Meet the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club's Polo Operations Manager, the first woman to occupy the role at the Club and in the region...
10 July 2018| Last updated on 30 January 2019
As we connect with fellow expatriate women on a daily basis, our Expat Interviews help us share their stories with you from all across the globe.
In this Expat Interview, we caught up with the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club's recently-appointed Polo Operations Manager, Heather Wigglesworth, to talk about life as a new expat in Dubai and her trajectory in becoming the region's very first woman to occupy the top position in the field.
EW: Where is home and how long have you been in the UAE? Where did you relocate from?
HW: Originally from Yorkshire, I have lived down in Ascot for circa 7 years, solely for proximity to best polo in the UK, before my move here.I was happy in my hammock in Costa Rica when I got the call around 7 months ago…now I am 5 months in Dubai and that has flown!
EW: When did you start playing polo and what sparked your interest in the sport?
HW: I grew up on a horse and playing polocrosse from an early age so it was a natural progression I guess; next challenge, new disciplinet to learn and all that. There is an undeniable beauty and grace about the sport that is pretty special. The bond with your horses, the adrenaline rush….it has it all really, not that I play so much anymore, I class myself as ‘retired’ now.
EW: Tell us about your professional career in polo, how did you get started and what are some of the highlights in your career that you would consider led you to be in the position you are in now?
HW: I get to combine my commercial background and expertise in the sport I love – it’s a real gift and privilege.
I originally worked around 6 years between UK and Argentina managing clients’ polo holidays and training events which progressed into working on some inaugural polo events globally. This in turn lead to a full-time position with the Royal Berkshire Polo Club in the UK as their Events Director, which progressed to an offer at Guards Polo Club as part of their Senior Management Team as their Sponsorship and Events Director. To work at, arguably the best club in the world, with HRH Prince Philip as the President was an honour; to work at the top of a sport and with some of the most iconic sponsors, partners and players is a dream for a career in any sport.
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Highlights of that time will always be being part of the team that delivered some of the first high-goal women’s polo on the Queen’s Ground, but managing Cartier in the UK and their International Polo Challenge here in Dubai took real pride. Everything about their brand and team globally is simply pure class.
I’m a big believer that it’s important for one’s personal growth and development to ensure you are always still being challenged and growing. When I left Guards, I was planning an exit from polo and into a more preponderant sporting field when I got this offer. After all the work I had done in this sport developing and promoting women in polo I couldn’t say no to work under the leadership of someone with the vision to employ a woman in this position, the bravery to break with the stereotypes and question the way things have always been done; I knew this was someone I could learn from and enjoy the challenge that lies ahead with.
Image credit: Goldfish Photography & Videography at the ExpatWoman Festive Family Fair 2016
EW: What’s a typical work day like for you?
HW: I always start my day with my ocean fix or training before I enter the wonderful oasis of the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club for the day. Depending on time of year it varies between time in the barns with the grooms, checking on all the horse infrastructure and welfare side of things, time with the grounds team reviewing and planning the pitch maintenance and development programme, time with members discussing their polo plans and requirement and how we can help them meet them, meetings with current partners and presenting to potential ones. Also, planning the fixtures schedule, reviewing contracts, planning events and concepts to ensure delivery of contractual rights. In the season we have chukkas 3 days a week and tournaments to add to that mix as well.
My favourite part of the day is always on a horse. It’s varied, certainly not a 9-5 and no day is the same but I wouldn’t change that for the world; I get to work in the sport I love where half my colleagues and peers are the animals I love.
EW: What do you strive for professionally in your new role, what are some of the things that excite you the most about your job?
HW: Being part of a sports offering in a territory where it is still relatively ‘new ‘and in a state of development and incline is exciting stuff.
As I always have in this sport, I strive to see more people experiencing and enjoying polo, whether they are watching it for the first time, getting on a horse for the first time or extending their string. I want them to have an experience that is inclusive welcoming and invigorating and maybe break some of the stereotypes and perceptions of our sport being say; elitist and stuffy, along the way. I want the noticeable difference at Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club to be the people, that is our USP and what will make our polo product here unique.
EW: Overall, how are you finding Dubai as a recently-arrived expat? Were there any challenges you faced when you just arrived? Anything you miss from abroad?
HW: I’ve always oddly loved Dubai from the very first time I stepped off a plane here, there is an energy that has always excited me. I miss my dog, family and friends and its always takes time to build new friendship groups and support systems but I’m blessed to live by the ocean have amazing people around me and excited for what lies ahead.
EW: Outside of work, what do you enjoy to do?
HW: My passion is the ocean whether it’s on it, in it, or under it, I need my vitamin sea fix daily - it’s a part of me that gives me an inspiration, peace and balance that I can’t explain! Lucky for me I live right by the surf house, so whether it's surf lessons for my progression (yep, you can surf in Dubai!), or surf fit training, I get to utilise it as my gym.
Right now, I’m spending as much free time as I can be trying to engage people with the terrifying plastic issue we have in our oceans globally. I've just been asked to be an ambassador for The Big Blue Ocean Clean Up, which is really exciting and hopefully a positive step to getting more awareness out there. It’s really easy for people not to think it’s affecting them when they don’t see the damage first hand, which you do when you surf and scuba and are an avid ocean-user. Even if I just got one person to think about the little changes they can make, and hopefully make them, I would feel more peace that I have done something to help.
EW: What would be one take-away word of advice for an expat woman planning to move to Dubai for work?
HW: Do it.