Day in the Life: Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club boss on mission to make the sport for all

New Zealand native Lisa Matthews spends her days living out her childhood dream surrounded by horses

Powered by automated translation

A Day in the Life allows you to step into the shoes of a UAE resident to experience a typical 24 hours in their work and home life

If it wasn't for her husband's job plans changing, Lisa Matthews would probably be working in her native New Zealand.

Instead of relocating down under, a temporary UAE visit 12 years ago became permanent and now she is the general manager of the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club.

Ms Matthews' passion for horses stretches back to childhood, including three-day eventing. But a gap year after university led to 15 years in UK hospitality, including a stint as a restaurant group director.

Six years ago, the mother-of-two took charge of Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club where her triumphs include opening the UAE's first children's polo academy.

Here, Ms Matthews, 51, takes The National through her typical day.

5.30am: Dogs at dawn

An early alarm call and a dog walk around Dubai’s Al Barari neighbourhood before a fruit bowl breakfast.

“I love English bulldogs. I’ve rescued six since I’ve been in Dubai and now have three.”

After cleaning their wrinkles with wet wipes, she gets her children ready for school at 7am.

“We don’t have a nanny, so I’m full on,” she says. “School is five minutes away.”

8am: Stretch the imagination

After a short drive, Ms Matthews arrives at work for yoga – if she’s not power walking near home.

“It started as me trying the product because I brought it in, but now I’m addicted,” she says.

“I’ve a lot of responsibility. I find yoga calming and gets me ready for my day.”

Occasionally, Ms Mathews teaches riding skills to aspiring polo students before they join an instructor.

“It’s what Kiwis are like… I don’t have time but I do it if someone really wants to learn," she says.

“One of our members and her husband were going to a ranch in America to herd cattle. He had never sat on a horse in his life, so I had to teach him to canter within 10 days. Now he joins in with polo.

“How my childhood sport has led me to be working in this prestigious, lovely place is quite amazing.”

9.30am: Virtual and reality

A glance through overnight emails before touring the premises.

“I take photos of anything broken, damaged or not looking too good,” says Ms Matthews. “Nothing’s ever perfect and I have a beady eye for detail.”

The club is home to about 350 horses, including dressage and show jumpers beside a training arena. The complex owns 70, serving the riding school and polo academy, beside about 250 members’ horses.

Three bars and restaurants host public customers, weddings and events, while members can access two pools, a gym and classes, including karate.

“We just opened a vet clinic specialising in horses,” says Ms Matthews, who has 180 staff and recalls early days in charge when departments did not communicate enough.

That included a 12-foot Daffy Duck and King Kong arriving for an event, scaring riding school horses.

“Apart from the bottom line [my impact was] bringing in a team that works together really well, so leadership and uniting everyone … now my team calls me mum.

“On my birthday, they got a big picture of Wonder Woman and put my face on it.”

11am-noon: Gain and sustain

Ms Matthews hosts a meeting about improving sustainability while seeking to reduce costs.

“I used to pay Dh150,000 a year to get horse manure taken away – it’s gone up to Dh600,000.

“I’m looking at getting something that can separate manure from wood shavings, and a machine that converts it into electricity to supply the club.”

Polo field pop-up sprinklers that cut usage and the cost of water by 30 per cent, food waste recycling and solar power for stables are discussed.

“Horses get AC for seven months and keeping polo fields nice in a desert is also not cheap,” she says.

Noon: Putting money on green

Sponsorship can help support events, including umpires, horse hire, trophies and site branding.

Investment firm Perridon, a club sponsor, also just sponsored a major cup event with Bugattis leading out horses.

Meanwhile, Ms Matthews has exclusive luggage brand Tumi sponsoring February’s Polo Federation Cup.

“I will get involved in negotiations. I might do a presentation to a potential sponsor,” she says.

“You’ve got the teams, prizes, F&B [food and beverages], the VIP section, picnics… a lot goes into organising a tournament. We also have PoloLine filming our big events – that goes to four million viewers globally.”

1pm-3pm: Words about numbers

The riding academy manager discusses revenue and expenses, as well as December plans while Ms Matthews examines forecasts and budget preparation.

“I have 12 departments and, once a week, meet with the managers,” she says, revealing she once aspired to be a vet.

“I didn’t want to study for seven years, so did a business degree and was going to be an accountant. For a lot of equine people, numbers is not their thing.”

There is talk of floodlights so action can continue later on the “stick and ball” field.

“Kids, for example, can only get here once they finish school. That gives us one hour for lessons. It gets dark quickly.

“I also want to build more stables – we have a huge waiting list – and I need new tractors.”

3pm-4pm: Festive fixtures

An on-site meeting about a large festive event includes logistics, such as transport, parking and security.

“On Christmas Day, we have Santa Claus and open up the terrace,” says Ms Matthews.

Up to 10 events happen weekly, from children’s birthdays and engagement parties to fixtures with 3,000 people, polo field dinners, corporate year-end events and about 40 weddings.

“The horse and cart is quite popular with our huge black and white horse, Tonka.

“For big events, they need to bring trucks in. You can’t have them coming any time as polo ponies are out twice a day for exercise or members doing practice.”

4pm-6.30pm: Field of expertise

Following an HR update, Ms Matthews meets members and watches coaching sessions or operations in areas such as livery stables.

“I might go to the riding school, talk to parents, watch the instructors … we have 1,000 kids through a week, so it has to run like clockwork,” she says.

“I’m very hands-on. I walk around, talk to everybody, generally chat and be the face. I’m on the pitch, I do award ceremonies, teach kids.”

Eight-year-old daughter, Lexi, just started riding while son Charlie, 11, plays polo tournaments against other UAE clubs.

“One of the big families gave me a horse. They said, ‘we’ve watched your son play, he’s incredible … here you go’.

“Riding is one thing but once you learn how to hit the ball … someone once said polo is like playing golf in an earthquake.”

Among Ms Matthews’ missions is diluting polo’s elite reputation. Lesson prices have reduced, tournaments allow smaller teams and three membership tiers operate.

“It’s about making the sport more accessible without losing prestigiousness. It doesn’t have to be just for exclusive people. There’s warmth and friendliness here.”

6.30pm: Home comforts

Ms Matthews heads home to cook dinner, relax with her family and exercise her dogs.

“Sometimes I can do 12 hours. It’s juggling balls every day but I embrace the challenge. I don’t let anything rattle me.”

Lights out by 9pm, ahead of another early start.

Updated: December 05, 2023, 6:40 AM