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.
Tato’s keeps a detailed spec sheet on all client mallets. So if you’ve forgotten the head weight and size of your last order, don’t worry, Santi knows.
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.”
His go-to outfit?
“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.
“I like neon green,” says Nic.The bright green accent continues on his saddle pads, his bridles, even his website. If it’s his lucky color, it’s working.
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!
If you have a horse lover in your life, get them this book for Christmas.
When I was 12, I went to horse camp in Lac La Hache, BC. Growing up in urban Vancouver, I didn’t know the first thing about horses or the people who devoted their lives to them. Walking through the barn in the cowboy boots my mom had bought me from Sears, a grizzled cowboy looked up and told me I have one leg that’s longer than the other. It’s true, but the difference is minimal. He had noticed by the sounds my boots made on the floorboards. We didn’t dwell on it — he mentioned it in just a few words — but it was the beginning of my respect for cowboys and their less-is-more way of detailed observation.
A cowboy in Horses Don’t Lie, who is simply called ‘the Old Man,’ brought that memory back. He rarely speaks, but when he does, it is honed wisdom, there for the taking. Author Mark Rashid chose to take it, and build on it, with a theory of passive leadership, developed from a life lived around horses.
Rashid’s quiet, thoughtful prose is an example of passive leadership in itself. In conversational, homey style, he explains how a happy horse will try its hardest to work for you. He believes in watching for a horse’s tries, versus forcing the issue in alpha leader style.
Now that I’ve owned horses for three years, I know enough to know that I still have a lot to learn. This winter, my ponies Gabby and Simon are on vacation, out in the pasture with their friends at the Calgary Polo Club. We’ve been having an unusually warm fall, so I’ve gone out every few weeks for a casual ride. When you enter a pasture of thirty shaggy, fat horses who are all too happy to be on holiday, it’s a huge compliment when your horses mosey over to say hello.
It makes me hope I’m doing something right! But still, I found Horses Don’t Lie is not only full of ideas how to do things better with horses, it suggests how to observe things better, before the doing. In that cowboy way.
Got a chance to check out Dish and Duer’s performance denim recently. The Vancouver-based brand has developed N2X – a proprietary fabric – combining Tencel, made from eucalyptus trees, with polyester, spandex and cotton. The result? Denim that looks like a dress pant on the outside (with a sublet, satiny sheen) and feels like a sweat pant on the inside.The breathable, stretchy fabric is so comfortable, they’d be great for riding in.However, in the interest of not getting my dusty rose “Dish N2X Skinny Skimmer” dirty, I decided to let them ride solo on Simon. He went easy on them and took it slow.The sun may be setting at the Calgary Polo Club, where these photos were taken, but the day is just beginning for Dish and Duer. You can find their complete line for sale online and at their pop-up shop in Vancouver. Meanwhile, they have a Kickstarter campaign that begins today! Show your support and receive your own pair of jeans for almost half price.
Simon and Gabby had a busy day of polo planned on Saturday, but they were happy to take a few moments to help spread the word about a Toronto-based initiative making the world a better place — through fashion.The Fabric of Humanity offers ethical employment for those in the apparel industry, from as far away as Columbia and Mongolia. And gives us a chance to wear our hearts on our tee.Fresh off a Kickstart fundraising success, in which 82 backers pledged $20,588, the Fabric of Humanity will be helping apparel industry workers in Tado, Columbia create their own co-operative and invest in professional sewing machinery.So when you don a Fabric of Humanity tee, you’re doing more than just making a change of clothes. You’re wearing clothes of change! Show your support in style here.I always have time for a little snuggle with Simon…… but soon it will be game time on the field behind us at the Calgary Polo Club. Time to get ready. Oh, and the players who oppose Team Blue Besos today? FYI, the charity stops with the T-shirt.
Spruce Meadows may be a show jumping facility of international acclaim, regularly hosting the world’s best equestrians — but it took Hermes to get me there. I was glad it did, because not only did I get to salivate over my fantasy saddle, but I met a local rider who is making his mark on the world’s show jumping stage.My first stop was a white tent in the plaza near the West Grandstand. Inside, Hermes saddle maker Nicolas Cornebois had come all the way from Paris to demonstrate his craftsmanship on the item that every horse-mad girl with a weakness for luxury brands covets. Aka: moi.
The press release calls him a Master Saddle Maker, but Monsieur Cornebois demurred, telling me it wouldn’t fly with his colleagues back in France. Talented and humble.Meanwhile, salesmen swooped in with equestrian-themed scarves to swooning shoppers.The mercurial Cheval Fusion from this year’s Spring/Summer collection caught my eye.But the Hermes pop-up shop devoted most of its space to items for the horse enthusiasts attending the Masters CSIO 5. If your pony’s been hinting they’d like a tack upgrade, this was the place to take that carrot to the next level.
While many of us associate Hermes with high fashion for humans, the brand is still very connected to its roots as a 19th Century saddle and harness maker. Although I can’t help but give a thrifty heads-up: my secret source at the orange H tells me the $60 glycerin soap isn’t that different from what is available at the dollar store.However, Hermes isn’t above a little collab in the horse department. The historic brand recently worked with Freejump to develop these quick release stirrups…… which I saw in action a short time later …… in the Hermes branded warm-up ring.Romain Duguet, a Swiss riding superstar, is no stranger to Hermes. Not only is he sponsored by the company, he won the Grand Prix Hermes in Paris in April.The custom-built jumps mark the first time Hermes has partnered with Spruce Meadows. Obviously making Romain and Otello du Soleil feel right at home.Then came Ben. Perhaps in preparation for this moment, but more likely because the photogenic Ben Asselin is an amazing rider, Hermes’ most recent recruit is a hometown hero — who also happens to have the ultimate hometown advantage. Not only is 21-year old Ben from Calgary, he is the son of Canadian Olympic riders Jonathan Asselin and Nancy Southern… whose family owns Spruce Meadows.Ben’s horse, Plume de la Roque, makes Hermes gear look good. From quilted saddle pad to branded ear bonnet.Ben and Plume enter the International Ring at the Spruce Meadows Masters.Even though Plume sailed over this fence in the sizzling heat of Friday’s competition, Ben didn’t make the top twelve in the overall standings. (Romain placed 11th).However, the Hermes sponsorship makes Ben a winner in my books. Meanwhile, newsflash: Hermes also makes polo saddles. What do you think, Simon? Should I try one?
Boy, was it a hot one last night! 35 degrees Celsius at the Calgary Polo Club. That’s 95 Fahrenheit, my American friends. Still, look at my faithful steed Simon go! He’s flying ahead of doggy doc Tom LeBoldus’ pony. How do you like them apples?Or carrots? Before the game I checked out the new Juice Because pop-up at Willow Park Village to stock up on some tangy and energizing Peter. Named after a certain rabbit, I’m guessing.It must have helped, because I even managed to hit a ball or two. Our camo-jerseyed Team KatSaw made it into the finals, which are scheduled for tomorrow if it doesn’t rain. Meanwhile, check out KatSaw Farms patron Ross Prokopy making a splash in purple at the Veuve Classic.The temporary cold-pressed juice shop off Macleod Trail and Willow Park Dr SE is a handy pit-stop on the way to the polo club, but if you don’t check it out before they close on August 31st, don’t worry — they deliver! Head to their website.Meanwhile, come on out and tailgate at the Calgary Polo Club — soon, before the season ends. This heat won’t last forever.