Third-generation polo player Tom Gose of San Antonio has participated in Albany’s Polo on the Prairie event—which has raised more than $3 million dollars for research and patient-care programs at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center—since the first match in 1987. His cousin, John Waggoner of Dallas, has been an avid player for two decades. Senior Editor Lori Moffatt chatted with the players to learn more about the game, its history in Texas, and about Polo on the Prairie.
“My grandfather—my mother’s father— started playing polo at Fort Bliss, in the early 20th Century,” says Gose. “That was part of the old Army system; the officers were encouraged to play polo. In fact, the breeding programs for polo horses were developed for cavalry horses. Horses on the polo field and on the battlefield are asked to do the same things—stop, turn, run fast, and above all, to wait for commands ; the horse is not supposed to do anything on its own.”
When my grandfather retired, he moved to San Antonio, a city with a long history of polo because of Fort Sam Houston. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the city was sort of a winter capital of polo; they played in Brackenridge Park; the current driving range was the old polo field. Most of the horses were kept at Fort Sam.
Then my dad got a wild hare, and in 1976, he built a polo club, on the site of the Retama race track. In 1979, we had a famous tournament there—the Cup of the Americas, between Argentina and the United States. We didn’t win, but it was a big deal. The Argentinean team brought 60 horses on a jumbo jet and stayed for four months.
We played the US Open there until 1986, when we closed the club. Polo dispersed somewhat, but it’s still being played; some in San Antonio and Austin, and quite a lot in Houston and Midland. The high-level players always use thoroughbred horses, because to be a good polo horse, you have to have lots of long-distance stamina.
For the public, Polo on the Prairie is a great chance to see people play, to get your first exposure to the game. A lot of people are intimidated by it, but they shouldn’t be. It’s a little like going to see a rodeo.”
John Waggoner agrees. “It’s one of the most special events anywhere. Without a doubt, there will be players here who are among the best in the world. But there’s also barbecue, fireworks, hanging out. The character of the event, in a way, is defined by where we play. It’s a HAY field! It’s a nice hay field, but it’s still a hay field. It adds to the character and charm.
“Visitors will see the best side of polo at Polo on the Prairie. It’s not all about champagne and hats and Prince Charles. Real polo is people who love horses.”
From the June 2012 issue.
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