My polo ponies may be out in the pasture, but they’re still on my mind… all the time. Are they eating enough? Will they be warm this winter? Gabby (above) is a pro at snow, but it’s the first Canadian winter for Mojito (below).
If you still haven’t rounded up the perfect gift for your horse-obsessed loved one this Christmas, allow me to suggest two books – both charming, but totally different from each other.
Lead with Your Heart: Lessons from a Life with Horses is written by a neurosurgeon with a passion for horses. Dr. Allan J. Hamilton’s writing style is not Dry MD — which is probably why he’s a script consultant for both Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. His book is a collection of bite-sized essays on training, peppered with examples from horses he’s worked with, and non-horse situations that he believes draw a clear parallel… like kids at the grocery store checkout.Horse Owners’ Essential Tips may have a humdrum name and yawn-inducing cover art, but this is definitely a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Inside, Philippe Meyrier’s down-to-earth conversational writing style, along with cute illustrations, detailing all kinds of great ideas. Tips include natural fly repellent, a cure for chapped lips, and -my favorite- a suggestion to stop ponies from nibbling on wooden fences or stall doors.Both books are a wonderful winter vacation read. I know I’ll be consulting them again in the spring, when it’s time to get my fat polo ponies fit again. Merry Christmas!
When third generation pro Joey Casey checks out the grass at Palm City Polo Club, he can’t help but smile in satisfaction. That’s because not only did he pour his life savings into buying the land and building this new club (it opened in 2014), he also gambled on a type of turf that no one else in the world is using: Latitude 36. When you look closely, it’s lichen-like, and springs back after every footfall.
“It doesn’t seem to tear up as much,” he tells me. But that’s just the green icing on the cake, which Joey promises will be even greener once he starts fertilizing again for the season.
“Grass is there to tee up the ball, but the most important part about a polo field is the footing,” says Joey. “When you stop and turn, it’s the footing that’s providing support, not the grass. That’s part of the reason I got this property. It’s perfect soil for a polo field. And it almost plays better wet than it does dry.”The 35-acre club is in Boynton Beach, just a few minutes south of Wellington. In addition to the 60 stalls, 14 paddocks, hitting cage, club house and fire pit, there’s a regulation-sized arena between the two full-sized fields. People play here every month of the year, although the main season is November through June. Amy Waters is a regular, and so devoted to her signature color that even the vet wrap on her stirrups is pink.
Of course, it’s often easier to give tips while on horseback. Before the game, I was lucky enough to have a hitting lesson with him in the cage. Mike broke down my swing down in amazing detail, and videoed me to show me that I wasn’t letting myself follow through for the whole stroke. Nor was my wrist straight when I made contact with the ball. Key basics I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing. We made progress…… although I’m not sure I managed to retain everything once I mounted up. At least I kept my elbows in during this ride-off. Six-year-old Coppertop, the mellow yet energetic pony I borrowed from Joey, was up for it.Despite my best efforts to bump Gwen Rizzo, Editor of Polo Players Edition, she never missed the ball. She’s a crack shot.It’s a casual atmosphere at Palm City Polo. Why have grandstands, when a tractor will do just as well? Although these folks will have to give up their seats at half time when the tractor will be used to drag the arena, smoothing out all that silty soft Florida sand.Joey’s out with an injury right now, but that doesn’t stop him from helping to capture the moment, including the shots of moi. Thanks Joey!Meanwhile, Mike’s dad is on air horn duty. Look at those palm trees bordering Field One! Wonder why this club looks as if it’s in the heart of a Costa Rican jungle? Turns out, it’s bordered by nurseries on either side. Who have promised not to cut down the mature palm trees lining Field One. Palm City Polo has three levels of play: Coaching League, 4-6 goal and 8-12 goal. They provide horses, grooms and offer boarding. Even better: the Palm City Polo gang are not strangers to the post-game asado.
Art collector and curator Jeanne Chisholm is passionate about polo art. Her massive collection includes sculptures, paintings, drawings, bar accessories and more . She’s so enthused about giving you the scoop on each piece, it’s almost impossible to get her to stand still for a photo herself.
Case in point: Jeanne does not just show me this black and white image, “Polo Spill at Meadow Brook” taken on, June 4th. 1939. She tells me the crowds paid $15 per seat to see the first of three matches between the best players of Great Britain and the U.S. They got their money’s worth! The Americans forgot team work, rode hell-bent for trouble. Up and down the field they barged and banged, hit rocketing shots , rode the English off the ball , committed 12 fouls. Then U.S. No. 1 smacked Aidan Roark out of the saddle, rolling him onto the turf. Mike Phipps comes to his aid, but slides off his white horse and lands on the rump of Roark’s pony. In ten minutes, Roark was back in the game. Everyone was ok.
Town and Country Magazine once noted that she had the largest collection of polo art in the world, and during her 40 years of collecting, she has coordinated massive art undertakings, like the Cartier polo retrospective. Even Ralph Lauren recently turned to Jeanne when he needed create the right atmosphere at his clubby Polo Bar in New York.
So when in Wellington, a stop in to her private gallery is a must. Call ahead for an appointment, and prepare your eyes to be inundated. Polo portraits cover the walls at Jeanne’s townhouse gallery, but it’s just the beginning.
Art rests on every available surface.And in every available container. In this case, the art takes the form of rare and scarce books, notably the 1935 “Hits and Misses” by Paul Brown, which was a limited edition to begin with. Mongolian polo, anyone? These watercolors on linen look like they could be centuries old, but they are painted by the very-much-alive Tsolmon Damba.Rollin McGrail’s whimsical illustrations cover many topics, but the ones with a polo focus are, of course, my favorite. This one was commissioned by Grand Champions Polo Club. And fyi, those pewter ponies at top right double as salt and pepper shakers.Rollin popped in to Chisholm Gallery to personally show me her witty, charming work. Although she’s inspired by New Yorker cartoons, she’ll also do straight-up branding. Despite the fact that section on her website is titled “Delusions of Brandeur.” High-profile clients include Nic Roldan, with whom I recently savored getting up close and personal.Rich Roenisch, on the other hand, did not materialize to give me a personal intro to his bronze, on the left, “Heat of the Game.” Since he lives in Longview, Alberta, and since I often play polo with his nephew Daniel, I guess I can forgive him. The bronze on the right is “When Push Comes to Shove,” by Bunny Connell, a Wyoming sculptor.If you’re not in the market for a bronze right now, Christmas is still coming. Jeanne has these tempting polo trinkets for under the tree. The toast rack can be used as a letter holder. The cocktail stirrers, however, need no alternate use.Or, if Santa Baby is feeling more extravagant, this painting by Royal Family favorite Wilf Plowman is available.Meanwhile, in the boudoir, the walls are still covered with art. But, mysteriously, this room breaks from equine art, turning to another sporting focus: dwarf tossing. But that’s another story.
Have a wonderful winter season, Jeanne and Prince Albert! Thanks for the VIP private tour of Chisholm Gallery!
During my stay in Wellington, I stopped by to see Tato Alvarez (right) and his son Santiago (left) at their rapidly expanding shop, Tato’s Mallets. There are several mallet makers who’ve been on the Wellington retail scene longer, but Tato’s is quickly becoming a favorite, thanks to their excellent customer service and gorgeous product.In 2001, Tato’s was basically a 750 square foot workshop. Now it’s 5000 square feet of polo equipment, leather goods and one of the industry’s largest varieties of equine bits. Look at that sweet blue iron.Tato’s Mallets is polo retail mecca. As anyone who plays this crazy sport knows, it’s rare to find a shop dedicated to our sport. Even a polo section in a store catering to horse owners is unusual. So I had to take a moment. And text a fellow club member that they needed to buy some camouflage girth straps (available here in colors ranging from pink to traditional green). The main thing, of course, is the mallets. Everywhere you look, they’re hanging from something, or leaning up against something else.Sensing my mallet fan-girl-ness, Santi offered to give me a tour of the workshop. Even as the slow season draws to a close, Tato’s has a backorder of 800 mallets, despite a staff of nine.Santi tells me that it’s a misconception that mallets are made from bamboo.
“It’s actually cane,” says Santi. “Polo mallets are made from Rattan. There are 900 different type of Rattan, but mallets are made from Manau.”
He ships them from Indonesia, and buys them extra long, so he can choose the best part of the stick and the necessary diameters.
The thicker part of the cane, at the root, is where the handle goes. With a little help from Tato’s skilled workmanship.Repairs are also a huge part of Tato’s business. The shop will splice new cane onto a broken mallet, matching diameter and flexibility, at 30% of the cost of a new mallet.Meanwhile, the heads are made from Tipa wood, found only in northern Argentina and parts of Brazil and Parguay. Santi was tight-lipped on his high profile customers, but he did confirm that Nic Roldan‘s mallets were in for repairs… with the mysterious middle initial E.
Meanwhile, as the store keeps upgrading, don’t expect a Mate bar too soon. Santi, Tato and the gang have waaaay too much work to do. Thanks for the tour, Santi! Have a good season!
You may have heard of male model Nic Roldan. Besides making Town & Country’s list for the 10 most desirable bachelors in the USA and Vanity Fair’s Top 50 Hottest Horsemen, he was recruited by the Kardashians to help them keep up with their equitation skills. Heck, even his pony is licking her lips.
But, caliente factor aside, let’s not forget that the eight-goaler is the top polo player in North America. Besides, if you ask Nic, as I did, “Polo or modeling” he’ll answer before you can even add the question mark: “Polo. 100%.”
Yet, ever-obliging, he’s up for a little model multi-tasking in the polo-prep milieu, lifting the Town-Crier (the local Welllington weekly) up to L’uomo Vogue level.Before our interview, I had a chance to observe him in his natural habitat: on a tailgate at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida. In this case with Michelle Steele, a Calgary ex-pat who escaped the snow for friendly polo climes. He almost seemed like any other spectator.Until he put on those white jeans. That’s when Nic’s true Polo Style begins.Because nothing is more stylish than executing a flawless offside forehand…… or a perfect backhand…… or changing horses without touching the ground. Especially when patrona Melissa Ganzi is walking by. Nic is a third generation polo pro, with Argie blood coursing through his veins. He’s proudly American, but like any excellent polo player, he speaks Spanish fluently. The modeling thing happened accidentally.
“I was working with a couple of brands, and they wanted to do photo shoots,” says Nic. “That’s how I got into it. As an athlete, you’re always going to be doing that type of marketing anyhow.”
Even though he has no plans to give up his day job, his backup career as a smoking hot cover model is a perfect fit. And yes, that pun was on purpose.
“I’ve always been into style,” says Nic. “Even though my style is simple and very neutral, I still love fashion. It’s fun.”
“Jeans, white or neutral colored t-shirt, and Nikes.”
And if you can rip your eyes away from pre-jersey Nic in this photo (ladies, you’re welcome), you’ll notice his green Nikes underneath his chair.Although I averted my camera when he announced to his teammates that he was going to “drop trou,” it wasn’t in time to avoid seeing an unexpected splash of color. So I got the skinny his skivvies.
Meanwhile, he’s quick to list off his favorite designers: “I love James Perse, I love Ralph Lauren, I love Lululemon.” That last one would be the brand of the aforementioned undies.
Despite his Wilhemina sanctioned male model status, you can bet the victorious moment on the podium is his favorite pose. Nic is seen here with crouching Marc Ganzi (the force behind Grand Champions Polo Club, along with his wife Melissa) and biting Glenn Straub (owner of Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club).Finally, his advice for minus oners like me? “Get comfortable on the horse. The riding is important. And your hand-eye [coordination]. Just keep working at it. But don’t forget to have fun.”
He makes it sound so easy. My own game is frustrating at times. But the interview was definitely fun. Muchas gracias Nic!
Wellington, Florida, bills itself as the Winter Equestrian Capital of the World. If you don’t happen to know famous residents and riders like Jennifer Gates, Eve Jobs, or Jessica Springsteen personally, chances are you might spot them en route to a hunter jumper venue, like this smiling commuter (people are friendly here). She might also be headed to The Tackeria, a tack shop extraordinaire located a block from where this photo was snapped.Horseback is the preferred mode of travel here, where streets have names like Quarter Horse Trail and Paddock Drive, and there’s a community named Mallet Hill. To make it even more equine-friendly, buttons for the walk signal are offered at rider height. Wellington is a village of approximately 60,000 people, 13 miles from the beach. For the estimated extra 15,000 who come in for “the season,” starting in November, many camp out in gated mansions, in gated communities. However, don’t go confusing this decadent Greek Revival barn with a residence. It’s just a barn. With a five-car garage.
Some of the best restaurants are members only. Luckily Mason Phelps, powerhouse behind the equine-focused Phelps Media, and CEO-slash-CFO Chip McKenney, graciously invited me to experience the butteriest of chardonnays at The Golf House. Although Wellington has multiple golf courses, everyone who’s anyone knows which club the House is in. If you’re not from here, it’s a tad confusing. But a seasoned seasoner knows that the Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club doesn’t actually offer polo any more, although that doesn’t stop it from being a coveted residential address.
Word on the well-heeled street is there are 57 private polo pitches in Wellington, far outnumbering actual polo clubs. Even though it’s not yet officially open (the high goal season is January through April) I ducked into the world-renowned International Polo Club. One of the few clubs in North America with grandstands, it also boasts artfully disguised water guns for the sprinkler system.
If you want to, you can play polo every single month of the year in Wellington. Few do, but many play a whopping ten months, including Chip McKenney, founder of the Gay Polo League. He’s so dedicated to the cause, he’s devoted his license plates to it. And he’s tipped me off to a few places where I can jump in for some chukkers, even if I’m not a member.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of other attractions in Wellington for the equine enthusiast, including…… the National Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and traditions of the sport.
Stay tuned for insider polo tips and interviews… Blue Besos is hot on the heels of Wellington equine style all week!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. With apologies to Mr. Dickens.This was one of the best. I was so thrilled it was caught on camera. I’m just about to hit my third neck shot in a row, at a good pace, and still everyone’s hanging back, playing me for the miss. Ha! Not this time.Frequent rain, including several storms, made for a lot of missed games this season. Gabby survived being pelted with ice chips with no damage, unlike my car, but it was her pensive look that tugged on my heart strings. Which brings me to the worst of times. Losing my first horse, Simon, in March. We both still miss him. A lot.But when Simon moved on to the big polo field in the sky, the tale of two ponies had to continue, or I wouldn’t be able to play four chukkers this summer. After crying for weeks, I boarded a plane for the desert. During a whirlwind week of trying numerous horses, I discovered there’s a body type I prefer: short and round. Not Skinny might be a better way to put it. Mojito fit the bill, and her laid-back personality fit all the other requirements. Usually more motivated to go slower rather than faster, I spent a good deal of summer trying to encourage my new little 12-year-old with my heels. And, after inadvertently experiencing her top speed of 35 miles an hour (by all estimates of everyone at the club who saw The Runaway Of The Summer), I’m fine with her normal MO. She goes fast when I ask, and slows down when I ask. As long as I keep her off Gabby’s senior feed.Although the weather issues and the aforementioned runaway combined to cost me some of my polo mojo, there were many happy moments. Like whenever I managed to get ahead of Heidi.Or played with friends who were visiting from out of town.When I got smashed in the chin with a mallet two days before the President’s Club Ball, I wore black to match my bruise, and thanked my lucky stars I still had all my teeth.I still need to break my habit of tilting forward … … and I still need to go a lot faster.But at least I’ve got a decent swing. And a mare with a masculine Spanish name. It’s no coincidence that the Mojito also became my beverage of choice for the Summer of 2016.See you next year, Calgary Polo Club!
Everyone who owns horses has that special pony, even if they won’t admit to a favorite.
Simon was mine, but he got saddled with a storyteller. The star of my string (I liked to call him that even when he was often the only one in my string), he was all over my blog, my Instagram feed, my life. Featured in Polo Players’ Edition last November, he even has an upcoming cameo in a charity calendar – he’ll be Mr. September.
So I just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t write his obituary.
When I bought Simon in 2013, I’d just come off six weeks of crutches, after foot surgery. A month before that it was cancer surgery. I’d had a small part of my nose removed, but it felt like the biggest thing in the world. That summer, all I wanted to do was play polo and have fun, so I was thrilled to find him just a few weeks before the season started. He had a scar on his nose, too.
Then the floods hit Calgary and I was evacuated. I was lucky, since my top-floor condo on Elbow River wasn’t damaged, but the bottom floor of the building was devastated. As I bounced from one guest room to another for seven weeks, Simon became my constant.
People in polo tend to worry about heart attacks in older horses, especially during a game. At 23, my first-ever pony was playing in what should be his retirement years.
But Simon’s heart was too big to break. He carried me through three years of polo, playing two chukkers a game, barely raising a sweat.
You know that first sunny, spring-like day, when the birds are singing and the sky is brilliant blue? There always seems to be one dramatic day where it hits me — how beautiful the world is, making me almost giddy with happiness.
This year that day was Saturday, March 5th, 2016. It was shaping up to be unusually warm. I had a tight schedule – a business meeting in the early afternoon, with plans to zip home to get gussied up for the Black and White gala ball. Many of my favorite people were going to be there, and I was really looking forward to it.
But weather like this in March, in Calgary? I couldn’t resist taking my ponies out for a set. Simon and Gabby were on winter vacation at the polo club, but they’d be up for some exercise. Squeezing it in to my hectic day would be worth it. I listened to a comedy show on the drive to the club and laughed the whole way.
In the valley behind the club, as usual, it was a little tricky to find them. The pasture is currently home to thirty horses. They all look a little wild, fuzzy and fat for the winter that is normally cold.
Soon, however, I noticed a pair of ponies looking at me expectantly. With the long hair on his muzzle, Simon’s trademark scar was even more noticeable than usual. He was doing that cute quivering thing with his lip, anticipating the treats that would be his, once we climbed the steep hill to the pasture gate. After calmly leaving behind the rest of their winter herd, the two buddies were well rewarded with carrots. Sweetly and quietly, they stood patiently as I tacked up.
I decided I’d ride Gabby and pony Simon. I’d ridden Simon a few weeks before, on another warm day, and something about his knees made me anxious. Near the end of our set, his front legs seemed to lock up for a second or two. At first I thought he was tripping, but it was something else. I had hopped off, walking him the rest of the way, knowing, but not wanting to know, that Simon could finally be showing his age: 27 years.
He hadn’t seemed to be in any pain, though, and today it was obvious he was delighted with the weather as we headed for the track.
After ten minutes of walking, Gabby and Simon naturally moved into a trot, and it felt mean to hold them back. Wearing just a t-shirt in the fifteen-degree temperature, I couldn’t believe we were the only ones at the polo club. The fields looked ready to be played.
On the final section, I directed my horses off the track, alongside the boards of the main fields. They wanted to canter, and I just couldn’t deny them. It was spring and they were feeling good! Beside me, Simon gave his traditional early season buck. He looked so strong, keeping pace with Gabby. I hoped whatever I had noticed last time was just temporary.
After a couple of minutes, I brought them back to a walk, and we took it slow back to the barn. With their shaggy coats, they’d probably be a little sweaty, but the day was so warm I wasn’t worried. They’d have plenty of time to dry.
I dragged a brush across their unruly coats and checked my watch — I was right on schedule. After I brought them back to the pasture, I’d have just enough time for a quick change of clothes and the short drive to my meeting. But first, more carrots were in order.
We moseyed back to the paddock that led to the valley. Before I opened the second gate, Simon dropped for an exuberant roll in the dirt. Yeah! Springtime!
As soon as the gate swung open, Gabby zipped out first, trotting down the hill to the rest of the herd. Since he’d paused to let me pet him one last time, Simon was a few paces behind.
Going down the hill, he sped up to catch Gabby, giving another buck for good measure. Then the next part happened in one awful second. He landed badly on his front right. He flipped, spiraling through a massive, horse-sized somersault. Then he was standing again, but his front right leg dangled unnaturally from the knee.
Even from a hundred feet away, I knew exactly what that meant.
I fought the urge to run to him, afraid my cell phone wouldn’t get a signal down that hill. Although my fingers barely worked, somehow I called Candice, my vet. She wasn’t close enough to help, but she assured me she knew another vet nearby. I managed another quick, strangled call to cancel my meeting. Then I sprinted down the hill.
Simon was standing on three legs, listing on the steep angle. The rest of the herd seemed to know that something was very, very wrong. Some stood quietly nearby, as if offering a calming presence, but a chestnut reared up, slicing his front hooves dangerously through the air. With his nostrils flaring, and his ears pinned back, he looked ready to destroy anyone who came near Simon, including me.
So there I was, alone in the pasture with Simon and 29 other horses, crying my eyes out. Sometimes I’d manage to stand beside Simon and pet him, but other times that chestnut chased me off. I tried to stop crying, so I too could be a calming presence, but I failed miserably.
The other horses became increasingly rattled. A dozen ran in tight circles, just twenty feet away. The chestnut pawed the ground, like a bull seeing red.
It seemed like it went on forever, but it was probably only ten or fifteen minutes.
The vet arrived. So did the woman with whom I had just cancelled my meeting. I’d never met her, but she was a horsewoman, and insisted I shouldn’t be alone. She immediately stepped in to help, becoming a human wall between the upset horses and Simon.
The vet kindly explained what she’d have to do and how it would take place. Simon was in shock, so hopefully he wasn’t in much pain. He kept bobbing his head, like he couldn’t figure out why one of his legs wouldn’t work. I had to say goodbye. The vet carefully positioned her syringe. Simon buckled almost instantly, falling over, and breathed out one final time.
On the ground, with my arms thrown around my favorite horse, I was a mess. I didn’t know I had that many tears in me. Hot and fast, they streamed onto Simon’s winter coat.
My boyfriend arrived. The vet, and the stranger who was now a friend, left.
The other horses edged closer. It was time to let them have their own goodbyes. Some of them have probably known Simon for much longer than I have.
Look, my boyfriend said. They’re crying too.
I didn’t think he meant it literally, but I lifted my head from Simon’s furry neck, blinking to focus. Several of the horses were crying. Big, fat tears, rolling down their muzzles.
And that chestnut? He was staring straight at me, two watery trails flowing down either side of his nose. Inconsolable. Like me.
It’s been a month now. I didn’t go to that gala ball. I could barely leave the house for a week. Social gatherings were out of the question. Soon, maybe, I’ll be able to say his name without my voice getting tight and tears welling up.
I want to thank everyone who sent the kindest, sweetest notes. The calls, even flowers. Everyone who has horses knows what it’s like. Most have been through something similar.
I keep seeing his uncontrollable orbit through the air in my mind’s eye, over and over, the maneuver that was finished in a flash on a permanent slow-mo loop. I’ll never forget the way his leg looked, dangling uselessly, streaming with blood. But the indelible brand on my brain is worth it, because it means what needed to be done happened quickly. I was right there.
Simon is gone, and my heart aches. But he went out in a happy buck blaze of glory, after a beautiful ride around the track, after a long life of playing amazing polo. Double chukker or nothing!