In his free time, Robert Burk ’05 can be found playing chukkers at the Bulldog Armory.
Burk, a nationally-ranked member of the Yale polo club with an A-level handicap, has been riding horses for over 15 years and brings a decade of competitive polo experience to the team.
“Robert [Burk] treats each game as if it’s the last. He does the same thing for practices,” men’s polo captain William Hsu ’03 said. “One can always sense his desire to compete, and such is the essence of polo.”
A naturally gifted rider, Burk’s polo success is due largely to his gentle way with horses.
“He really considers [the horses] athletes in their own right and treats them with the respect they deserve,” polo club president Michael Dawson ’04 said.
Growing up in an equine-loving family introduced Burk to the competitive equestrian scene at the age of four.
“My mom taught my sister and I to ride together,” Burk said. “She entered us in horse shows and Pony Club. I really sort of hated them, but they taught me a ton about horses.”
Burk’s father, Eugene, is a United States Polo Association Circuit Governor for the Rocky Mountain region. He sets rules for clubs and represents Colorado polo interests to the USPA.
Eugene Burk’s love of polo initially spurred his son’s interest in the game, and now the duo play for the Willow Creek Polo Club in Colorado during the summer.
“[My dad] tries to make sure I play with people better than me so that I get a chance to play faster polo and improve,” Burk said.
As a freshman, Burk split time between the crew and polo teams, but because of academic constraints, he decided to drop crew and dedicate himself solely to polo this year.
“I really enjoyed the time I did do [crew], even though I wasn’t that great,” Burk said. “It’s one of those sports that gives you immense satisfaction even if you aren’t very good at it.”
His polo teammates noticed the difference Burk’s new commitment made on the field.
“Robert [Burk] has developed an amazing amount as a player this year,” Dawson said. “He has matured into a leader on the field, capable of directing his teammates. This transition has allowed him, as the strongest player on the field, to bring out the best in his teammates.”
Burk’s involvement in exhibition matches also provides the Yale polo club with excellent publicity opportunities. Because of his level A-handicap, Burk recently participated in a local 12-goal game with other nationally-ranked players at the Yale Polo and Equestrian Center.
“My A-handicap is pretty low, but I’m young, and they usually keep younger players lower so that they can play on better teams and sort of be ringers,” Burk said.
The polo ranking system is similar to golf handicaps and is used to ensure a level playing field. Top players are ranked C, B, A, 1 through 10, with C as the lowest ranking and 10 as the highest. Each circuit in the USPA ranks the players in its region annually.
Burk aims to have a 3-handicap in the future, but he is content to just continue playing.
“My dad is 56, and he still plays after more than 20 years, so I would like to keep it going as long as possible,” Burk said. “I’ve thought about trying to make a living out of playing, which is possible, but it’s a risky proposition, and I think I could do more with my Yale education.”