It’s been a quick ascent for Aiken’s Jeff Shuler. The teenage athlete who has been playing polo for less than two and a-half years was one of eight players selected for Team USPA. Shuler had to meet several criteria as part of the selection process for a program that identifies talented young players, providing them with a chance to develop, improve and refine their skills. Shuler, an 18-year-old, is the youngest of the 46 players composing the Team USPA roster.
The Team USPA selection process included Shuler filling out a long application, submitting essays as to why a prospective member should be chosen for the team, and game video footage showcasing a player’s ability and whether or not the player has the basic foundation to improve their game.
“It means the world to me,” said Shuler. “It’s incredible to be the youngest player on the team, and to have the opportunity to be around such great players.”
Shuler began playing in August 2010, at first taking lessons from professional polo player Lito Salatino. He would then transition to the interscholastic polo team working with another polo playing professional Craig Fraser, and yet another polo professional Billy Raab, would help him refine his game.
“They’ve all been big factors and influences, getting me into polo, and in playing the sport,” said Shuler.
However, since being selected for Team USPA, Shuler has had the opportunity to work with several high goal professionals including Aiken residents Owen Rinehart, Adam Snow and Tiger Kneece.
Shuler’s focus and determination has him directing his energies toward an objective he hopes to eventually achieve.
“I’d like to continue as a player, possibly become a professional, train horses, and become a top trainer,” said Shuler.
The teenager attended Aiken Prep last year, but the high school senior has made the transition to taking classes online at Keystone National High School.
“The online schooling has helped me a lot, not only enabling me to focus more on polo, but also on my academics,” he said.
Shuler is applying to colleges, and is in the process of weighing his options as to whether or not he’ll attend a school with an intercollegiate program or go to college and participate by playing on Team USPA, but in either case Shuler will be attending college. This winter will find Shuler in Florida for several weeks, where he’ll have a chance to work, learn and be mentored as part of the Team USPA program. The athlete will also work toward getting his umpire certification.
A supportive family has played a critical role in helping Shuler pursue his dreams, and the member of Team USPA is the first person in his family to be involved with the sport of polo.
“They know this is what I want to do,” said Shuler, whose outdoor handicap is 0, but is 1 in the arena. “I love playing in the arena. It’s nice, close contact, almost like bumper cars on horses.”