watch one of this summer's polo matches. Players mounted on truly awesome
horses, chasing a little white ball around a green field with the Big Horn
Mountains as a spectacular backdrop –
Really, what more could you ask for an hour or so of entertainment? As a dedicated horse enthusiast, I'd rather watch polo than
football or baseball any day of the week.
Originating 4,000 years ago in central Asia – originally to simulate battle scenarios and train men in the mastery of combat on horseback – polo reportedly came to the United States by way of the British cavalry.
It came to the Sheridan area in the 1890s, when brothers Malcolm and William Moncreiffe, from Scotland, moved to the Big Horn, WY, area and began buying horses for the British army. Nearly 20,000 horses were reportedly shipped from Big Horn to Africa for use in the Boer Wars.
Malcolm Moncreiffe reportedly built, in 1898, one of the first polo fields west of the Mississippi River. His Polo Ranch was the focus of polo games in the area until the ranch was sold in the early 1980s, and the games moved to the Big Horn Equestrian Center.
Polo is as popular as ever around here, and the summer games draw players from all over the world – including Argentina – who come not only to play but to buy horses raised and trained in the Big Horn area. There is no specific breed of polo pony. Many of them are crosses of Thoroughbred, quarter horse and other equine breeds. The term “pony” in fact is a misnomer, harking back, according to polo historians, to a time long past when no horse taller than 13.2 hands (54 inches) at the withers was allowed in the
That height, 13.2 hands (a “hand” is 4 inches) is the dividing line between ponies and horses. But the term stuck, and today's polo horses – which may measure 15 hands (5 feet) or taller – are still called “ponies.” What I love about the game is that it isn't about players who just happen to be on horseback. The pony is a critical element of the game, a
component with a mind of its own. A good polo pony learns to follow the ball, and can actually set its rider up for those winning shots or blocks.
According to sportpolo.com – one of many sites devoted to the game – “Next to a player's skills, the polo pony is the most important factor in polo.”
Big Horn polo ponies are acknowledged to be some of the best around.
If you happen to be in the area, polo games are played pretty much every Sunday afternoon during the summer at the Big Horn Equestrian Center, and on Saturdays, July through August, at the Flying H Ranch, also in Big Horn. You can find schedules on the Internet.
As for me, I'm planning on attending at least another game or two this summer. Admission is free (at least to the Equestrian Center, not sure about the Flying H).
And don't be surprised if polo crops up in at least one of my Portals urban fantasy/suspense books …
Maybe a pooka masquerading as a polo pony ...