Giving horses a new lease on life
December 9, 2021
Pardon Pam Flanagan ’08 if her voice cracks while you are talking with her. She’s been busy with Zoom calls and other meetings finalizing a big opportunity for Hawaii Polo Life. As the interim brand manager for the company, she has been working to secure the apparel company a show during the 2022 New York Fashion Week.
Her full-time occupation is a real estate attorney. The interim position came about when Chris Dawson, the owner of Hawaii Polo Life, asked her to fill in during a hectic period. His company has been the corporate sponsor of Flanagan’s polo team at the U.S. Women’s Open since 2019. She has served as a brand ambassador for the company for several years.
“I’m learning all this on the fly,” she said. “I’ve been on the phone all day every day, I’m about to lose my voice!”
But the New York Fashion Week runway has been secured for 7 p.m., Feb. 11, in Sony Hall, Flanagan said.
Earlier this year, Flanagan connected Hawaii Polo Life with Rocio G., a designer in Argentina, where she has spent time playing polo, and they have developed a new line that embodies the polo lifestyle and the Hawaiian aloha spirit. The 2022 HPL line will be unveiled at the show.
This all comes at a time when Flanagan is also preparing for the polo season in Florida during February and March; followed by the busy tax season in Texas for her family’s real estate law practice; and then a return to her home in Colorado.
Her whirlwind schedule also includes her work with rescuing and repurposing horses. To date, she has rescued roughly a dozen horses since 2016. Some she is training as polo ponies. Others have found new homes and jobs with people she knows. Her rescue work started by accident.
After finishing law school, Flanagan wanted to continue playing polo. She was introduced to the game by Culver Academies’ former polo coach Tom Goodspeed. She played all four years, learning the game from “my polo dad.” While Flanagan was at Southern Methodist University, she helped Enrique Ituarte ’09 start a polo program. Ituarte was able to coax Goodspeed into becoming the SMU polo coach. Flanagan continued to play during law school, electing to earn her Juris Doctor degree at SMU.
After graduating, she still had a passion for polo, but there was one thing was stopping her – horses. After having the horses supplied by Culver and SMU while playing at the interscholastic and intercollegiate levels, Flanagan knew it was going to be expensive to buy a string of horses to continue playing.
“I just needed a horse in my life,” Flanagan said. What she decided to do was find “a cheap project” horse to work with, hoping to train it to play polo. She started scrolling through different websites when she came across a black-and-white paint for around $600. She talked with the owner who described the horse as sound and gentle – “a good little horse” – and just three years old.
What Flanagan discovered was the horse was being sold for slaughter. The asking price was around the meat price at 50 cents per pound. That is when Stella (top photo) became Flanagan’s first rescue horse in 2016. And she has turned into the poster child for rescue and foster horses.
Between Flanagan working with her and finding the right trainers, Stella has become a solid polo pony. Strong enough, her proud owner said, to ride in the U.S. Women’s Open Championship in 2019. Flanagan’s Hawaii Polo Life team won the tournament.
Over the years, Stella has been featured in magazines, on websites, and in ad campaigns with Flanagan, who has done modeling work for the United States Polo Association and Hawaii Polo Life.
Now, as the 2022 polo season in February and March is approaching, Flanagan is preparing to take two more of her rescues – Sunny and Rebel – to Florida. They will be staying at the Valiente Polo Farm and Flanagan is hoping to ride Sunny in competition, providing the horse is ready. Rebel, she added, is still a year away. Flanagan knows the added importance of not pushing the horses into competition too soon.
If there is a downside to Stella’s success, it is that she has set a very high standard. Flanagan said several people have rescued horses because of Stella’s success story. Riding a rescue horse that isn’t ready could end badly, and potentially cause others not to adopt.
But, Flanagan added, not every horse is meant to be a polo pony. Some of her rescues – for which she paid between $400 to $900 each – are doing their best work with other owners. Her mini horse certainly isn’t polo material. Neither was Charlie, who she sold to a neighbor in Colorado as a trail horse. And she loves her new trail riding role.
Bandit found a new life as the leader of a pack of blind mini ponies, she said. After sending him to a rehabilitation farm in Louisiana after she rescued him, Flanagan said, she got a call from the farm’s owner explaining the situation. She didn’t know why it was happening, but all the minis were drawn to Bandit. “He had become their leader” and the farm owner wanted to keep him, so they worked out a deal and he is happy in his new home.
While Flanagan rescued Stella from a kill pen, she said people looking for good “project” horses should go through an established rescue website like therighthorse.org. This is because a lot of sellers are now trying to tug on people’s heart strings by telling them a horse is headed for slaughter, then asking $1,500 to $3,500 for the animal. Unlike the kill pens, non-profit sites will give people correct information on the horse and a fair asking price, which is several hundred – if not – thousands less, she said.
Flanagan is so passionate about rescuing and repurposing horses she has developed a special heart-shaped repurposing logo that graces her jerseys and saddle pads. With her real estate law background, it’s only appropriate she would work so hard on giving horses a new lease on life.
Note: If you want to learn more about Pam Flanagan’s horses you can find them all featured on her Instagram: @pamela_alina.