Robert is and breathes polo. Every November without fail he leaves for his second home in Argentina to attend the Palermo Open, the polo tournament of the world. In the beginning of the new year he returns and starts preparing for the polo season in the Netherlands. His schedule always includes Polo Brabant, the polo tournament of the Benelux.
Robert has been living in the Netherlands since 1988, but his accent betrays an Argentine touch. ‘I was raised in Argentina’. There he was spoonfed the love for polo. ‘That is right. As long as I can remember. As a boy I lived on a farm in Argentina. On Sundays my friends and I went to a neighbouring farm where a polo match was held that day; we played and had a BBQ afterwards; that is how we spent our weekends. ‘ When Argentina was in dire straits, he moved back to the Netherlands.
Nowadays he combines his wanderlust with work in the transportation of horses by air: ‘Apart from polo horses, that includes Friesian, jumping, dressage and race horses to and from contests, including the Olympic Games. Transportation by air is a true specialism. Horses behave differently at an altitude of 30.000 feet, that’s how sensitive they are. On top of that they are in unfamiliar surroundings, experience sounds, different humidity levels and speed.’
But polo is Robert’s favourite topic. Every year he is looking forward to it; a month in ‘his’ Argentina, to be part of the biggest polo tournament of the world: the ‘Campionato Argentino Abierto de Polo’ (the open Argentine interclub championship), drawing crowds of tens of thousands.
Robert: ‘For one month every weekend features plays of the highest level.’ That is why you will often find him at the Campo Argentino de Polo in Buenos Aires, dating from 1928. This is the most important polo venue in the country, also known as ‘The Cathedral of Polo’.
‘EVERYTHING I DO IS POLO, POLO AND STILL MORE POLO’
He himself does not play polo, he sniffles: ‘If only. I am 63 years of age now, my amateur polo days are long gone. This is a very physical sport and you need to be top fit.’ Nevertheless, his polo heart is still big: ‘I live and breathe polo. Everything I do is polo, polo and still more polo.’ His ‘madness for polo’, as he calls it himself, stems from his early childhood: ‘Of course, In Argentina polo is sport number one. It is easier to play there than it is here: the climate, large farms, less expensive. Here you are limited by the seasons, there the weather is always good. The Palermo Open hosts crowds as big as overhere in a full soccer stadium, that’s how popular the sport is in Argentina. At the end of the year the entire polo world is present there; for one week, two weeks or even longer.’ As a result he sees many familiar faces? Indeed. Including the dozen or so Dutch people who gather there every year. We spend all our time together.’
The family business is another active link to and involvement in polo. Van Santen & Van Santen was founded in 1956 by two passionate friends and evolved into a worldclass supplier. Robert: ‘We have our own label in firstclass leather polo equipment and an exclusive clothing line. We supply saddles, boots, helmets and mallets, thus everything a polo player needs for himself and his horse.’
Since the mid eighties he sells the authentic lifestyle clothing line for men, where he combines his passion for polo with his expertise in the fashion industry: ‘We have everything in stock in the Netherlands and also provide tailor-made articles for special customers. We have a physical store with showroom at Polo Club Vreeland, we visit tournaments in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands; but most of our sales are online.
Robert thus also visits Polo Brabant. ‘From the very start! It is one of the best, if not the best event of the Netherlands. The organisation of the Willems brothers is first class. Every weekend I visit a tournament, so I am in a good position to compare and Polo Brabant is truly representative. Everybody wants to attend because it is so well-organized. They pay attention to the smallest detail. It makes me feel at home. That’s why I’ll be there again on the 20th and 21st of June!’