John Anderson is smiling for a reason.With the inaugural Royal West (on right now!) John has brought international show jumping back to the heart of Calgary — for the first time in 30 years. Held at the new Agrium Western Event Centre on the Stampede Grounds, the hat of choice for the next week will be black velvet, not white Stetson.
It’s a cloudy day here in Calgary today, with thunderstorms looming. I’m worried that polo might be postponed this evening, but for the most part, it’s been an incredible summer, weather-wise and polo-wise. In fact, Calgary has a long history of amazing polo. I’m standing with a piece of it in this photo — my horse, Simon, has been playing in the area for decades. For those of you who missed it in this month’s edition of Calgary Polo Style, here’s my article on our local Sport of Kings:
Deep Roots in the Old West
Calgary polo had its beginnings as the sport of cowboys
Polo is known as the sport of kings, but in Calgary it would be more accurate to call it the sport of cattle ranchers. Long before organized rodeo blazed a trail through the Canadian West, polo was a cowboy sport.
Formed in 1890, the Calgary Polo Club is the arguably the oldest in North America with consecutive annual play. Thanks to Southern Alberta’s passion for horses, the club not only survived two world wars and the Great Depression, it flourished. Even though the local equestrian community kept the sport alive in typical low-key cowboy style, there have been plenty of bold-faced names along the way.
Alfred Ernest (A.E.) Cross, best known for being one of the “Big Four” cattlemen who founded the Calgary Stampede in 1912, was a polo lover first. He established the Calgary Polo Club in 1890, along with several friends from the exclusive Ranchmen’s Club. Although his A7 Ranche is said to be the oldest ranch in Canada still in the hands of its original owners, Montreal-born Cross was more than a cattleman. His professional pursuits included the brewing business, the film industry and politics.
Not to be outdone, Henry Bruen Alexander, the first president of the Calgary Polo Club, built some of downtown Calgary’s most impressive sandstone buildings. His real estate legacy includes the Alexander Block, which still stands on Stephen Avenue.
Calgary polo was also buoyed by many of the remittance men who came to Wild Rose Country to expand their fortunes. Originally from England, Colin Ross was one of those “drawn to the profit potential in western Canada’s burgeoning cattle kingdom,” according to the Historical Society of Alberta. After using family money to invest in property in the foothills, his obsession with polo led him to be known as a millionaire polo player. In 1907, the Los Angeles Times raved about his unbeaten Calgary team, which traveled across North America to meet rivals’ challenges.
All of these men most likely played at Owen’s Race Track, in today’s Elbow Park. It was rented by the Ranchmen’s Club for polo games and “manly sports,” duly noted in the Minutes of Ranchmen’s Club Committee in August, 1895. Also in the minutes, and true to polo-party form, gaining approval for a license to sell beer was a top priority. And despite the official written record, the manly sport of polo wasn’t limited to men. As early as the 1920s, a women’s team organized in both Kamloops and Calgary traveled to the first international women’s tournament in New York.
As the city of Calgary grew and developed, the Polo Club hopscotched through several pieces of real estate, including fields in Hillhurst and Chinook Park. In 1959, Jim Cross (son of A.E.) helped the club put down its final roots by providing land in Okotoks.
As the club settled into its new surroundings, the aggressive sport of polo continued to attract aggressive business leaders. Mr. Charles Hetherington, President and CEO of Panarctic Oils Ltd,received his USPA rating in Calgary in 1959, eventually serving as Canadian governor for the association. Playing into his 70s, his enthusiasm still infuses every game played at the Hetherington Field at Calgary Polo Club.
Meanwhile, history marched on — so much so that it alarmed Fred Mannix Sr., an avid player since 1957. Mannix commissioned author Tony Rees to write a book about the history of polo in Calgary. Interviews with “old-timers,” as Mannix fondly calls them, not only led to lost trophies, but a wealth of material that couldn’t be limited to Calgary. The book, now proudly displayed on many a coffee table, became a much larger project, ultimately titled Polo, The Galloping Game: An illustrated history of polo in the Canadian West.
Some of the players featured in Rees’s book are still on the field. With its 10-player dynasty, the Roenisch family is particularly noteworthy. Clinton “Kink” Roenisch started playing in 1933, at age 44, instilling a passion for the game throughout his clan, continuing to the fourth generation with Daniel, who plays as a 3-goal professional at the Calgary Polo Club today. Daniel benefits from double Southern Alberta polo DNA: not only was his dad, Rob, a 5-goal professional at his peak, his mother Julie was the top-rated female player in Canada with a two-goal handicap and the first woman ever to play in the U.S. Open. She also helped to bring serious women’s polo back to the club for the first time in half a century.
Besides ensuring past history was duly noted,Fred Mannix has helped power the future of Calgary polo, by passing his love of the sport to his sons, Fred Junior and Julian.
The brothers compete in the World Polo Tour with their team, Alegria. 22-year old Julian, rated four goals, wears Alegria’s maple-emblazoned team jersey for North American competitions, leading the team to victory in the US Open this spring.
Fred Junior takes over for matches played in the mecca of polo — Argentina. A rare combination of patron and pro, 29-year-old Fred is one of the world’s best players, rated six goals in North America and nine goals internationally. Perhaps, after making Team Canada when he was just sweet sixteen, the stage was set for this Calgarian to make history. In a sport that only a few hundred Canadians play, he’s the first in 76 years to compete for the coveted Argentine Triple Crown. He’s the second Canadian in 120 years to compete in the Argentine Open. This summer he’s back on home turf, training for the forty-goal polo waiting for him this fall in Argentina.
Besides the local ranchers, pros and CEOs, the Calgary Polo Club has had no shortage of visiting VIPs. Actors Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black, The Fugitive) and William Devane (Knots Landing, 24) have played in club tournaments. Flames goalie Mike Vernon traded his hockey stick for a mallet a few times. Jetting in from England, Prince Charles took time out from Stampede to take in a match and the professional head of the British Army, Charles Guthrie, stick and balled at the club. Lady Patricia Mountbatten Brabourne has also been a recurring field-side fan.
As the historic Calgary Polo Club plays its 2014 summer season, those bold-faced names, along with all the unsung heroes of the sport and the club, continue to write and rewrite the story of polo in Calgary.
To read the full issue of Calgary Polo Style, look for it at the Glencoe Club, Ranchmen’s Club, Bankers Hall Club, Silver Springs Golf & Country Club, Eau Claire YMCA, Calgary Winter Club and Bearspaw Country Club.
I’ve always said that polo is a stylish sport, but now you don’t have to take my word for it — Calgary Polo Style makes it official.The launch of the new magazine (brought to you by the folks behind Avenue) took place at the Calgary Polo Club, natch, with cocktails and the Canadian Open. Anders Knudsen of Red Point Media offered up an athletic bowl-in for the 20-goal game.His brogues were made for bowl-ins.Not many people in Calgary realize that polo is played here all summer long, just half an hour south of the city. Seven fields are just waiting for folks to roll up backwards in good ol’ gas guzzling SUVs and tailgate while taking in a game, like those watching Fred Mannix in jersey number 4 trying to keep an eye on the action behind him, without getting steamrollered in the process.Fred Junior and the other players were motivated by Rich Roenisch’s beautiful bronze trophies.The Ranch House had plenty of seating on its grand balcony overlooking the field, but I found it easier to avoid wardrobe malfunction by standing. Shoulders back!Those in the know, like Miles Durrie, Editor of Polo Style, always seem to end up on the berm, where the height offers fabulous viewing … and great acoustics for all those swear words in Espanol. The berm is also where The Men Of Polo tend to hang out if they’re not playing… … with their eagle eyes on Julian Mannix, keeping his focus despite the pressure from the opposing team.Back to footwear. It’s important to make the right choice for a night that includes a divot stomp. Wedges work wonders for the ladies, especially when they’re Tory Burch.The divot stomp is really just a jaunty half-time opportunity for a fashion show on the field.This Calgary Polo Style reader shows his support in style.Calgary Polo Club President Anne Evamy talks speech strategy with Anders. They’ve got both the verticals and the horizontals covered.Besides cataloguing the good life surrounding my favorite sport, Calgary Polo Style puts players in the spotlight. Not only did I make the official roster (yes, you’re reading that right, I’m a minus one — and I’m in good company)……I may have written an article or two for the magazine. Now that I’m a writer, instead of a television journalist, I spend a lot less time on my hair.
If you didn’t receive a copy in the mail or with your Globe & Mail newspaper, check out the free stands at the Glencoe Club, Ranchmen’s Club, Bankers Hall Club, Silver Springs Golf & Country Club, Eau Claire YMCA, Calgary Winter Club and Bearspaw Country Club. Congrats on the launch, Polo Style!
Captain Kirk, Denny Crane, Bill — whatever you call him, the 2014 Stampede Parade Marshal has arrived in Calgary. Note those suspenders he’s wearing, because they’re a style statement.Facing the media today before he faces the throngs along the parade route tomorrow, William Shatner took all questions. Including my urgent fashion query.
ME: “What will you be wearing tomorrow?”
This isn’t William Shatner’s first rodeo. He’s won a few buckles in his day, breeds horses and has ridden just about every style imaginable. Of course, I had to ask him if he ever played polo. Nope. “I like my knees,” he says, telling me he has a few friends who have taken a beating playing the sport. But he’s ridden polo ponies. “They’re indefatigable. They never stop. They just keep going.” My horse Simon says Bill is right.Bill charmed us all. Even us hardened media types. See you at the parade!
O, Canada! Where else would you want to spend Canada Day? The Calgary Polo Club celebrated our country’s birthday in style, with two polo games and tailgating to the max.The 20-goal game, Alegria vs Hawks, was a fast-paced match and thrilling to watch. Nice reach, Fred.But it was tough to concentrate on the game, with a record crowd partying in grand Canada Day style, along the edge of Palmer Field.Former event planner (and American!) Heather Lilly took Canadian color-coordination to a whole new level with her multi-tiered treats. Spectators competed in a foot mallet competition between games, discovering that hitting those balls can be a little tricky. Back to the real game. It’s always nice when there’s a throw-in right in front of your tailgate. But in this instance, may I suggest utilizing the zoom function?Luckily, the play moved away from the sidelines, and Mr. One was ok. Happy Canada Day!
The first game of Calgary Polo Club’s 2014 season was the perfect time to debut the official team jerseys of… wait for it… Team Blue Besos! In Club League, we’re assigned new team members each week: three regular players and a professional. Even though these guys may be my mortal enemies next week, last night they were the best teammates a girl could have. That’s super-pro four-goaler Big Joe Henderson, from South Africa, on the left. Moi and Simon, next. Doug Byblow playing his inaugural Calgary game. And Francesco Galdon, whose Argentinian heritage means he has polo in his DNA.Simon can barely contain his excitement about our new shirts.Just look at them! Kudos to Cal-Crests Ltd. The Calgary custom apparel company did a stylish, speedy job.The same Blue Besos dream team plays again this Saturday at 11am, in a Club League round robin: 6 chukkers of fantasticness. For fans of either polo or tailgating: come out and enjoy both at the Calgary Polo Club. Gracias for the superb team photos, Heather Lilly!
When I saw the media preview of Odysseo, I was almost overwhelmed. The 50 minute sampler of the show came close to moving me to tears. On opening night, when I saw the complete performance, I wondered if other people in the 2000-strong crowd felt the same way. Then I bumped into Calgary Stampede Princess Carly Weasel Child (wearing a black dress from Heather Crowshoe, no less) and she told me she was moved to tears. So, I present to you the verdict: Odysseo is an amazing show. A gorgeous, mystical, unique spectacle.If you’re not a horse person, perhaps you won’t choke up, but you have to be impressed with the melange of action going on under the big top at Canada Olympic Park. Acrobatic aerials combine with ethereal equestrian expertise and in front of massive movie screens, accompanied by live music. Like Cirque Du Soleil, this is more than a circus. And it definitely ain’t no Lipizzaner Stallions.The show lasts 2.5 hours with a half hour intermission. There are still tickets left, including the ones with a VIP backstage access, where you will experience something similar to my media preview. If you miss it in Calgary, you can catch it in Edmonton starting July 9.
I need another pony.This is Simon, the star on my string of one, at Calgary Polo Club last summer. To play 4-chukker Club League this summer, I need at least two ponies. I’ll have to double them (play them for two chukkers each), which isn’t the best, but it’s within the rules — and at my mellow pace, it’s not too hard on them. Right Simon?Part of my Palm Springs mission, besides enjoying a break from the brutally long Calgary winter, was to come home with another pony. For advice, the first person I turned to was Kyle Fargey. He’s a 3-goaler who runs the polo schools at Calgary Polo Club in the summer and Eldorado Polo Club in the winter. Since stick and balling a horse can be totally different than playing one, it’s advisable to try a new one in a game. Even though his ref shirt makes it look pretty serious, Kyle organizes friendly matches all season long. The horse he’s helping me with here is Lobo, one of his school string. I’ve ridden Lobo many times and he’s one of my faves. Just one little problem — he’s not for sale.I love Lobo, Kyle! Why don’t you just sell him to me? It would make this weekend a lot easier.Another problem? My budget. It wasn’t big, but I had a strategy, visiting the second last weekend of the season in Indio, when players would be looking for good homes for their older, slower ponies, to make way for their own new acquisitions. Tucker was the first pony I tried.Great chukker, Tucker! Boy, did we have a good time. This 16-year-old desert pony has played 4-goal most of his life. This year he played 1-goal at Empire Polo Club, which is still pretty darn fast. But he was perfect for me, with an easy-going, adorable disposition.But it’s a big world out there, with a lot of horses to become emotionally attached to. Next was Carlitos. His owner is so fond of him, he wasn’t even officially for sale. Saddled up, his hide bleached out from the sun, Carlitos looked mellow. When I took him out to stick and ball, it was love at first ride. Super-responsive with a comfortable canter… but then the mellow gave way to a need for speed that my riding abilities just couldn’t handle.Still, look how cute he was afterward! I found myself thinking that if I got him off the oats, and he realized he wasn’t playing 8-goal any more, maybe he’d slow down for me. Then I had to get a grip. Pretty pony or not, I can’t go buying a horse I can’t play in a test chukker. Still, thanks for your help, Bree!Over my long weekend in the desert, I tried so many ponies I don’t have pictures of them all. I only remembered to grab a shot of Tango at the last second — after trying him turned into an hour of pro Santos Arriola analyzing my swing. Thanks Santos! Unfortunately, Tango was too much horse for me. I’m not ready yet to stop on a dime and turn like lightning. I need a pony that will help me out when I give him mixed messages and wrong signals! Or at least ignore them.
Check out this video shot by Santos, giving all the right signals, in both Spanish and English.Back to Tucker. I was getting serious about him. Time for another chukker with Kyle’s Coaching League. Wish we had video of us scoring a goal in the first minute! It just added to the love story.I didn’t mind his knock knees — he felt sound in the game.Conveniently, Calgary vet Candace Crosby, was also playing in Coaching League that day and was available to do a vet check. Many polo peeps will tell you they don’t do a vet check on an older horse, because they just won’t pass. But in addition to his asking price, I was looking at an added cost of almost $1000 for the 3-day trip to Calgary and his border papers. I knew I needed someone to be logical. Because I was swooning over Tucker.After checking his teeth, Candace told me he was probably older than 16, although in polo, you almost don’t need a vet to tell you a horse is older than the owner says. It doesn’t mean they’re lying. For some reason in this sport that I can’t figure out, no one seems to know exactly how old their ponies are. However, I’m not ageist — I like older horses. I was told Simon was 24 when I bought him, but others have put him closer to 100.Candace did a thorough flexion test, checked his toed-out conformation and gave me a long list of issues. They didn’t appear to affect his game, but I had a lot to think about.Palm trees and pools make contemplation easier. If I didn’t have to ship Tucker to Canada, I probably would have bought him, but I decided not to go for it. There was another horse I really liked, but I got out-bid. So now, with June practice chukkers starting soon, I’ll be pony shopping in Alberta. Hopefully another steed will come my way and I’ll be in love all over again.
There are loads of deserts in this big ol’ world, but in Calgary, when we say we’re going to the desert, we mean Palm Springs. Or Palm Desert, Indio or any place in between. Although with the massive sprinkler systems here, it seems more oasis than desert. Flying in from the black, white and brown tones of a miserably long winter to the hi-def technicolor of the Coachella Valley, I felt like Dorothy when she realized she wasn’t in Kansas anymore.My first stop was the Eldorado Polo Club. During their season, January through the end of March, you can find a game being played just about any day of the week. Anyone can watch for free.On Sundays, see the match in style under the white tent of the Clubhouse, with table service for food and drinks.Or pull up your vehicle to the side of the field to tailgate.After, head to the other end of the club for a margarita at the Cantina. You never know who you’ll bump into. Chances are good it could be a Canadian, as evidenced by the ice hockey on the TV in the background. Or it could be country singer Pete Martinez, whose latest album was produced by Dave Matthews.Outside the Cantina, while the sun sets over Mount San Jacinto and the second highest mountain range in Southern California, there’s usually a desert dog who’s feeling social.Beyond the action of the games and the parties, there’s a quiet calm at the club. Tack rooms here had green roofs way before they became a LEEDS trend.Peep into a stall hidden by plywood and you might just find a foal like this one, five days old.On the track, grooms drift by, managing up to seven ponies at once.Up next, coverage of El Paseo Fashion Week and my attempt at a shopping spree that had nothing to do with fashion.
Cavalia’s new show Odysseo opens tomorrow in Calgary. Invited to the media preview today, I have to say this mystical, magical show is like nothing you’ve ever seen.With 70 horses and 49 human artists performing under the big white tent at Canada’s Olympic Park, Odysseo is the largest traveling show on earth. Bigger than U2. With a stage that’s bigger than a hockey rink. It’s twice as big as their original show, simply named Cavalia, which is still touring places like Dubai, Belgium and Australia.Beyond the amazing equestrian and acrobatic spectacle, special effects include high-def computer graphics on a screen called a “cyclorama” — the size of three IMAX screens. When the horses come toward you, it’s like they’re breaking free from a film or a painting.Show creator Normand Latourelle calls this 6-D. “It’s like watching a big Hollywood movie, but it’s live.”Seating seems intimate, yet the big top has enough room for an audience of 2000. Of course, it feels really intimate when you have a front row seat.Dream sequence followed by fantastic dream sequence, enhanced by acrobats, live musicians and a massive merry-go-round that lowers from the rafters, finally transforms to an aquatic vision.300,000 liters of water fill the stage to create a lake for the finale. If you’re lucky enough to have a floor seat, you may get splashed.After the incredible 50-minute preview, I trotted to the stage to take a selfie with some of the stars of the show, like Indigo the Appaloosa and his lovely rider…… and bumped into Normand, who tells me he doesn’t ride. “They put me on the horse once for a picture and I looked like a potato bag.”
But that doesn’t stop him from creating spectacular shows. After all, he helped start Cirque du Soleil without ever trying a trapeze. “Why should I ride? But I can pretty much understand what the horse do,” he says, his Quebec accent coming through. “The rule here is let the horse be a horse. Don’t make them do human tricks.”The natural scenes surrounding the horses were inspired by Normand’s view from home, an hour outside of Montreal. “I watch out my window when I’m in the kitchen. It’s what I have reproduced on stage. So I brought the mountain. I have almost a lake, a forest, all the images we project.”Behind the scenes, the temporary stable rivals pony digs at Spruce Meadows. Performers tend to their mounts before getting out of costume.No lead rope required!Pompon is a Canadian Cross. I didn’t realize that this breed, descended from horses sent to the New World by Louis XIV, was once on the verge of extinction. Now numbering 2500, there are two of them here.This is where the horses poop before the show! I’m not kidding! Thanks to my time at 19 Action News in Cleveland, I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions. And Normand was willing to talk. “We exercise them before. When they poop in the warm up, we thank them. They know it’s the place to do it. So they don’t do it often on stage.”I thought there would be all kinds of crazy hooks and loops to assist the performers, but many of the saddles looked like regular English ones to me.No mares in this barn! All the horses are either stallions, or geldings, like Raz, this six-year-old Arabian.Don’t tell my horse Simon, but I think Raz and I had a little connection.1200 invited VIP guests will be under the big top tomorrow night for Odysseo. I’m thrilled to be one of them, since I have a feeling I could watch this performance a thousand times over and not tire of it. Stay tuned for my official show review, later this week.