Did a Woman Disguise Herself as a Man for Decades to Play Professional Polo?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about polo and whether they are true or false.

POLO URBAN LEGEND: A female polo player pretended to be a man for twenty years so as to play professional polo.

Polo originated in Persia/Iran, some time between 600 BC and 1 AD, and soon became more or less the national sport of Iran. It was a much different game back then (as are most sports when you look back at the beginning), with groups sometimes as large as 100 per side competing! You can imagine how that might have looked!

The game eventually passed from Persia to India, and it was in Manipur (now a state in India) that the British picked the game up (British officers in India brought the game to England around 1860).

England spread the game across the globe in the late 19th Century/early 20th Century.

The first United States polo match took place at Dickel’s Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue. American polo was played at a much faster pace than British polo (Indian polo tended to be pretty fast-paced, as well – the British actually slowed the game down some).

It soon became a popular game with the upper crust of America.

It was also very much a male sport.

That did not stop Sue Sally Hale (nee Jones), who was born in 1938 in Southern California to Grover Jones (a popular Hollywood screenwriter – he wrote The Virginian and Abe Lincoln in Illinois) and Susan Avery (a former ballerina).

Her father died when she was a young girl, right around the same time she got her first pony. Her mother married Richard Talmadge, a movie actor and stuntman. Talmadge encouraged Sue Sally to play polo, and she soon began playing the sport at a high level when she was a young teen.

The problem was that in 1952, club matches (let alone professional matches) were closed to female players. So Sue Sally used mascara to apply a mustache to her face, wore baggy clothes, pulled her hair up under her helmet and gave the name “A. Jones” to compete.

She soon became one of the country’s top young polo players, and eventually, it became a bit of an open secret that “A. Jones” was really Sue Sally (at least among people who knew her at all), but constant pushes by Sue Sally and her friends in polo were rebuffed.

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Finally, in 1972, after talk about a lawsuit, the United States Polo Association allowed her membership. Soon she began organizing women’s tournaments. She became known as one of the leading female players in the world, and in 1990, she (and her daughter, Sunny, who still competes professionally) were part of the winning team at the 1990 United States Women’s Open.

Hale coached polo at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Santa Ana, California. She also taught it to handicapped children.

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Hale died in 2003 at the age of 65.

The legend is…

STATUS: True

The “Polo Zone,” an online polo community, has a great tribute to Hale up here, filled with reminiscences of Hale by the people who knew her best.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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