Breeding Polo Ponies, Part 1

American Quarter Horses are finding success on the polo field, opening up a new horse-breeding niche.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Polo, one of mankind’s oldest team sports, has long been dominated by Thoroughbreds and most recently by Argentine-bred horses. Fans and players of the sport took notice in 2013 when a few of the world’s top players rode American Quarter Horses at the U.S. Open in Palm Beach, Florida. Shining the spotlight on the breed at such a prestigious event is drawing attention to Quarter Horses in the sport, but professional polo players Sunny Hale and Kristy Waters Outhier have long been fans of using Quarter Horses in the demanding sport. In 2006, Sunny created the American Polo Horse Association, and the association along with AQHA recognize the top Quarter Horse at the U.S. Open. Mischiefs Last Roll received the 2013 award. The 2007 Roll The Cash mare is owned and ridden by Adolfo Cambiaso, an Argentinian polo player widely known as the greatest player in the world. A full sister to 1996 racing champion aged stallion Roll Into Mischief, Mischiefs Last Roll is out of the Streakin Six mare Gettin Into Mischief and was bred by Patricia North of Grove, Oklahoma. “Sugar” was played by Adolfo in the 2015 U.S. Open Finals.

Polo players are given a handicap based on their skill level, ranging from -2 for novice players to the best, a 10. Adolfo is one of a handful of 10-goal polo players in the world. Another, Facundo Pieres, also rides a Quarter Horse. Both Argentine riders are also known for their breeding programs, and they raise hundreds of polo ponies each year. But still, they have Quarter Horses in their top strings.

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Facundo rode a Quarter Horse known by her polo name “Nutra Sweet” in the 2015 U.S. Open. “And these two guys play in England, Spain, Argentina, the United States – all the top tournaments – and they breed their own horses so they don’t have to necessarily ride any¬body else’s horses,” Sunny says. “They have plenty of horses, and they have some of the best bloodlines in polo, but in the U.S. Open, they were riding Quarter Horses. That’s the horse that Facundo plays at the end of the game. And at the end of the game, you jump on your best horse to do whatever magic you need to do. For a guy who’s breeding more than 300 horses a year, that’s a big statement.” Originally a training game for cavalry units, the 2,000-year-old sport of polo lasts about two hours and consists of four to six chukkers, or periods, lasting seven and a half minutes each. Polo players are free to move about the field, which is about 10 acres or 300 yards long and 160 yards wide. That’s a little larger than nine football fields. Teams consist of four players on the field at a time and are usually formed by grouping players with handicaps that add up to a certain number. Players pass the ball among teammates using a mallet. The horses can reach speeds of 35 mph and must be able to stop and turn on a dime.

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For years, polo horses were traded by their physical appearance and their ability on the polo field. Sunny is trying to align the sport with other equine disciplines by keeping pedigree and performance records on polo ponies. “It’s my opinion that in polo in the United States, Quarter Horses are probably 30 to 40 percent of the population at the mid-medium level, and they also represent some of the best horses at the higher level,” Sunny says. “Quarter Horses have also been exported to different countries. I’m really excited to show that through our association and our affiliation with AQHA.” Sunny’s mother played polo, and Sunny followed her into the game. “I was into polo at a very young age,” Sunny says. “I remember playing my first tournament when I was about 10 years old. I did all kinds of different horse sports – jumping, dressage, three-day eventing. I really wanted to stick with polo in my teenage years, and I turned professional in my early 20s. I’ve just stuck with it ever since. It has been a life long passion for sure.” Inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in October 2012, Sunny is often referred to as the top professional woman in the sport and at one time was a 5-goal player. Part 2 of Breeding Polo Ponies will cover some of the bloodlines seen in today’s Quarter Horse polo ponies