RUBIES ARE READ: Longest running polo magazine celebrates 40 years in the sport.

In the traditional parlance of gift-giving, every milestone wedding anniversary calls for a particular theme. Tin or aluminum gifts signify 10 years, china 20 years, and silver 25 years. This year, then, marks the ruby anniversary for this publication’s wellspring as we celebrate 40 years since the founding of POLO magazine.

The story of POLO begins with Polo News and its charismatic founder, Ami Shinitzky. Shinitzky was first introduced to polo just a few years before founding the magazine, in the winter of 1972. Trapped inside an indoor riding facility in Middleburg, Virginia for three days and nights, Shinitzky took a turn swinging the mallet on one of local polo player, Steve Talbert’s green ponies.

In a farewell article before POLO’s coverage transferred to POLO Players’ Edition, Tom Knight quotes Shinitzky reminiscing, “I had never seen a polo game, not even in the movies … and now I am on this green pony, the mallet too heavy, the footing too deep and the ball underinflated. But that sweet sensation of hitting the ball atop a moving horse was instantly and irrevocably intoxicating.”

A story familiar to many in the sport, that first hit brought on a full-swing addiction for Shinitzky, who became a traveling equine dentist to pay for hay and traveling the east-coast circuit. However, a thinker as well as an athlete, Shinitzky desired not just to play, but also to read up on the more technical aspects of the game. But apart from an unsatisfactory Polo Newsletter published by the USPA, there was not much material available, especially since the end of the world wars.

So, that is how Shinitzky found himself sitting next to then-chairman Bill Ylvisaker at the USPA board of governors meeting in September 1974, pitching the notion of a new and serious polo publication with himself as the editor.

The USPA governors declined on the basis that previous attempts at publishing had failed. George Haas was quoted in the June/July 1997 issue of POLO as commenting on his role in the matter as a circuit governor, “we were all skeptical. We had had about three [attempts at publishing] fail.”

While another man might have been defeated, Shinitzky was unfazed and determined to see his dream come to fruition. After careful planning with his then-wife Stephanie Burns, he came back to the board in January 1975 in Boca Raton, Florida, armed with a detailed presentation, complete with sketches and a logo. The revised plan called for publishing the magazine at his own risk, while the USPA would discontinue its newsletter and use that portion of its budget to purchase subscriptions to the new publication.

The USPA governors unanimously approved a one-year trial period for Shinitzky’s proposal, and thus Polo News was born. The first issue ran in May 1975, carrying articles about Royal Palm Polo Club’s 20-goal league in Boca Raton, Florida; an interview with polo legend and former 10-goaler Stewart Iglehart; tips for beginning players; an opinion article about whether sideboards are necessary; and a number of columns, some of which still remain in PPE (polo scene, letters, calendar), and others which have disappeared (a polo crossword puzzle, tips for club umpires, polo ABCs, polo pony directory).

Some of this first issue’s features most striking to a modern reader are its advertisements. A number of prominent polo names, recognizable still today, purchased advertising space: Oxley polo stables, Haas Financial Company (listing George Haas and Peter Orthwein), Bendabout Farms, Sugarbarb Farm (listing Tony Coppola as manager), and an advertisement for polo at the Waikikian in Honolulu, which lists Fred Dailey as its contact. Polo player and restaurateur Norman Brinker’s Steak and Ale chain held a prominent place on the inside cover. Polospecific ads included someone selling a 1973 Hanover 14-horse trailer and a stark white ad which reads “WANTED: a Mid- States team is looking for a three goaler with his own horses to play and help win.” Still others were simple best wishes for the new publication.

The first issue was entirely blackand- white, but the second issue introduced a bit of color on the cover, in the form of the logo and a border around the page. More and more color crept into the publication’s pages from issue to issue. One year later, the magazine was running full-color covers, with modern, stylish color headings and even a few full-color pages for feature stories.

In the September 1975 issue’s “Keeping Up …” column, the editorial staff announced, “POLO NEWS is soon to change its name! Out of very many ideas, POLO and POLO INT’L are the two finalists. Which would you choose? We’d like to know.” At least one reader wrote in about his preference, published the following month. Titled “It’s all in the name,” John E. Siefkes of Wichita, Kansas wrote, “Since you asked, I really don’t mind Polo News. Of the two finalists for the change, my preference would be POLO. Since the emphasis is on USA polo, INT’L would be at least redundant, if not misleading.”

Siefkes was prescient, as readers of the October/November 1975 issue found the cover of their Polo News with a logo simply reading POLO. The change in name was registered on the masthead, which read “incorporating polo news” beneath the new POLO logo, and in an announcement reading “Polo News is now POLO and will be published monthly … We are continuously working to make POLO a better magazine and are always receptive to your reactions and suggestions.”

By the 10th year of the publication, the continuous work and improvements showed in spades. The 1985 issues show the magazine running 84 pages of content, with advertisements for familiar polo and equestrian brands such as Palm Beach Polo, Jackson Hole Horse Emporium and Tackeria running alongside high-end, luxury products such as Rolex, Glenlivet, Piaget, Bushnell, BMW and Ferrari.

The May 1985 cover, celebrating the 10th anniversary, featured an original polo print by superstar pop-artist Andy Warhol. The issue also featured the results of a study that looked at the polo swing using state-of-the-art technology. “The High-Tech Swing” story explained how the magazine set out to better understand the basic polo strokes using computer technology. After finding a company to underwrite the project, and hiring the world-renowned Coto Research Center, the first study took place at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club. The study looked at the swings of Podger el- Effendi (8 goals at the time), Memo Gracida (then 10 goals) and Alan Connell (then 1 goal).

In his reflections on the first 10 years, Shinitzky detailed his thinking about the place of POLO in the polo world.

"We have assumed the role of the sport’s conscience,” he writes, “raising a cry about issues that compromised the virtues and aspirations of the sport. This form has now broadened, and even more opinions are now heard.”

Occupying a space Shinitzky described then as “somewhat schizophrenic,” POLO was at once the official organ of the USPA, while also maintaining itself as the mirror to the polo world, reflecting back its virtues and vices, warts and all.

As Shinitzky rightly identified in his reflection, POLO was successful not just because it was a superb magazine that punched far above its weight—it was—but also because it was founded at just the right moment, just as interest and activity in the sport began to surge. For example, in 1974—the same year Shinitzky first pitched the publication to the USPA—only three teams competed in the U.S. Open championship. By 1977, 13 teams had entered the competition, and the handicap level of the championship was raised.

At the same time, wealthy patrons were opening now legendary hotspots for polo, such as Retama in Texas and Palm Beach Polo in Florida. POLO’s journalistic excellence and high standards were there at the right time to record this high point in polo history, just as the sport began a period of flourishing.

In 1986, Shinitzky introduced the Polo Excellence Awards, recognizing the best in the sport, including Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, Intercollegiate Player of the Year, Women Player of the Year, Arena Player of the Year and Amateur Player of the Year. That first year, the black-tie awards presentation was held at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, Florida. Winners received a 12-inch bronze “Tommy,” a likeness of polo immortal Tommy Hitchcock Jr. before 700 guest and VIPs. The evening was hosted by actors William Devane and Jane Seymour.

Despite its success, the polo community failed to support the lavish presentation ceremony the following year. The awards continued to be presented, in a more casual setting, until 2005.

In the 1980s, one can see this high crest breaking as the luxury brands fade from the pages of POLO and are replaced with more conventional trade advertisements for Argentine tack, mallets, trailers, horses, veterinary and grooming products, polo clubs and western clothes. The fat years were over, but the magazine’s content was as rich and as detailed as ever, covering the biggest names and events in polo in the high journalistic detail for which the magazine was always known.

If the advertisements do not speak to the magazine’s success and popularity among the polo community, then certainly its reception throughout the years must. In Shinitzky’s last issue with POLO, 22 years later, a number of polo notables chimed in to reflect on the legacy of POLO. Clint Nangle is quoted, “[the magazine] brought the polo community all together in some way … we were all waiting for it to arrive every month.” Likewise, Jack Oxley remarked, “Players and members felt a personal identification with it and still do. It’s their sport’s publication. Ami and Polo have been the articulate, printed voice of polo.”

Former USPA Communications Committee Chairman Richard Latham had a different perspective on reflection. “By and large it’s a pretty good publication,” he admitted, but “in fact, it should have been called Ami Shinitzky Forum instead of Polo magazine … The USPA’s views were not always represented or represented right.”

However, he conceded, “Ami was a goad for the good.”

In March 1995, Shinitzky was looking to move on. He hired Peter Rizzo as Associate Publisher and Gwen Rizzo as Editor-at-Large and schooled them in publishing a magazine. Peter Rizzo had been a contributor dating back to the first issues when he was attending George Washington University. Later that year, in November 1995, Peter took over as Editor and Publisher.

Shinitzky’s involvement with the magazine came to a close in 1997, when John Goodman’s Westchester Media bought the rights to POLO. Under Westchester Media, POLO was transformed from a magazine for polo insiders into an upscale lifestyle magazine with only a garnish of polo— less for the people on horseback as for the people under big hats in the stands. POLO in its new form was published from October 1997 until October 1999, when, after lengthy court battles with Polo Ralph Lauren, it closed its doors.

While POLO became the lifestyle magazine, a monthly players’ edition carried the torch from Shinitzky’s original magazine. In the first issue of POLO Players’ Edition, Peter Rizzo explains, “For you (and me!) there will be a “Players’ Edition,” which will be much the same as the POLO magazine of recent years. A quick look at our masthead and table of contents will confirm that much of the editorial content and format will be carried over. Our mission remains to chronicle the sport, providing the polo player an inside look at all the action and drama on the field, as well as an insider view behind the scenes.”

The first issue of Polo Players’ Edition was printed in September 1997, with Peter as Publisher and Gwen as Editor. Gwen was promoted to Editor and Associate Publisher in August 2002 and finally to Editor and Publisher in June 2004.

Today, the magazine is the longest running polo publication worldwide in the history of the sport. It continues to be distributed in some 40-plus countries and is the official publication of the United States Polo Association.

In 2012, the USPA purchased the naming rights to POLO and Polo Players’ Edition from Westchester Media.

Though some aspects of the magazine are the same after all these years, it now contains full color pages from cover to cover and is available in a digital edition.

The magazine is unique in that, by-and-large, the stories are written by active polo players. Rather than focusing only on the glitz and glamour associated with just a very small segment of the sport, it covers all aspects of the sport from low goal to high goal.

In addition to chronicling tournament victories, births, and deaths, it continues to include useful articles on horse care, field care, youth polo, polo news, as well as how-to articles and indepth articles on major events, players, clubs and more.

Forty years later, the magazine is still undeniably a magazine for polo players, by polo players.

By Stephen Rizzo

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