House of Polo

For the Ganzi clan, the game is much more than a pony ride.
Playing polo can improve coordination and build core muscles. Photo: Candace Ferreira

By Tess Weaver

This summer celebrates a decade of polo at Aspen Valley Polo Club, a 15-acre facility that includes six world-class fields and indoor and outdoor polo arenas near Carbondale, a charming town down valley from Aspen in the shadow of 12,965-foot Mount Sopris. The season opens with the traditional Independence Cup on July 5 and includes 10 more tournaments in July and August.

While the first polo fields in the Roaring Fork Valley date back to the 1800s, polo today thrives in the area because of one family: the Ganzis. Melissa Ganzi invites everyone to watch a match. “It’s very common to fall in love with the athleticism of the horses, the sounds of galloping and hit of the ball,” she says.

Riley Ganzi plays professionally. Photo: Irina Kazaridi

Nine years ago, Melissa, who grew up riding in Florida, and her husband, Marc Ganzi, raised ski racing in Aspen, opened the club. Despite its reputation as one of the highest-end facilities in the country that gathers the world’s best players every summer, the Aspen Valley Polo Club emphasizes inclusivity and accessibility—every child’s first lesson is free, and matches, food and refreshments are free and open to the public. The preliminary no-fuss matches every Friday in July and August are often more entertaining than the Sunday finals, says Grant Ganzi, Melissa and Marc’s 25-year-old son. “There’s no obligation to wear the large hats or adhere to any dress code,” he says. “Polo spectators usually wear casual clothing.”

For the Ganzis, who have long touted the benefits of the child-horse connection, polo has always been a family sport. Marc’s father, Wally Ganzi, played polo for three decades and convinced Melissa to take up the sport in 2000 when he gifted her a polo pony as a birthday present (a year later, she became the first woman to win the Monty Waterbury Cup). Both Grant, a U.S. Open semifinalist for the U.S. Polo Association, and his sister, Riley Ganzi, 23, play professionally. At a match in May 2023, Riley (named Most Valuable Player at the Casablanca Spring Challenge) played alongside her mother, and the duo combined for 12 of their winning team’s 14 goals.

Growing up at Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation’s largest and most innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club, in the heart of Florida horse country, Grant and Riley had no shortage of horses to ride and talent to watch. It’s the club’s mission to promote low-, medium- and high-goal polo, developing new players at all levels. Melissa made history as the first female player to win the 2019 Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz, and serves as a role model for many girls and women in the sport. She and Marc also founded the World Polo League, the only 26-goal polo, and the highest level of polo played outside of Argentina.

The barn at the Aspen Valley Polo Club. Photo: Irina Kazaridi

In addition to spending the summer months in Aspen (with more than 250 of their horses), the Ganzis return to Aspen for the World Snow Polo Championship in December. They have raised funds for the Aspen Valley Hospital, and in recent years, the family has sent matching funds from its World Snow Polo Championship to Valley View Hospital and the Calaway Young Cancer Center, where Melissa received cutting-edge treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer in 2020.

“I look forward to everything Aspen has to offer,” says Melissa. “From the moment my feet touch the ground, and that first breath of fresh air, I get a sense of being home.”