Vicky Aguirre, daughter of polo aristocracy, chats to The Polo Project about her passion for her homeland, and connecting the Pampa heritage to her Australian life.
In the midst of a cold and bitter Melbourne winter, I yearn for an excuse to head north to sunny Queensland. An interview with the enigmatic Vicky Aguirre, daughter of Argentinian polo aristocracy, who now lives in Byron Bay with her partner in life and business, seems to be just that. But alas, the ease of a Skype conversation has made the trot up to Byron unnecessary.
Meeting with Vicky in a virtual sense does not dull her immediate warmth and passionate demeanour. I am greeted by an open smile and sparkling voice, adorned with a rich Argentinian accent (she has only lived in Australia for a year). Having recently returned from one of many trips to her homeland of La Pampa, Vicky is bursting with fervour for her heritage as we discuss family and cultural upbringing. Both have shaped a deep love for horses and the adventurous path her life is taking today.
Born in Buenos Aries to the Heguy family, who represent a longstanding linage of Argentinian polo players and breeders, Vicky has been surrounded by the game and horses from a very young age. This exposure from birth led to a career as a professional horse photographer, and most recently, co-founding the online business ‘Pampa’. This online portal offers for sale her photography, as well as exquisite handmade textiles and rugs, imported, with the help of her partner, from genuine artisans in the remote villages of her homeland. “We named our business Pampa for its reference to La Pampa, the fertile Argentinian plains which lie low between mountains”. The venture was initially driven by Vicky’s cultural longing after relocating to Australia. She says, “ The rugs and textiles came as an excuse at that time to find a connection to my home and then gradually it became a passion. I knew a lot about it, and was actually very good at the social aspects. Negotiating with many different makers can be challenging, but I am learning as I go!”
“I am greeted by an open smile and sparkling voice, adorned with a rich Argentinian accent.”
The subsequent inclusion of her horse photography as part of the brand proved to be a perfect fit and has become a very beautiful and valuable aspect of the Pampa story. She says, “I always needed a platform to show my horses and it all came together really well because we are explorers and we are photographers and we needed to put that into the product. The fine art became a part of the brand naturally. It all fits into my big passion for my roots. It has to do a lot with that“.
Nothing is more apparent to me when chatting to Vicky than the power of this soul-felt connection with her heritage and, through that, to the land, and her beloved ponies.
Polo, the sport, was an integral part of Vicky’s childhood. Her earliest memories revolve around weekend polo matches as well as watching training sessions on the Heguy family farm. Here she had her first taste of the action. “We’d play on little ponies, and even bicycles, using little polo sticks. We also had the Argentine Polo Open Championship in Palermo in December. This is an internationally recognised competition and I used to go as a kid waving flags with my face all painted, shouting for my uncles, who were professional players. It was around us all the time, definitely.”
“Our brand is not a conventional luxury brand, on the contrary, it is like going back to basics in a way.”
She is adamant, however, that despite polo’s constant childhood presence, it was her fondness of the family bred polo ponies that had the most profound legacy. She says, “I do play polo – although am not that good at it – but my family all play for fun. I love the sport but my passion for horses comes first, then the polo”.
It is clear too that while growing up on the farm horses were her best friends and confidants, and that the love affair continued to flourish over the years.
“When I was in fourth grade we had to write a story about our best friend, and I chose my horse. The teacher probably though I was a little bit strange because I wrote that we had talks with each other and things like that! I was a little bit crazy, in a good way,” she laughs.
It is no surprise that such a heartfelt and free-spirited childhood relationship with ponies blossomed into a vocation as equine photographer, which now spans 10 years. Although her early photographic aspirations were tempered due to the uncertainty of how photographing horses could ever generate a living, her photographs now do precisely that. The Pampa website displays a remarkable selection of intimate and beautifully captured horse moments. Vicky’s photographs are true, heart-stopping images, embodying the magical space horses hold in her life and her personal history.
Elaborating further on her passion she reflects, “I didn’t just want to be taking photos of polo. I wanted to be taking photographs of horses free without the saddle. So that’s how it started, but it wasn’t until I arrived in Australia actually that the recognition for my pictures began to come. I’m now planning an exhibition in Sydney and it is all integrating beautifully”.
Vicky describes the move to Byron Bay, Australia, as tough, and despite her growing affinity for the idea of the “surf and sun” she still longs for the quiet open plains of her homeland and her horses. “ That’s home for me, where the horses are. And it’s where my photographic career started.”
She laments that she wishes she’d spent a bit more time there. “The business is doing well, though, so I am going back a bit more often. The aim of it all is that we will be able to have a home over there too, and I can be in touch with the horses more and more. It was like a big ‘break-up’, coming here, it has been tough.”
Vicky’s love for horses, while perhaps her strongest driver, is not the only one instilled by an upbringing in La Pampa. Growing up around the villages has nurtured an earnest fascination with the art and traditions of the region, which has proven integral to the success of the Pampa business. Vicky describes the essence of the Pampa lifestyle as connecting to nature and appreciating the basic, yet essential, things, like being outdoors.
She says, “I think the people who buy our rugs, for example, have a big relationship not only with handmade products, but they believe those hand made products convey the natural flavour of where they were made. And they do. Our brand is not a conventional luxury brand, on the contrary, it is like going back to basics in a way”.
This is the delightful contradiction I have come to recognise while talking with Vicky Aguirre. Her roots in polo royalty run deep, however, it is her spiritual link to the land and the ponies that ultimately defines her and her ethos. Consistent with this observation she offers, “You know it is a funny thing. I know a lot of professional polo players and it is true they have a lot of money and lead this luxury life and drive expensive cars, but at the same time I do believe many of them have this same connection with horses as I do. I think that many of them experience nature as I am telling you about it. I know a lot of them, when they arrive at their farms, they are happy just barefoot among their horses. Like me, but without the camera! Polo players are often not what they appear to be”.