome gray herringbone tweed suit and sweater. “Big improvement,” Dagmar says, almost beaming, then notices the pants are loose. “Tell your girlfriend to cook a little better.” Nic chuckles. His Argentine father was a second- generation professional polo player who moved the family from Buenos Aires to the polo hotbed of Wellington, Florida, when Nic was 2. He was on a horse by age 3, and grew up surfing, skiing, and golfing, and he played Junior Olympic hockey. The family’s polo lifestyle, which saw them bouncing between Argentina, England, and Florida annually, meant home schooling for Nic. At age 14, he became the world’s youngest professional polo player. Nic and Dagmar agree on the herringbone tweed, and we’re off.
3 p.m.—Design District
We peek into the Baxter—Made in Italy showroom, where a large spiderweb-like chandelier above a rather masculine dining table catches their eyes. Dagmar is an interior decorator, and she designed the interiors of Nic’s house in Wellington. She didn’t fully approve of the big bright pink and orange skull paintings he added, but these two seem to enjoy their differences. It turns out Nic’s brand logo is a skull with a polo stick. Though polo players have relatively long careers, some playing at a high level until age 45, Nic is looking to life after the game. He’s just become a shareholder in a company called Pologear, designing his own line of high-level boots, knee guards, and helmets, with an eventual goal of designing a clothing line.
Talk turns to his new saddle design, and his tone shifts from business to passion. He explains that players tend to sit as far forward as possible on a horse, but that can restrict the horse’s fluidity and movement, and eventually injure it. “Polo is so demanding and strenuous on the horses that they come off sore, just like any athlete after a game. We thought, How can we minimize injuries [to the horse]?” The result—after brainstorming with vets, horse chiropractors, and grooms—is the Free Shoulder Saddle. Roldan and his team moved the saddle frame back, so the horse’s shoulders are free, yet suspend the seat forward, so the rider can still be in an aggressive, agile position.
We stroll the streets, Nic snapping photos of various murals in the late afternoon light. “I love street art,” he says. “I love New York, too, but I need to be close to a farm. I get crazy after a while being in the city.” His house in Wellington is a respite, but it’s only home for the winter, as he plays through the Argentina and England seasons each year, just as his father did. At age 30, he’s approaching his prime as a polo player, which he says is 35. “Mentally you have more experience—reading the play two seconds before anyone else. Top players know.” He equates the sport to hockey on horseback, in terms of spontaneity and decision-making, and considers Argentina’s Adolfo Cambiaso, from whom he’s bought many horses, to be the best polo player in the world.
Unlike in his father’s playing days, pros today own their own mounts, and it takes years to accumulate enough top animals. His favorite is Ilucionada. “She’s got unbelievable power, she’s superfast, super-agile, and superhandy— stops on a dime. It’s like driving an Audi R8 compared to an SUV.” Do the horses know it’s game time? “They love it,” he says.
Dagmar chimes in that barn life is also wonderful— the pastoral elegance of it, sitting around together during downtime. “Most wives and girlfriends don’t like it too much,” she says, “because the guys until 12 o’clock at night are at the barn drinking mate.”
Nic disagrees. “The old generation will sit at the barn, but the new kids, they don’t do that. I would never leave my wife at home and sit around all day drinking mate.”
“Your girlfriend wouldn’t [tolerate it].”
“No, she’d kill me.”
We open the inconspicuous Fredric Snitzer Gallery door and wander into a glade of dour cigarette people—child-size figurines holding placards with slogans such as I WANT ONE MILLION DOLLARS AND A DIVORCE AND SUCK 'EM HIPPY!; all are quite enchanting to both Nic and his mom. Gallery Director Clayton Deutsch emerges from behind a wall and informs us Los Angeles-based artist Jon Pylypchuk has been labeled by critics as part of the “aesthetic of the pathetic” for the melancholic mood of his characters. Nic realizes that the figurines are cleverly made of repurposed jean legs filled with foam.
6 p.m.—Michael’s Genuine
Friend Alex Mijares shows up wearing a knit cap and pronounced jewelry. The two met when Nic taught Mijares polo skills at a class in Wellington, and Nic is a fan of his paintings. Servers place char-grilled octopus and truffled pizza on the table, and we all dig in, Nic and Mijares reminiscing about late nights at LIV, how Mijares is still a man-about-town, and Nic not so much.
“He’s quiet lately,” chides Dagmar.
“It’s the handcuff,” says Mijares, in reference to Nic’s girlfriend, who lives in New York. Is there a possibility of a night out on South Beach? No: Nic’s off to New York early tomorrow morning for one last time before polo season kicks into high gear. The season at International Polo Club Palm Beach runs from January 6 through April 21. 3667 120th Ave. S., Wellington, 561-282-5290
photography by dan tabar (opener); by bill kearney (with dagmar)
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.