125 YEARS: USPA is third oldest sport governing body in U.S.

It was deemed for the best interest of the game, and all concerned, to form an Association, to be called the Polo Association, with a constitution and rules to govern all Polo Clubs which should be elected to membership." This comes from the notes of H.L. Herbert after a March 21, 1890 dinner meeting hosted by John E. Cowdin and attended by a "number of men interested in Polo.

Polo is an ancient sport, well considered to be one of the oldest sports in the world. In fact, it can reasonably be said to be the oldest team sport ever. Play has been documented in China and Persia as far back as 600 B.C. And in the United States, where old is measured in somewhat less grandiose terms, polo goes back a long way as well, over 100 years.

Unlike any other sport, the horse defines our game. Next to a player's skill, the polo pony is the next most important factor of the game. Some consider the pony to be up to 90 percent of the game and can be the single greatest determinant of the outcome of a match.

Once polo was established in the U.S., it didn't take long for players to recognize the importance of a good horse. Here are some of the first notable horses in the sport.

Bendigo was a Canadian-bred brown gelding pony. In 1890, he was described as the best polo pony in the world. He played for many years, from 1896 by W. S. Buckmaster and subsequently by Harry Payne Whitney. Bendigo was played by Whitney in the 1909 International matches, which was won for the first time by America. Whitney had made it his mission to acquire the top horses in the world to help win the Westchester Cup. Bendigo's migration from Canada to England to the United States indicates the existence of at least a limited pony trade between the Canadian West and Britain before the turn of the century.

Texiana (also known as Texina and Texana) was a Texas-bred, black mare owned and played by Foxhall Keene, rated for years as the best player in America. She was acknowledged as Keene's best pony in 1902 and played under Keene in the first U.S. Open Championship in 1904. She was considered to be the fastest polo pony in the world.

Cottontail was Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008. She was one of the greatest American ponies of the early 20th century. Owned by Harry Payne Whitney, she was a star and favorite of his stud in a string of unrivaled ponies. Bred in California by Lawrence McCreery and later sold to Whitney, Cottontail was a grand looking bay gelding, weighing about 950 pounds. He was said to have possessed great power and extreme speed. By one account, he had a rather plain head, but in some of those plain heads is infinite horse sense and Cottontail was as wise as any pony could be.

He was described as having had a good neck, wonderful shoulders, and well coupled, with beautiful hindquarters. Standing 15-hands high, he carried Mr. Whitney in the matches in England in 1909 and at Meadow Brook in 1911 and 1913. Playing outstandingly in each of these hard-fought contests, he was Mr. Whitney's mainstay, never faltering. During these years the American team did not lose so much as a single match.

In the opinion of Mr. Whitney and other men well qualified to judge, Cottontail was, and would still be considered, the greatest pony that ever played the game. Whitney and his beloved Cottontail are joined for eternity as part of the famed Hazeltine Bronze of the "Big Four" from the 1909 International Matches.

From the personal archives of Brenda Lynn, Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame

 

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the United States Polo Association, the national governing body of the sport of polo. Originally called the Polo Association, the name was changed to the United States Polo Association in 1923. Similar to other sport national governing bodies and major sports leagues, such as the NFL, MLB, NHL, USGA and USTA, the USPA governs rules, handicaps and tournaments in the U.S. Formed in 1890, the USPA is the third oldest governing body for a sport in the U.S., after Major League Baseball (1875) and the United States Tennis Association (1881).

James Gordon Bennett, a wealthy New York publisher, is credited with bringing polo to the U.S. from England in 1876. At that time, the game was quite different then played today with eight or more players per side and matches lasting the afternoon.

H.L. Herbert was elected chairman, a post he held for 31 years. The first regular meeting of the Polo Association took place on June 6, 1890. The first seven clubs were elected to membership: Country Club of Westchester (Westchester, New York), Essex County Country Club (Orange, New Jersey), Meadow Brook Club (Westbury, Long Island), Morris County Country Club (Morristown, New Jersey), Philadelphia Polo Club (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Rockaway Polo Club (Cedarhurst, Long Island) and Westchester Polo Club (Newport, Rhode Island).

Two weeks later, on June 18 at Cafe Savarin, another meeting was held where discussion included the number of entries for the Challenge Cup and having the Referee in important matches be instructed to enforce rules on foul riding. The Oyster Bay Polo Club in Long Island was also elected to membership without the formal oneweek notice as required by the constitution.

A meeting at Cafe Savarin on July 10 of the same year had the association issuing handicaps to 100 players from the eight clubs. Handicaps ranged from 0 to 5, with Foxhall Keene (5) and John E. Cowdin (4) the highest rated.

Rockaway and Westchester Polo Clubs had the most rated players (15 each) while Meadow Brook followed closely with 14. Among the Oyster Bay players were Theodore, Emlin and Alfred Roosevelt, all rated 0.

Other discussions included spending $200 of association funds to purchase four trophies for the Polo Association Cups held at Newport; requesting the Westchester Polo Club offer trophies valued at $200 for the Newport Consolation Cups, open to teams beaten in the Polo Association Cups; and directing special attention to Rule 23, requesting delegates to report any infringement to the executive committee. Rule 23 prohibited registered members from playing in match games with or against clubs that were not members of the association without written consent.

Other rules required field size to be about 750-feet long by 500-feet wide, limited pony size to no more than 14.1 hands, and required balls to be wood, with no other covering than paint and about 3 inches in diameter. The length of each chukker (15, 20 or 30 minutes) and numbers of periods were set for teams of two, three and four players.

Rather than a throw-in, the game began with a charge, "the contestants taking their positions behind the chalk line, which is to be 30 feet from the goal posts. When the signal to charge has been given by the referee the first and second players must keep to the left of the ball until it has been hit."

Each team chose an umpire and if necessary, the umpires appointed a referee, whose decision was final. The referee had the option of suspending a player for the match for foul riding or awarding the opposing side half a goal.

The rules were tweaked the following year to address the ball having to go over and clear the line for it to be considered out or, if between the posts, a goal; not striking an opponent with an arm or elbow during ride-offs; the size and weight of the ball; dangerous ponies; and substitutes, among other things. The charge to start the game was also replaced with a throw-in.

The Polo Association had its first controversy, an official protest of the final game of the Alden Cup played at Cedarhurst on July 9, 1892. With the score Rockaway 14½, Meadow Brook 14 and just about 10 seconds remaining, the ball was knocked out. The referee twice called for the Meadow Brook team to take the knock-in. R.B. Winthrop of the Meadow Brook team was outside the line adjusting his stirrup and preparing to knock the ball in.

When the time-keepers indicated time had expired, the referee called the game and declared Rockaway the winner. Most of the players left the field and dismounted, but Mr. O.W. Bird knocked the ball onto the field and into the goal, later claiming Meadow Brook was the winner. He protested the Cup being awarded to any other team, claiming the ball was in play when time was called.

A week later it was brought before the committee, which affirmed the referee's decision that the Rockaway team won.

By 1894, the USPA had grown to include 19 clubs from St. Louis to Philadelphia. By 1897, rules were revised to allow ponies up to 14.2 hands, fields to be about 900-feet long by 450- feet wide and balls could only be painted white.

Today, the USPA includes nearly 300 clubs in 13 different circuits across the United States. The level and amount of polo being played is the highest in the game's history, generating expansion in participation and spectatorship. The celebration continues each month in 2015 with notable ponies and milestones decade by decade.

Photos courtesy Museum of Polo

Since 1890, the USPA has been the national governing body for the sport, with the first polo match in the United States being played in New York. Something really unique about the USPA is that it is funded by the U.S. Polo Assn. brand. Revenue from the sales of the brand supports the sport of polo and development of players through programs such as: Team USPA, the Interscholastic/Intercollegiate Program, Equine Welfare and Umpiring. The U.S. Polo Assn. brand's mission is to sustain and grow the sport of polo through raising awareness via education and participation.

One of the first (of many) celebratory events included the U.S. Polo Assn. Central Park Polo Challenge that took place on September 21. It was a truly special opportunity to see the sport return to its roots in New York City, back to where it all began. The U.S. Polo Assn. brand not only was a presenting sponsor, but also outfitted its own team, which consisted of three highly talented American polo players; Grant Ganzi, Juan Bollini (who was one of the faces of the Fall/Winter "Live Authentically" campaign) and Nic Roldan. Both Grant and Juan had the chance to play against their parents, highlighting the uniqueness of the sport, in which families can come together and play with or against each other!

To celebrate the 125th anniversary year, the U.S. Polo Assn. brand has established a number of commemorative programs and events for 2015. Exclusive 125th anniversary collections will be available in U.S. Polo Assn. stores in Turkey, India and Italy, among others. Included in select stores will be a limited edition T-shirt with a special 125th anniversary logo created by John Snyder, winner of the Creative Allies 125th anniversary logo design contest. All of the exclusive and limited edition merchandise will be featured in a special "Celebrating 125 years of sport" advertising campaign with real youth polo players highlighted in various media outlets throughout the year.

Additional celebratory plans include a dedicated 125th anniversary section on the U.S. Polo Assn. global website with news, updates and special announcements, including polo player profiles, a live event feed, and a selling link to the exclusive merchandise. A social media campaign to engage fans, using the hashtag #USPA125 will also be rolled out this month.

This milestone year not only celebrates the rich heritage and history of ones of the world's oldest equestrian sports but also highlights the specialness of the community and its love and passion to keep the sport of polo alive.

For more information, please visit: http://www.uspoloassnglobal.com.

 

 
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