In this week’s 10 Questions, Sun Assistant Managing Editor Jasmine Marcus horses around with junior polo captain Max Constant. They discuss everything from crashing cars (Tiger Woods-style) to playing against Prince William (or not) to what not to wear while playing polo (underwear).
1. Starting off with the polo questions, what do you say to people who say that polo is an elitist, country club sport?
Um, that’s a good question. It definitely has that stigma, but it’s definitely a sport that’s a lot more accessible than people know. The perfect example would be this program called Work to Ride, which is basically a youth program — they happen to be an incredibly talented team — there’s a number of those programs around the country where people are able to play and get trained, and not have the burden of the cost. I think a lot is lost in translation because a lot of the pro teams play their matches in the Hamptons or in Palm Beach, so a lot of people think that having 50-60 horses, having two to three trailers, having a bunch of grooms, is expensive, and it definitely is, like any other pro sport, but it’s the one sport where there’s actually a lot of different gradients for how you can be involved.
And on the flip side of that, how much do you have to take care of, and clean up after the horses?
At Cornell, the program is really run by the students, so every time that we ride, we’re taking care of the horses, we’re coming in, brushing them, tacking them, walking them. And then obviously bathing them and putting them away. A lot of that is done by us. Most of the feeding is done by us, but the cleaning of the stalls is not done by us. It’s done by some other people who help at the barn. But the care and the safety and tending to the horses falls a lot on us because we use them from August until April.
That’s interesting because it’s not like the gymnasts are mopping the sweat off the mats or anything.
Yeah, our coach handles the arena and looks after the horses and expects us to take care of all the tack like it’s our own.
Does that lead to enhanced skills in other areas? Such as hair-braiding?
[laughs] Yeah, that’s embarrassing. Part of polo is making sure the tail is properly braided because if it’s not it can get in the way of the mallets, the other horses and players, and you need to keep it out of the way. So I’ve been braiding tails for what must be like 12 years now, so I can braid a pretty good tail! [laughter]
Do you get to ride the same horse each match?
During a match, each player will ride four different horses. Every period, you switch your horse.
Will other players get to ride the horse you’ve just been on?
Yeah, the horses I’ve played in the first two periods, the other team plays in the second two periods.
Oh, OK. I was going to ask about that. You can’t do something to a horse to disadvantage the other team.
Yeah, it’s not beneficial to rig the horses because you’re going to have to play against the better string at some point. And if that did happen, it’s easily noticeable.
What about rigging the ground you play on? … Not that I’m suggesting Cornell do something like that!
The footing of college polo arenas, there’s no secret behind it. You’ve got great footing or you don’t. Everyone strives to have great footing.
2. I’ve heard you won’t look a horse in the eye before you play. What’s that about?
No, I know who probably told you that, and no. I have a few superstitions, but that’s not one of them.
So what are they?
I’m sure my friends threw out the answers when you asked them. Like how I don’t wear boxers when I play.
We’ll get to that. [laughter]
I don’t really have superstitions though. It’s a game where if you’re superstitious and you’re scared, it comes through to the horse and it can lead to a lot of bad things. And I’ve seen some nasty falls. You can’t really be superstitious in this game because so many bad things can happen.
What about chewing a huge wad of Bubblicious gum during practices and games?
I don’t really know where that came from. I think it’s really flavorful, so I like that. And I think it has to do with just taking my mind off of the horse and thinking about the plays, and it’s just like a [relaxation] tool. You know I just sort of go out there, chew gum and blow bubbles. I’m literally blowing bubbles in the middle of games, and people are like, ‘What’re you doing out there?’
Is that a distraction mechanism?
Oh no. Maybe. They probably just laugh at me. It’s really just a distraction from me away from the seriousness of the game, and all the things that can happen during a game. But it works, and I like it, so I might as well as stay with it.
What about wearing a polo or collared shirt during every practice, and a headband under your helmet?
I don’t really plan out wearing the collared shirts.
So is it that you only own collared shirts?
[laughs] No. Everything gets really smelly and crapped up when you’re in the barn, so I really have this one shirt that I just wear and it happens to be collared. So I’ll wear that during most practices, just to keep all my other clothes clean. And as far as the headband goes, it’s really just a piece of a t-shirt to keep the sweat off my face and my helmet more snug.
And why do you wear different gloves during each period?
Between the sweat from the horse and the sweat from my arm, the glove just gets really damp, and I like to have a clean glove. So I can grip the mallet better and make the plays I want to make.
But it sounds like other players don’t do that, since they made sure to tell me that you do.
Not to the extent that I do.
Your teammates also say that you’re gross because you’ll wear what you wore during a match to sleep and then again on the next day on the bus. Can you deny that?
I can’t deny that. It’s usually once a year when we travel down to UVa. If the game’s at 7 or 8, we’re not back until 11. And then we don’t get to Maryland until 3 or 4 in the morning after we’ve eaten and everything. At that point, we’re all pretty exhausted, and whatever, I don’t really care.
Too tired to shower?
You know, I stand in horse poop all day, so I just wake up in the morning and get going. We’re all just so exhausted.
But your teammates find time to shower.
Yeah, but the two older guys on the team care about being all nice and clean and pretty. And I just go to sleep.
3. Tell me a little bit about how you got into polo, because I have some theories and I’m curious as to what you’re going to say.
Well one of the random hobbies I picked up when I was younger was equestrian. And I did that for a few years, but didn’t really take to it. I was sort of turned off by it, and when I was getting out of that, I had a play date with a kid from my sports day camp out on Long Island where my country house is —
[interrupting] — Can I make fun of you for having a country house while we’re talking about polo?
Yeah [laughing]. But I met this kid and the family was big on polo and the father was just like, ‘Hey, Bob’ — which is my dad — ‘come out and try it.’ My dad had never even been on a horse at the time. But we made the transition and I picked it up from there. It was much more exciting than equestrian. It started out as more of a summer thing.
So you have your own horses?
Yeah, I think we used to have 10 or 12, and then we had to get rid of a few, a few passed away. My sister and I really grew up playing polo with my dad. Eventually, he started to take a back seat, and me and my sister really started to pull forward. I don’t know what my friends told you.
Well you may or may not believe that you were a horse in a past life.
[laughing] Oh, come on! Oh god. Well that’s not true.
Where’d it come from then?
Probably just my friends trying to give me a hard time. [My non-polo friends] enjoy making a lot of fun of me for riding horses.
Another theory was that you think horses are the prettiest animal.
Well, they are pretty animals. But it’s not really something I think about on a day-to-day basis.
I don’t usually talk to non-athlete friends, but this is so insightful! … A third theory is that you like polo because you don’t have to work out to play the sport.
What’s funny about that is I’ve always been brought up looking at polo as a game of —
[interrupting and reading off her crib sheet] ‘technique and finesse?’ [laughter]
Really. And a tremendous amount of horsemanship and athleticism. But I think it’s one of the only sports that having bigger muscles or being stronger doesn’t always equate to being a better player. There’s one guy who’s considered one of the best polo players in the world who’s 5-7 and 140 pounds, and on the other side of the spectrum is another great player who’s 6-3 and who’s huge and can hit the ball 150 yards. Endurance-wise it’s a very different type of endurance because you’re literally using every muscle, every part of your body in every play. So while cardio can’t hurt you, it’s the saddle time that’s really where your endurance and strength come.
4. Your friends told me you don’t work out ever, and said they give you a hard time about needing to lose weight. But judging from what you look like, I’m guessing that’s a little sarcastic.
Are you saying that I have a nice physique?
[laughing] You do.
See the thing is, I certainly like to stay fit, but I’m not going to go to the gym every day, time wise I just don’t have the time. But I definitely watch what I eat and try to stay as healthy as I can. And I hope I don’t get taunted for being the way I am.
Tell me about playing polo against Prince William. Your friends say it almost started the second British-American war.
[looks confused and then laughs] I wish I knew what it was like to play against Prince William. I never have.
Oh no — your friends got me! They added in the detail about the fight, so I assumed it was true.
Oh my goodness. These guys. Um, I know people who’ve played against him, but it’s not that easy to get into a game with him.
5. What was it like coming onto the team with your sister [Ariana ’09] already on the team?
It was definitely nice. My sister at that point was captain of the girl’s team, so it was definitely nice to have her there. It was a little intimidating because when it comes to polo, it’s like one recruit per year because it’s such a small team. So the emphasis on that player as a recruit is pretty magnified, and there was definitely pressure there.
And I hear your dad’s a bit of a character. Any good stories about him?
[laughing] I do, but I’m not sure if they’re appropriate. He’s a great guy. He loves to have a good time, so anytime he can come up here and watch me play, I’m thrilled to have him.
Is it true you’ve wrecked two of his cars?
One was backed into a tree, Tiger Woods-style?
One of them was our truck. It was raining, and I was backing out and it was pouring. I was driving this huge truck and it sounded like I just tapped a branch, and the next day I saw I had punched in the bumper. The other one was a bad one. I was driving out to the Hamptons — my mom’s little toy Jeep — and the two cars in front of me got into an accident, and I hit the breaks and slid like 20 feet. And the guy in front of me had a boat hitched to his car and that punched through everything. That was not good. But I’ve moved passed it. Thank god I haven’t been in any accidents since then.
6. OK, so the one thing every single one of your friends told me is that you don’t wear underwear while you play. So rather than me ask why you don’t wear underwear while you play, I’m going to ask: Why do you want it to be known that you don’t wear underwear while you play? You seem to have made sure that everyone would tell me that.
I don’t really think that I wanted everyone to know that. It’s more that people do know about it, and I get a hard time for it. But I think it’s one of those habits — like chewing gum during a game — it’s just one of those things that I’ve always done.
How did that start though?
The thing is, I’m not really sure, but I guess I was under the impression that I would have more movement or be more flexible, or have a few extra degrees of movement in the saddle?
What about being more ‘in touch with the horse?’
[laughter] You know that’s definitely not what was in my head when I started not wearing boxers or briefs. That actually makes it sound quite weird. But I think it’s more of a comfort thing, frankly.
The seam lines don’t rub you the wrong way?
I don’t even know what that means, but I was told it could be an issue.
It’s not as bad as you would think, actually. A lot of people think it’s weird, but I can’t imagine all the wrestling guys wear boxers underneath their onesies.
Damn, I just did 10 Questions with a wrestler last week! I should’ve asked.
Yeah, that’s a good question. But it’s just one of those things I’ve always done, and I’ve always been comfortable doing, and that’s why I do it.
7. I know you also played lacrosse and football in high school. Was there ever any possibility of you playing either of those sports here at Cornell?
Um, you know I was recruited to play football and lacrosse. My whole college choice situation really came down to which sport would serve as the best vehicle to get me the best education. For football and lacrosse it was D-III and NASCAC schools.
Which of the sports is your favorite? I saw on Facebook that your screename is about lacrosse.
That was really old. I really did love lacrosse a lot. I liked football, but I didn’t love it. I also really loved polo. When it came down to it, it was a choice: either I get serious about polo and take it to the next level or I focus on lacrosse and do that. But polo managed to become the frontrunner, even though I miss lacrosse a tremendous amount. There aren’t enough months in the year.
8. So Valentine’s Day is coming up —
[interrupting] Oh man.
I don’t have any plans. I actually I play UVa on Saturday, so this weekend’s probably going to be pretty low-key for me.
Even though one of your friends told me that ladies love polo players?
[laughing] Yeah, you know that hasn’t really panned out for me. I don’t really have any plans. Who knows what’s going to happen.
And you also live with a lot of women?
First semester I did.
Is that something to make fun of you for?
You could. Last year, I lived in my fraternity first semester and realized it was really hard to live there as an athlete. The parties and late nights. Our game and eating schedules. Everything gets mixed up, and there were a lot of distractions. So second semester I moved in with five girls. They’re some of my closest friends now.
9. Keeping on the girl theme, which team would you most like to hang out with?
Oh man. I love the softball girls to death. Those are really chill girls. I have a lot of friends on different teams, so I can’t say I really prefer one team. Also, we really don’t hang out with a lot of the other girl’s teams.
Not even polo?
We do hang out with them, but most of the hanging out happens when other teams come to visit or we have tournaments.
10. And my last question is always: Which Disney character would you be and why?
You know, I’m so bad with Disney characters, but honestly I would have to go with Aladdin. I think that’s a solid one. You know, he gets Princess Jasmine and he also has a genie. And that’s pretty cool, if a bit standard.