SHOW TIME
National polo pony show returns to the sport

The National Polo Pony Show made its debut at Meadow Brook Polo Club on Long Island, New York in the summer of 1919. The National Polo Pony Society was launched at that show. The idea behind both the show and the society was to encourage players to breed polo ponies to increase the supply of top-quality horses in the sport. The show continued each year, showcasing some of the best polo ponies in the sport, played by the best players, until the late 1930s.

There may have been other polo pony classes after the war years, however, if there were, they weren’t well documented. An article in the January-February 2010 issue of America’s Horse, written by Jim Jennings, says the American Quarter Horse Association approved a polo pony class for its shows from 1969 until 1973. However, Jennings says he could not find anyone who remembers being at a show where such a class was held.

In Argentina, the Sociedad Rural Argentina has held an animal breeders show, including horses, cows, llamas, rabbits, chickens, canaries, and more, for 123 years. The show includes all kinds of horse breeds including polo. The best players showcase the best of their breeding operations. But, it is also a perfect venue for little known breeders to showcase a remarkable horse to the top players in the sport. Horses between ages 2 and 5 are shown in one of two categories: halter, for unbroken horses, and trained. The judges are high-goal players or experienced polo breeders and they can ride an entry to test its skills if they choose. The August 2009 show had 100 entries.

Last year, Sunny Hale, founder of the American Polo Horse Association, began plans to hold a similar polo pony show. “I felt that as an association whose mission is to recognize the polo pony and encourage events that showcase the polo horse, a polo pony show was only a natural progression for the growth we have achieved since the beginning of the registry in 2006,” explained Hale. “As every other horse industry has proven, the importance of having a place to show and compete with 30 POLO PL AYERS EDITION POLO PL AYERS EDITION 31 your product to the industry has been key in identifying and promoting the careers of trainers, breeders, owners, horses and potential buyers to the equine industry regardless of breed or sport.” Hale felt the American polo horse industry was missing out on opportunities for the people and organizations behind polo ponies to network. Hale said, “If you look at Argentina and the success of its registry, you have to realize that what it has been doing for over 20 years has been proven to be a priceless tool to the players, breeders and potential buyers who flock to Argentine annually to purchase top quality horses from breeders and auction opportunities.”

The show, held at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 20, included three halter classes, a futurity class, a performance class and a grooms’ competition. The venue, built just a few years ago, has a lighted and covered arena, very good footing and barns. After Hale polled many polo players, the majority favored an arena over a grass field so the local equestrian center seemed a perfect choice.

Since it was the first show of its kind in the U.S., players were hesitant to enter until they saw what it was all about. Still, there were about 20 horses for the five classes. And the quality of the judges were enough to make anyone a little nervous. The classes were judged by some heavy hitters, not just on the polo field, but in the polo breeding and training world as well: 10-goalers Adolfo Cambiaso and Lolo Castagnola; former 9- goaler Bart Evans; breeder and trainer Mara Hagan; and Kathleen Timmons, a veterinarian and wife of polo player John Gobin. Cambiaso and Castagnola are National polo pony show returns to the sport regular competitors at the polo pony show in Argentina.

Hale said, “As the show organizer, I felt we provided a real opportunity for exposure to the people who were brave enough to step out into the polo pony show arena for the first time. I, personally, can’t explain the exhilaration and satisfaction in seeing a line up of eight polo stallions in one arena. For me, it is a stamp on what my vision was when I created the organization that is finally becoming visible to the world.”

The first three classes were halter classes. The first class, which showcased horses 2 to 4 years old, had two entries with the blue going to Melissa Ganzi’s Miami. The mare was show by Tiana Smicklas. Esperada, owned by Dealisadeal Farm/Carlos Gonzalez, settled for second. She was shown by Carlos Gonzalez. Spectators, including 10-goaler Gonzalito Pieres, lined the fence to catch a glimpse of the class entries. Guests also enjoyed an asado, provided by the Grand Champions Polo Club, during the event.

The second class was for horses 5 years old and older. Prada, an entry of Sunny Hale was the winner, while the third class, for stallions 2 years old and older, went to Cibby, owned by Dealisadeal Farm/Carlos Gonzalez.

The participants had the horses spitshined, and even most of the young horses looked like polo ponies with their shaved manes and trimmed tails. Some good quality horses were seen and Hale was pleased with the entries. Some of the entries competed in the U.S. Open and at other tournaments locally.

"As a start point, we had a broad spectrum of polo pony types entered that was a representation of what makes our industry so unique. It will only grow from here.”

Hale, atop a horse, demonstrated the course for the polo futurity class for 3- to 5- year-olds. The course included circles at a canter, flying lead changes, rollbacks, stops and backing. Though not all the riders seemed to remember the exact course, they showed their horses well. Ganzi’s pretty chestnut Miami, shown by Daniel Hildebrant, was the winner.

The groom’s team competition, drew some laughs and was a great break between the two performance classes. Teams included three grooms, two horses and tack for one horse. The teams had to completely tack one horse, ride it down to the other side of the arena where the second horse stood, completely untack the first horse, tack the second horse, grab a mallet leaning against the arena wall, mount up and gallop back to the other side, and completely untack the horse. The best time won. Three teams competed. One team had an uncooperative horse that kicked out when they tried to tie the tail and wouldn’t stand still to get its bandages put on. The Audi team got the horses tacked up fast but forgot to pick up the mallet and had to go back to get it. In the end Grand Champions took the trophy. There were plenty of laughs, especially with the grooms mounting up, feet out of stirrups and barely in the saddle, galloping to the other side of the arena.

Hale thought the competition was outstanding and a great way to recognize the behind-the-scenes work and dedication that grooms provide daily. She said, “A good groom and groom teams are so important at games. To be able to expose the skills in a timed format like a Nascar pit crew competition was absolutely awesome.”

The last class of the evening was a polo performance class, open to horses 4 years old and older. It too had riders putting their horses through a course of stops, turns, lead changes, and more. Carlos Gonzalez impressed the judges with Cibby who took first place. Cibby went on to win the show’s grand champion while Ganzi’s Miami took reserve.

Plans are already underway for a polo pony show in 2011. “The first year I wanted to keep it simple. The format allowed for anyone with a polo pony a chance at showing their horse in halter or mounted performance classes,” said Hale. “Now that people have something to go by as a start point, we will only improve and get bigger from here. I’ve had so many people offering ideas to consider, and we will finalize improvements over the coming year. One idea is for a junior horsemanship class for youth polo players. Keeping it simple, professional and accessible to everyone is the key for success going forward.”

Start making your plans to compete with your horses next year. For those who were unable to witness history in the making, Hale is documenting the first polo pony show in a coffee table book, which will be released around the holidays. For more information about the show and to see more photos, go to www.americanpolohorse.com.

 
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