Leading US polo player Sunset “Sunny” Hale died on 26 February from cancer aged 48.

The first woman in history to win the US Open Polo Championships in 2000, she played on the winning-Outback team, alongside Adolfo Cambiaso, Lolo Castagnola, Phil Heatley and Tim Gannon.

She was a trailblazer for women in the sport and broke more records that year when she was awarded a five-goal handicap — the highest rating a woman had ever achieved in the sport.

She was instrumental in helping to create a women’s handicap within the United States Polo Association (USPA) and was on the winning team at the first USPA women’s open tournament championship in 1990, alongside her sister Stormie, mother Sue Sally (the first woman to be registered in the USPA) and teammate Carolyn Anier.

Sunny also helped to revive the US Open Women’s Polo Championship in 2011 and most recently made the final at the 2016 competition.

She was instrumental not only in women’s polo but polo in general,” said USPA women’s committee chairman Erica Gandomcar-Sachs.

Among her other achievements are: the creation of the American Polo Horse Association — which was set up in 2006 to recognise polo ponies and encourage events that showcase them, induction into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and multiple player of the year awards.

Sunny was also a USPA governor-at-large for many years and women’s committee chairman.

“Sunny was a leader in polo. Her passion left a remarkable positive mark on everyone she met,” said USPA chairman Joseph Meyer.

“Whenever I asked Sunny to help, she was there as a friend and board member for the association. Her accomplishment as the highest-rated woman player is a testament to her drive.

“Her vision for polo pony registration and women’s polo will live on, and she’ll always be remembered.

“She has been a major inspiration to many young players, and made huge contributions to the sport and the USPA. She will be greatly missed by all.”

USPA governor-at-large Maureen Brennan said the sport has “lost our beacon and the standard by which we measure ourselves”.

“Sunny’s accomplishments and horsemanship are unparalleled, but it was her genuine ability to make all that she encountered feel valued and capable that separates her from others,” she said.

“Conquering the dream was not just a tag line but her authentic life. I am beyond grateful to have had Sunny in my life and owe so much of my success to her influence.”

The Hurlingham Polo Association has also paid tribute.

“The first woman in polo history to win the US Open, she helped promote and build the sport of polo among women,” said a statement from the organisation. “Our thoughts and condolences are with her family.”