Myopia’s historic Club House has borne witness to 120 years of hunting, golf, and polo history, as well as created a few sporting legends of its own. By Andrew Conway
A wonderful story, recounted by Edward Weeks in his book Myopia 1875-1975, describes an early polo match at Gibney Field with a family team, the Carys, from Buffalo. “The visitors had a pure blood line with three of the four players being brothers,” writes Weeks, “but one of the boys had a bad fall and lay unconscious on the sidelines.
“The game was stopped for a time, whereupon Mother Cary, who came with the team to back up her boys, was heard to say: ‘Why this delay? Bring on another Cary and let the game proceed!’
“The fourth brother was duly produced, the polo togs (including riding boots) transferred from the unconscious brother to the conscious one and the game did go on, with Buffalo coming out the winner, or so I believe.”
Whether the story is true or apocryphal, it speaks volumes about the indomitable spirit and passionate sportsmanship that are the foundation stones of the oldest active polo club in America and its historic Club House.
Nestled in bucolic countryside and surrounded by polo fields, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, riding paddocks, stables, and kennels, this delightful Club House has borne witness to 120 years of hunting, golf, and polo history and created more than a few sporting legends of its own. Incorporated as the Myopia Hunt Club in 1892, the classic Colonial building actually dates back to 1772. It was first commissioned by Colonel Robert Dodge, whose family lived there until 1866, when the property was sold to local farmer John Gibney (hence Gibney Field).
The Myopia Club originally started as a gentleman’s sporting club in Winchester, Massachusetts, in 1875—several of the founding members were short-sighted and wore glasses, which led to lighthearted banter and the official name of the club—but it soon needed more open space as the fox hunting division of the club expanded. Myopia Fox Hounds leased land from the Gibneys and first hunted in Hamilton in 1882. They established the Myopia Hunt Club the following year, leased the farmhouse until 1891, and bought the building and incorporated it as the new Club House in 1892.
While fox hunting was the primary sport, the first polo game was played on Gibney Field in 1888. Golf was formally introduced six years later—four U.S. Opens were played here, the last one in 1908—and outdoor sports such as tennis, three-day eventing, and other equestrian disciplines were later added to the club’s charter.
Today, the Club House is a sylvan retreat for 350 private members who enjoy privileged access to all of the superb sporting facilities and one of the most beautiful, charming, and historic country club houses in America.
A peek inside the unassuming front door reveals a welcoming entrance hall, which opens to the wood-paneled Polo Room, decorated with vintage photographs, and informal Men’s Bar (in name only today), the venue for a well-earned drink after a round of golf or a few chukkas of polo. Cozy sittings rooms to the left of the entrance hall lead to two elegant dining salons overlooking the 18th hole, the more formal Parker Room and Card Room, and a grand Ballroom and patio, which hosts social functions through the year.
Quirky touches abound, such as the original wooden lockers behind the entrance hall, which once concealed liquor during the Prohibition era and still contain bottles belonging to current members who like to drink their own tipple at the 19th hole. An adjacent building, known as the Lower Club House, features more dining and leisure facilities, and an impressive 26-stall stable block is a hive of human and equine activity during the annual summer polo season.
While the Club House remains private, open only to members and their guests, it has welcomed many international dignitaries over the decades, including Queen Elizabeth’s daughter Princess Anne, who is an accomplished equestrian, Princess Grace of Monaco, and some of the best polo professionals and players in America and around the world.
It would be easy to think of Myopia as an ivory tower, devoid of social conscience, but nothing could be further from the truth. Conservation and land preservation have been two of the club’s raisons d’être since its inception, and today’s membership is no less passionate about those important causes. A century ago, Myopia members needed grounds to fox hunt, but in recent years the hunt, polo, and equestrian disciplines of the club have all made great efforts to champion open space for the wider community, supporting local organizations such as the Essex County Trail Association, Essex County Greenbelt Association, and Trustees of Reservation.
The founding fathers of Myopia might have been lampooned for being near-sighted, but their far-sighted approach to creating an exclusive private country club with a heartfelt community spirit was nothing short of visionary. Even Mother Cary would approve.
At Myopia Polo in South Hamilton and Stage Hill in Newbury, polo lessons can get you swinging a mallet in short order. By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
If there’s one thing Peter Poor loves, it’s introducing amateurs to the sport of polo. “My dad was very encouraging of new players… and I’ve tried to carry that on,” says Poor, who runs Stage Hill Polo School in Newbury.
By all accounts, Poor is doing a great job. He has been teaching people to play polo since 1983, and a sizable number of people on the field at Myopia—and around New England—got their start at his stable. That’s partly because Poor makes it easy; he has a string of polo ponies and offers classes year-round—in a ring in the winter and outdoors in the summer.
Poor works with everyone from experienced equestrians to beginners. He has had equal success with getting the new horsemen playing as quickly as possible, as long as they are committed to learning. And that means some not-so-fun classroom time. “Rules come first,” Poor says. “They need to learn what to expect.”
Cissie Snow, co-manager of the Myopia Polo club and the Myopia coaching league instructor and umpire, agrees that the rules are a critical first step. “Ultimately, it is all about the safety of the horse and rider,” she says. “You have eight people, mounted on eight horses, all chasing after one ball… If you don’t understand the rules, it can be very dangerous.”
Snow also has a lot of experience teaching people who have never ridden a horse to play polo, but she admits that it’s easier for the kids she coaches on the Harvard University polo team to absorb and execute the rules and plays all at once than it is for more mature learners. “It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy [at the same time],” she quips.
For rank beginners, Myopia offers primarily individual lessons, because the club doesn’t have a string of teaching ponies. At Stage Hill, group lessons—which can cost as little as $50 if players can find a Living Social or other web deal—are the norm. All you need to bring to your first lesson is shoes with a short heel (think riding boots), comfortable pants, a helmet, and gloves to help avoid blisters. Once a player is familiar with the basics, Myopia offers a summer coaching league, which allows beginners to play a four-chukker match several times a week.
While the initial investment in playing polo seems low, it can be a slippery slope, Poor warns. He jokes that the hardest part about learning to play polo might be “learning to write big checks.” In all seriousness, he adds, once you start, it is addictive. “I’ve had beginners who, within a year, are playing matches and own one or two ponies.”
Myopia in South Hamilton offers lessons June 1 to mid-September; call 978-468-POLO for details. Stage Hill in Newbury offers lessons year-round; call 978-463-8668.
Much care goes into preparing ponies for play. Here, take a look inside Myopia Hunt Club’s stables, and meet the trainers and stable hands who tend to the beautiful beasts. Photographs by Bob Packert
Myopia hosts one of the longest-running hunts in the country. By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
Long before the polo craze hit the North Shore, Myopia was known for hunting. In fact, in 1881, the hunt stole the spotlight from baseball, the first sport played by club members. Since then, the Myopia Hunt has been known as one of the oldest recognized hunts in continuous existence in America.
At that time, Myopia Hunt Club centered around Winchester, Massachusetts, where the Prince family, all sport and horse enthusiasts, had their home. As Alan Forbes writes in his book, Early Myopia, “It is hard…to believe that this territory over which Myopians chased the fox was through parts of the now thickly settled towns of Winchester, Stoneham, Lexington, Arlington, Belmont, Medford, and Woburn. At that time, however, there were many farming districts in these towns.”
In many ways, the history of the Myopia Hunt mirrors that of the history of the country, from stories of development encroaching on open fields to the leading role women took in keeping the hunt active during war times. “The Myopia hunt is special because of its ability to adapt to a changing world,” says Mary Ann Esdaile, who has been hunting with Myopia since 1978 and has served on the Myopia Hunt Committee for about 15 years.
The first change came shortly after the hunt was established. In the late 1800s, the hunt started using land leased at Gibney’s Farm in Hamilton, and soon after purchased the farm and moved the operations to Essex County. From there, the hunt grew and thrived, both as a social scene and a place for city dwellers to experience green fields and fresh air. While it was considered unladylike for women to play polo, women were always welcome to participate in the hunt, Esdaile says. “Women have always had an active role in the Myopia Hunt,” she explains, adding that the Hunt Committee, which makes the decisions on how the hunt is organized, as well as plans meet dates, fundraisers, routes, entertainment, and all other business, currently has seven female members, including new joint master Kim Cutler.
“Actually, we owe the continuous existence [of the hunt] to a woman,” Esdaile says. Anna Prince, the wife of Master Gordon Prince, kept the hunt going during World War II, when her husband was in service along with every other able-bodied man. Mrs. Prince took the horn and kept the hounds going, with the help of her young children and an older hunt servant named Chuck Haley, “so the boys would have something to come home to,” Esdaile recalls.
As late as the 1950s, both live hunts, where dogs and riders chase an actual fox, and “drag” hunts, where a scent is laid for the dogs and riders to chase, were available for participants. However, development encroached on the live hunt in 1952, Esdaile says, when a clever fox dashed into the town library. “Live hunting became too unpredictable,” she says.
These days, the drag hunt doesn’t even involve the scent of a fox, Esdaile notes; instead, the dogs sniff for Anisette liqueur. “The hounds are trained as puppies to follow this scent, and treats are given as reinforcement,” she explains, adding, “This practice prevents hounds from following live quarry, such as real foxes or deer and coyote. [Therefore,] no live animals are ever harmed.”
Caring for the land and the creatures that inhabit it is a key reason for the hunt’s continued success, Esdaile says. “Our hunt has survived two world wars, pressure from land developers, and the loss of country ways,” she notes. “We owe this to our far-sighted masters and dedicated members of the field, who combine their love of this sport with respectful relations with landowners and support and development of local conservation organizations, to ensure a long and successful future for the Myopia Hunt and preservation of open space for all to enjoy.”
A look back in time at the history of Myopia Polo and why it still matters today. By Alexandra Pecci
When 17-year-old Crocker Snow, Jr. rolled up to an Air Force base in Tucson, Arizona, to visit his half-brother, the late Don Little, he likely never imagined that Little’s invitation to “bang around” with a polo mallet would help lead to the rebirth of Myopia Polo Club. “One thing led to another,” Snow says. “It wasn’t any great master plan. It was more spontaneous combustion.”
Whether the revival was planned or not doesn’t matter; what did matter was that Myopia Polo was in dire need of a renaissance. Many of the area’s polo families had been splintered by war as their sons left to enlist before and during WWII, and by the mid 1950s, the historic Gibney Field had nearly turned into a hayfield, thanks to 20 years of neglect during the war and post-war years. That overgrown field was a far cry from Myopia’s early days in the 1880s, when the matches were heralded by brass bands and chronicled in newspaper reports, and where hundreds of spectators from across the North Shore would roll up in their carriages to watch.
The year 1887 saw the first polo match played at Gibney Field, making Myopia Polo Club the oldest active polo club in America. It was also one of the charter members of the United States Polo Association, and according to Snow, is the only one of the original five members that is still in existence.
During the decades that followed, polo’s popularity grew, and in 1907, Gibney Field hosted one of the first formal intercollegiate games between Harvard and Yale. Fathers and sons played side-by-side, and by the 1920s, Myopia Polo Club was hosting an annual invitational tournament, with as many as eight visiting teams coming to Hamilton.
Although the post-WWII era was tough on the club, the love of polo on the North Shore was simply lying dormant, waiting to be revitalized. Snow says Little pushed him to once again encourage polo back home in Hamilton, especially among those who were involved with Myopia before the war.
“There were a lot of people who had played, and they were just waiting for some young blood to come along,” Snow remembers. He was one of the ones who were involved with first cutting away the field’s overgrowth, helping to revive the momentum and player interest, and gradually getting Gibney Field back in shape for polo.
The duo’s efforts paid off. By the late 1960s and early ’70s, Myopia was once again a polo powerhouse in Massachusetts, with bigger crowds, more tournament participation, and more sponsorships than ever. It was even featured in the Steve McQueen film The Thomas Crown Affair. Don Little was captain of polo at that time and instrumental in promoting the sport at Myopia, according to Snow; he also eventually served as president of the United States Polo Association.
Today, Myopia Polo Club is experiencing yet another high point. According to Snow, the club still recognizes that “young blood” keeps the club strong into the future; therefore, Myopia has been aligning itself strongly with Harvard’s polo club, which reformed in 2006 after a long hiatus. “We really have that connection with Myopia,” says Harvard women’s polo captain Marion Dierickx, whose team regularly practices there.
“The more we can link Harvard polo with Myopia polo, the better,” Snow says. “Harvard is kind of infusing Myopia Polo with young blood all the time.”
Even beyond the relationship with Harvard, Snow says Myopia isn’t dominated by professionals. Instead, there’s an intentional family environment at Myopia and a focus on developing young players. For example, there’s Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld—son of Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld, Myopia’s Captain of Polo—who is captain of the Yale men’s team and first played polo at Myopia; his brothers play there, too.
And then there’s Snow himself, whose father and three sons played at Myopia. In fact, one of his sons, Adam Snow, is a professional 10-goal player who learned to play at Myopia. “We’ve got a history of developing young amateur talent that may or may not turn professional and succeed in the professional world of polo,” Snow says.
The focus on young players and families, along with its smaller size and rural Massachusetts location, means that Myopia doesn’t have the flash of some of the country’s high-powered polo clubs. But it also means that the field, with its bucolic surroundings and little quirks, looks much the way it did when polo was first played in South Hamilton in 1887. There’s still a dip in the clubhouse end of the field—one that used to confuse spectators who couldn’t see which team scored until they came riding back. And the footing of Gibney Field is still great, according to Snow.
“It’s smaller, and it’s by no means the perfect field that you would see in Florida now, but it’s got a wonderful setting and all kinds of character,” Snow says. “[Myopia] Polo is still the Sunday games that are played at Gibney Field; still played on the same field that they were played on in the 19th century.”
Harvard vs. Yale it’s known as ‘The Game.’ Meet the players, coaches, and alumni who keep this ivy tradition alive. By Alexandra Pecci, photographs by Adam Detour
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut, some things can be relied upon as surely as the sun rises each morning. Summer turns to fall, and there’s football, known simply as The Game. Winter turns to spring and there’s rowing and the Harvard-Yale Regatta, the country’s oldest inter-collegiate sporting event. Blue and Crimson clash, again and again.
For a century and a half, the Ivy League rivalry between Harvard and Yale, two of America’s oldest and most prestigious universities, has played out in the athletic arena. Add to the pantheon of that rivalry polo, once again.
When Harvard polo was reborn in 2006 after a more than decade-long hiatus, the Harvard-Yale polo rivalry was resurrected along with it.
“They were two of the first intercollegiate teams ever to play each other,” says Crocker Snow, himself a graduate of Harvard and one of Harvard’s polo coaches. In fact, Harvard and Yale played against each other in 1907 for one of the first—if not the first—formal intercollegiate polo matches in the United States.
It’s a rivalry that’s a natural extension of the history of polo in America, as well as the history of the two universities. Harvard was founded in 1636, making it the oldest institute of higher learning in the country. Yale is the third-oldest, founded in 1701. The two universities were already athletic rivals in the world of football and rowing by the time polo first made its way from Great Britain to the United States in the late 1800s, and it didn’t take long for the sport to work its way up and down the East Coast and establish itself at the country’s universities.
“Harvard and Yale were probably the two most established universities on the East Coast at that time,” Snow says. “A lot of people were horsemen, and the rivalry was triggered.”
The schools and their polo teams not only share similar histories; they also share similar struggles. Both the Harvard and Yale polo clubs have had their ups and downs in the more than 100 years since the two teams first met on Myopia’s Gibney Field. Yale’s team recently faced the closure of the stables at the Yale Armory, and Harvard’s team has long had periods of inactivity.
“Both teams are working hard to keep in shape,” says Lucy Topaloff, captain of the Yale women’s team. She notes that both teams must travel off campus to play and practice and trailer their horses to matches.
“Harvard has almost the same facilities as Yale, and [the teams] are therefore on about the same level,” she says.
In addition, both teams have several first-time polo players and encourage anyone who’s interested to come out, learn, and join the teams. In fact, many players had never “held a polo mallet before Harvard,” Snow says.
“We share a similar niche in the intercollegiate polo world in that neither team has recruited athletes; we don’t enjoy the privileges of being a varsity team like other schools,” says Yale men’s team captain Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld. Instead, both the Harvard and Yale teams are club sports. “And,” he adds, “our teams consist mainly of players who began riding or playing polo in college.”
Marion Dierickx, captain of the Harvard women’s team, also points to the teams’ recent struggles when considering the rivalry between the two schools.
“Both the Yale and the Harvard teams have had troubled times in recent years, and so definitely both teams have been reborn over the past four or five years and have had to emerge out of these difficult times,” she says.
But despite the teams’ challenges—or perhaps because of them—the Harvard and Yale teams are well-matched, which makes it exciting for them to meet in the polo arena. Both teams’ captains and coaches say the two teams play hard against one another, and because the skill level is similar, each game is a nail-biter.
“The rivalry isn’t one-sided and the games are close and often fun to watch,” says Colloredo-Mansfeld.
Dierickx, of the Harvard women’s team, says she feels like the stakes are high whenever she plays Yale.
“Every goal that we score is important to us,” she says.
The Harvard-Yale rivalry also extends beyond the shores of the United States. Each year, the two teams are invited to play at the Jack Wills Varsity Polo Match at the historic Guards Polo Club in the United Kingdom. The club is historic and extremely prestigious—its president is Queen Elizabeth’s husband, The Duke of Edinburgh. Each June, the match pits traditional school rivals, such as Oxford and Cambridge and Eton and Harrow, against each other. In recent years, Harvard and Yale have been among those rivals to play at Guards Polo Club in front of a crowd that numbers in the thousands.
“That’s really the mainstay of where the Harvard-Yale rivalry plays out,” Dierickx says.
The polo matches between the two schools are just one of the ways that the two universities compete. As Dierickx says, “the Harvard-Yale rivalry is something that’s school-wide that goes a long way beyond polo.”
Harvard and Yale are constantly in competition with each other, whether it’s regarding athletics or academics. “When you come to Yale, part of the indoctrination, I guess, is that Harvard is your rival,” says Liz Brayboy, alumni advisor for the Yale team, and a former Yale polo player herself. “They are sort of the most parallel school to Yale, so they become a kind of natural rival.”
With that in mind, the two polo teams usually schedule a match to coincide with the much-anticipated annual Harvard-Yale football match-up, a meeting every November that’s so important and exciting to both schools that it’s been dubbed “The Game.”
“The Harvard-Yale matches help boost interest in polo among other students when they are advertised in the same way as ‘The Game,’ which is why we usually have a Y-H match the Friday before it,” says Topaloff.
Although the teams are heated on the field, the rivalry is a very friendly one; don’t expect any Red Sox-Yankees-style brawls during Harvard-Yale matches.
“I don’t mean to say it isn’t competitive,” says Snow. “It’s very competitive. But there’s a certain competitive camaraderie about intercollegiate polo.”
Plus, the world of intercollegiate polo is relatively small, and in the case of Harvard and Yale, very supportive and even familial. The players are friendly with each other off the field, and they lend each other horses if ever the visiting team needs them. One of Harvard’s coaches, Cissie Snow, has hosted the Yale women’s team for summer clinics. Two of Crocker Snows’ sons Adam and Nick, both professional polo players, played for Yale and Harvard, respectively. And Yale men’s captain Colloredo-Mansfeld is from South Hamilton, Massachusetts, while his father, Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld, is a Harvard grad and current captain of Myopia Polo.
“Both sides really want to win, and they play very hard, but there is no bad behavior or poor sportsmanship,” says Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld.
But even with all the friendship and good feelings between the two teams, the Harvard-Yale rivalry is still one that gets the players fired up. As Colloredo-Mansfeld says, he looks forward to playing his school’s historic rival “just because they’re Harvard. Yalies always get excited to play Harvard.”
Northshore is proud to be the official publisher of Myopia Polo magazine, which distributes 10,000 copies to polo players, club members, spectators, and select North Shore and Boston area hotels, resorts, and businesses! Myopia Polo magazine, the official publication for Myopia Polo in South Hamilton, is a unique lifestyle publication distributed to a highly targeted audience throughout the Polo season.
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1 I Goal Scorer. Pushes forward aggressively and seeks openings into which teammates can hit. Marks the opposing team’s number 4 or Back.
2 I Energizer. Always involved in the play while quarterbacking the offense and trying to neutralize the other team’s top player.
3 I Field Captain. Typically the best player on the team; directs the flow of the game.
4 I Defender. Plays at the back of the game to prevent the other team from scoring.
Every player on the field carries a handicap from -2 to 10 goals, based on his or her skill and horsemanship as determined by a national handicap committee, with 10 representing the top of the game. More than 80 percent of players are rated one goal or less. This handicap does not necessarily correlate to the number of goals a player will score but rather his or her net worth to the team. The handicap system is designed to make all games even and competitive. In an eight-goal tournament, the rating of all four players on a team may not exceed eight goals. If one team is eight goals and its opponent six, the latter stars with a two-goal advantage.
What Polo is played in six seven-minute periods, or chukkas, with a 15-minute halftime. Teams change ends after each goal is scored. To help you follow along, here are some basic terms the announcer will use during the game:
Throw-In: Teams line up facing the umpire, with players on their respective side of the center line for the umpire to bowl the ball between them to commence play. After a goal is scored, teams return to the center and switch sides before recommencing play.
Knock In: Occurring when the offensive team hits the ball over the back line wide of goal. The defending team then plays the ball from the point at which it went over the back line.
Offside/Nearside: When seated on a horse, the offside refers to the player’s right side and the nearside refers to his left side. Shots can be played forward or backward on either side.
Hook: A defensive tactic used when a player makes contact with an offensive player’s mallet before it hits the ball. This contact makes it nearly impossible for the offensive player to hit the ball.
Ride Off: When a player uses his horse to push another player away from hitting the ball, or out of the play. Ride-offs are only legal when the two horses are parallel, the players are saddle-to-saddle, and they are going the same speed.
Line of the Ball (LOB): This refers to the path along which the ball travels after it’s hit.
Neck Shot/Tail Shot: The former is played under the horse’s neck; the latter, beneath and behind the tail.
Tack Time: A stop in play called by the umpire if a player’s tack is broken to ensure the safety of all players and horses on the field.
Divot Stomp: During half time, all spectators are invited onto the field to put back the divots made by the horses to ensure the field is safe and smooth during the second half.
Where A regulation-size polo field is 300 yards long by 160 yards wide, roughly 10 times the size of a football field. Goals are located at each end of the field and are eight yards apart and 10 feet high. Side boards are usually about a foot high and run along the side of the field from end line to another. A ball may travel through the goal at any height. The teams also switch directions after every goal to compensate for sun, field, or wind advantages.
When Polo is played throughout the world. It is the national sport of Argentina, which produces more top-rated professional players than any other country in the world. The handicap system is widely recognized internationally for ease of international play. The Myopia season runs June through September on historic Gibney Field, the oldest continuously used field in the country, adjoining Winthrop Field with a feature game each Sunday at 3 p.m. Across Route 1A, a Coaching League and Junior Polo program take place in the Joseph Poor outdoor arena.
Helmet: With or without face guard
Mallet: Usually made from bamboo, length ranges from 49 to 54 inches, depending on the pony’s height and the player’s preference
Tail: Braided and tied up to prevent interference with the mallet
Bandages: Horses’ legs are wrapped for protection
Knee Guards: Protect players’ knees during ride-offs
Boots: Brown leather
Polo Pony: In the United States, thoroughbred horses are often bred with Quarter horses to produce polo ponies
Bridle: Two sets of reins for better control
Whip: Made from nylon-wrapped fiberglass with a leather handle for a better grip
How The rules dictating the flow of the game are vital to those playing, but often little understood by those watching. Two mounted umpires on the field consult each other each time one blows a whistle to stop play. If the umpires are in agreement, a foul is called and a penalty shot is awarded to the fouled; if in disagreement, they consult a referee, or “third man,” who is seated on the sideline. If they determine no foul occurred, a throw-in restarts play.
The dynamics of polo revolve around the line the ball is traveling when hit and the right-of-way of the player most closely following this line. No player can cross this line if it would cause any danger to the player most closely following it. A defending player can attempt to ride a player off of the line or prevent his shot by hooking the mallet. Crossing the line is the most common foul in polo. Other fouls include dangerous riding or use of the mallet, and unsportsmanlike conduct for overtly appealing a foul or arguing with the umpires.
Foul shots are awarded to the team fouled. Penalty levels range from one to six, depending on the severity of the foul, the danger of the play, and where on the field it occurred. Most penalty shots are taken from the point of the foul or 60 yards from a defended goal, or at 30 or 40 yards from an undefended goal.
Why As in any equestrian sport, polo is all about the horses. Polo ponies (mostly thoroughbred horses, but traditionally called ponies) are the most versatile of equestrian athletes. They run up to 35 miles per hour, as race horses, stop, pivot like a cutting horse, bump and “ride off” each other, and occasionally contend with being accidentally hit by a ball or mallet.
The quality of a player’s horses—most players play four to six in a game—is a source of great pride and prejudice for each player and often makes the differences between a winning and losing effort. The challenge and thrill of coordinating athletically with horses is the ultimate reason that participants thrill to the sport.
There is hope on the horizon for polo in America, as the United States Polo Association has begun to take an active role in growing and cultivating talented young American players. The USPA established the Team USPA program in 2009 to grow and sustain the sport of polo by identifying talented young American players and providing opportunities to enhance their abilities. Step brothers Will Tankard, son of Cissie Snow, and Nick Snow, son of Crocker, were both selected to the program last year and have strong connections here at Myopia.
Tankard, originally from Tennessee, is rated at three goals and will be playing in July and August with the Colloredo-Mansfeld family on their Black Oak team. Nick, a four-goal player, is no stranger here at Myopia, having honed his polo skills on Winthrop and Gibney field and returning often to play during the summers. Both players were selected to play for their country for the World Championship Federation of International Polo tournament to be held in San Luis, Argentina.
In the first two years of the program, more than 150 applications were submitted from American polo players aged 18 to 25. After an extensive selection process, the USPA announced the first 24 players chosen for Team USPA and introduced them to the program at a four-day clinic in Wellington, Florida. In February 2011, 12 new members were welcomed to the program in the same initiation clinic in Wellington.
The introductory clinic in Florida focuses on familiarizing all of the kids with each other and also gives them a chance to show their skills on the field. An important aspect of polo is camaraderie, and clinic facilitators believe that the relationships between these young players will help them grow and last a lifetime. The players are also introduced to high-goal professionals, sponsors, and team managers, which can lead to numerous job and mentor opportunities, as it has done for past participants. Over the course of the four-day clinic, the new Team USPA members attend lectures by top industry professionals on topics ranging from polo 101 to sports psychology to mallet craftsmanship. In addition, the players participate in coached practices and games, where their talent is scouted from the sidelines by team managers and pros.
This past season in Florida, six Team USPA players trained to compete on the USA National Team in the Federation of International Polo (FIP) Championship Tournament. Team USPA members Nick Snow, Mason Wroe, Calixto Garcia-Velez, Chris Collins, Steve Krueger, and Carlitos Galindo practiced weekly with their coach, Charlie Muldoon, and team captain John Gobin in Boca Raton, Florida. Should the team prevail in the Zone A Playoffs held in the Dominican Republic, they will compete in San Luis, Argentina, this fall for the world-championship event.
In the summer months, the program heads to Sheridan, Wyoming, where the focus is on working with green (untrained) horses and playing better polo. Professional American players like Owen Rinehart, Tommy Wayman, Julio Arellano, Jeff Blake, Red Armour, and Tiger Kneece work one-on-one with the participating Team USPA members to help improve their polo skills. They are given the opportunity to play with some of the best American players of all time while they learn about training horses and the art of choosing the proper bit. They also complete their USPA Umpire Certification with Head Umpire Steve Lane.
As the program grew, Team USPA Director Kris Bowman and Team USPA Chairman Charles Smith decided the next step was to set up a place where these young American pros could “hang up their hats.” With former 10-goal players Adam Snow and Owen Rinehart committed to helping Team USPA reach their maximum potential, they concluded that the best place for the Team USPA stables would be right down the road from their farms in Aiken, South Carolina. During the spring and fall seasons, Team USPA members are invited to keep their horses at this facility and to practice with Snow and Rinehart twice a week. Each player is matched up with a mentor for additional one-on-one training, during which they are exposed to the daily routines of their mentors and the care of their horses.
Team USPA has provided these exceptional young athletes opportunities that every amateur polo player dreams of. After all, the best way to improve is to learn from the successes of one’s predecessors. To date, 25 of the 33 members of Team USPA have been mentored by a top professional since they’ve been in the program. In addition to all the efforts made to support Team USPA members, the United States Polo Association has launched the Young American Outreach Program in an effort to help all interested young polo players. The program has helped these individuals find jobs and mentorships in the sport, offered free umpire certification clinics, and facilitated participation in Team USPA clinics and events.
The goal of Team USPA is simple: to elevate the level of polo being played in the United States. Every member of Team USPA has improved since being accepted into the program. When these participants travel to clubs around the country to play polo, they’re now offering more to the game than ever before, thanks to their experience with Team USPA.
With a 90th birthday under his belt, Myopia mainstay Charlie Coles reflects on life and times at his beloved polo club.
One of the most familiar faces in the Myopia crowd is that of Charlie Coles, an MIT and Harvard Business School graduate and Myopia alum, who celebrated his 90th birthday this past March.
Since picking up the game of polo with the famous Winthrop family in his mid-30s, Coles has been devoted to the field at Myopia. He has traveled all over the world, playing in Argentina, England, northern Africa, and all over the United States, but whether traveling as an individual or part of a team and no matter where or when he played, Coles says he always represented the name Myopia. In fact, until a few years ago Coles could have been seen trotting on horseback down the field, playing with the same passion as the first day he started.
Throughout his life, Coles has tried his hand at a number of sports—competitive skiing, sailing, football, and fox hunting among them—but polo was his true love by far. “Polo is a fantastic sport because it’s not only very dangerous, but [it involves] working with four or five horses and having a complete compatibility with them in a game,” says Coles. “You respect your horses and they respect you.”
That bond and trust is what Coles now misses most about the sport. Having a mutual respect takes patience and a lot of practice, he says, but for Coles, the relationships that formed between himself and his animals will forever be unbreakable.
That same dedication to the horses is evident throughout Coles’ whole family. Coles and his son, Carlos, have eight horses, which they keep on their farm in Wenham during the summer. Carlos has followed in his father’s impressive footsteps and now is a dominant player on the Myopia field. And although the senior Coles no longer is active on the field, he can be seen sitting sideline at any and every game in which a family member plays. As Coles puts it, “Polo is a game about generations,” and he hopes to see it continue throughout the years.
While at Myopia, Coles racked up a remarkable list of achievements. In 1986, his horse was awarded the title “Best Playing Pony.” When in his late 60s, Coles was part of the Senior Team that won the Nationals. He won numerous East Coast Open Tournaments and, most impressively, he was rightfully named a Myopia Equestrian Legend in 2001.
These days, Coles stays active in the polo community by not only attending the matches, but also by taking care of and practicing with many of the horses that Carlos rides.
“I think polo is the most exciting animal-human sport,” Coles says. “It involves teamwork between people and horses. It’s incredible—tremendously exciting.”
Coles says he admires the grace and intelligence of the horses and how they work with the players. And although he enjoys a well-played match, when asked to name his favorite part of the game, Coles answers like a true polo competitor with a single, solitary word: “Winning.”
With much of polo’s history rooted here, India is a country rife with first-hand opportunities to experience the sport—both the classic and pachyderm versions. U.S.-based tour operator Micato Safaris offers over-the-top and in-depth itineraries in India that put guests right in the heart of the action. Here, one example, the “Polo with the Maharajahs” tour, which will have you grabbing for your mallet—and your passport.
Φ Day 1 Depart the U.S.
Φ Days 2-3 Delhi
Polo is a game that signifies power, adventure, beauty, elegance, grace, teamwork, class, and, above all, tradition. Guests will delve into the history of polo in India as they travel through some of the polo capitals of the country.
Begin in Delhi, the capital city of India. During their stay, guests will explore Old Delhi, including an exciting rickshaw ride through the famed bustling alleyways of Chandni Chowk bazaar. They will also venture into New Delhi to see such sites as Humayun’s Tomb, thought to be an architectural inspiration of the Taj Mahal. A special tour of the hotel’s unique priceless collection of well-preserved paintings, engravings, and lithographs is not to be missed. Last but not least is a first look at a polo match in India at the Jaipur Polo Grounds. Enjoy high tea afterwards with members of the playing teams.
Φ Days 4-5 Jodhpur
Jodhpur traces its history of polo back to the 19th century. The Jodhpur players were the Indian champions in the 1920s and, in fact, were responsible for the start of polo in Jaipur—which now is better known for polo in India. The current Maharaja revived polo in Jodhpur in 1993 and maintains high standards for the game today.
During this visit to Jodhpur, guests will have the opportunity to view the famous Marwari horses of the region, learn about them, and interact with some of the best polo players India has produced. While you are here, a private match will be arranged, during which guests who ride can try their hand at the game.
Guests will also visit the imposing Meherangarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India.
Φ Days 6-8 Udaipur
The fabled romantic city of Udaipur— known by many names: Venice of the East, City of Lakes, and City of Dawn, among them—is the next magical stop on the itinerary.
During their stay, guests will visit the City Palace and enjoy a boat ride on the tranquil water of Lake Pichola, including a stop to explore Jag Mandir Palace, perched in its center. They will also visit the temple groups of Eklingji, comprising more than 100 ancient temples dating to the 10th century, and Nagda, the site of two fourth-century temples.
Φ Days 9-11 Jaipur
Next, guests will journey by road to Jaipur, known as the “Pink City” because of the pink terra cotta hues of its buildings. Here, they will have the opportunity to explore the imposing Amber Fort and City Palace, see the delicate stone screens of the Palace of the Winds, and wander through the 18th-century Observatory.
The association of polo and the kingdom of Jaipur is legendary. Explore the history of polo in Jaipur through a private visit to the Rajasthan Polo Club. Enjoy cocktails one evening at the Taj Rambagh Palace’s Polo Bar (their specialty drink is a “polo-tini”!) and spend time discussing the nuances of the game with master players of Jaipur.
Guests will also have the opportunity to have some fun with a fascinating version of the game—elephant polo!
Φ Days 12-13 Agra
An interesting drive south takes guests to the capital of the great Mughal Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries, Agra, perhaps best known as home to the ethereal beauty of the Taj Mahal, a true monument to eternal romance. Sunset and sunrise visits to the Taj, built in memory of emperor Shah Jehan’s beloved wife, ensure ample time to enjoy this iconic structure.
Φ Day 14 Drive to Delhi; Depart
After one last leisurely breakfast, tour guests enjoy the drive back to Delhi. There, a room will be available at The Imperial Hotel until guests are ready to be escorted to the airport to board their international flight back to the United States.
The rate for this tour is $14,750, based on 10 people traveling. Rate includes domestic airfare, meals, accommodations, ground transportation and transfers, and most gratuities; excludes international air. For more information, visit micato.com or call 800-MICATO-1.