Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You know you have arrived when you are involved with the sport of Polo which is known as the sport of Kings. We see those 2 boys of Diana’s always playing the sport. Even when they visited New York they converted Governor’s Island into a Polo field which once was housing for the Coast Guard. What about the rest of us? We don’t even know anything about the sport.
For all of it’s existence the sport has always belonged to the rich, the famous and the privileged few. It began as a war game more that 2,000 years ago and is one of the oldest team sports in history. Most of us in America know very little about it. There was a time in this country in the 1920’s and 30’s when Polo could draw crowds of 30,000 spectators and at that time the United States was considered the best in the world and we don’t even have any Kings or Queens, I mean Royalty.
Today there are Polo clubs all over the country and some of the best players compete at the U.S. Polo Championship in Florida which is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the sport. The sport is fast and rough and it is considered to be one of the most dangerous sports in the world. Ignacio Figueras is from Argentina known simply as Nacho and he is the most famous professional Polo player today. You also may recognize him as the face of Ralph Lauren; handsome and polished, sophisticated.
He is at ease with the glitz and glamour of the Polo scene where charity events can go for about $50,000 a table of people at the event. It takes much training and skill to play at a professional fast paced level. Some people describe the sport like hockey on horseback. Nacho says it is more like Golf during an earthquake. He wishes to bring the popularity from the past back to the United States.
It was 75 years ago when Polo was played all over Long Island, New York . Back then, wealthy families like the Vanderbilt’s and Whitney’s dominated the game. Hollywood stars like Spencer Tracy and Walt Disney were avid players. To understand how the game is played, there are 4 players against 4 players. You play different periods called Chuck's that are 7 minutes long. The object is to hit the ball through the opposing team’s goal post. It all takes place on the largest field in sports; big enough to fit 9 football fields.
The rules are that you have to use your right hand to play or hit the ball and your left hand to control the horse. The horses go as fast as 35 miles per hour and usually last about 3 to 4 minutes before they have to be swapped out for a fresh horse. Nacho has some of the best horses in the game. His horses have to be able to make complete turns quickly and stop on a dime quickly.
It can be compared to a race car driver who needs his Ferrari to race with. These horses have to be in the best condition and training. A well known breeder of Polo horses is Owen Reinhardt who runs a world class breeding and training operation on his 300 acre ranch in Atkins, South Carolina. Training starts at birth and they are all descendants of great Polo ponies bred from champion stock.
The three biggest tournaments in the world are the U.S. Open, the British Open and the Argentine Open where most Polo players come from. The horses won’t be ready for professional Polo until they are 6 or 7 years old which is old compared to a race horse that peeks at 3 or 4 years old. The average horse is worth $200,000 dollars. The best Polo ponies can play for 10 years or longer.
Professional players like Nacho travel with their best horses. He will bring 13 to a match of the 300 he owns. Hey, do the math .These players are filthy rich too. The Bridgehampton Polo Club on Long Island, NY has seen many a pony come by. Some tournaments can last 6 weeks so his wife and family travels with him as much as they can.
Professional Polo lkeeps Nacho on the road 7 months out of the year competing in international tournaments from Singapore to Spain. So, get yourself a pony and start playing.

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