Breeding Polo Ponies, Part 2

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

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In case you missed it, Part 1 of this series focused on the history of polo and how professional polo player Sunny Hale became involved with the sport! Professional polo player Kristy Waters Outhier grew up around Quarter Horses - her parents, Lou and Wanda Waters, owned American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame inductee Colonel Freckles - but wasn’t introduced to polo until she discovered the sport as a college student at Tulane University. “I was reading through the book of things to do at Tulane University in New Orleans,” Kristy says. “I grew up cutting and doing working cow horse and all of the AQHA stuff, and I was really into sports in high school, especially basketball and team sports. So when I found polo, it was like the greatest thing that I had ever found in my life. It still is! It is such a mix of team sports on a horse. You excel through personal achievement - the more you work, the better you can do; the harder you practice, the better you are. There’s this whole huge element of this team being involved, as well. When you add all of that with a horse, it’s just awesome.”

While players tend to have a style of horse they prefer, many different bloodlines of Quarter Horses are successfully competing in polo. Kristy still prefers her cutting bloodlines that trace to Colonel Freckles. Professional polo player and creator of the American Polo Horse Association Sunny Hale prefers racing bloodlines. Sunny’s Euly Loley, who is by Royal Evening Snow and out of the Ghost Power (TB) mare Shes Ghost Power, was used by Juan Martin Nero, an American 10-goal player at the U.S. Open. “I’ve been involved with Quarter Horses my whole life,” Sunny says. “I used to buy and sell a lot of horses, and one of the easiest horses to train for polo - to bring from another equestrian sport - is a Quarter Horse. When I was young, one of the most fun things was to go find Quarter Horses doing other jobs - whether they were the backyard family horse, a roping horse, reining horse or cutting horse - and I just transformed them into a polo pony. The Quarter Horses went to polo the fastest.

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“Generally if you bring a horse into the sport, like a Thoroughbred off the racetrack, it can take up to three years to really condition that horse’s mind and transform it into being a polo pony. With the Quarter Horses, they are predominantly used in so many different sports, that you can take a Quarter Horse that has been a roper or reiner, and that horse literally could go to polo in 30 to 60 days. They are so open-minded.” Sunny says the Quarter Horses’ best attribute is their mind. “One of the greatest things about the Quarter Horse is that they have a mind that resets itself to a default of ‘I’m open to what do you want to do.’ ” Sunny says. “I think it’s a great advantage that Quarter Horses have.” There’s depth to the sport involving horses, Kristy says. “Coming into polo, it didn’t take me long to realize that my cutting-bred horses that were trained and had a handle were exactly what we needed on the polo field,” she explains. “The handle and the intelligence is such a huge part of the game with the polo field being as big as it is. It’s huge, and that is where I believe the Thoroughbred became the stereotypical horse for polo because of the speed and endurance. But the American Quarter Horse is really, really perfect for it, too. “You have plenty of speed and endurance in your racing-bred Quarter Horses, but surprisingly so do the cutters, the cow-breds and all of them,” Kristy says. “The entire breeding of the American Quarter Horse is perfect for polo - and at all levels. The beginner and intermediate riders, they are just going to achieve way more satisfaction on a Quarter Horse more quickly in my opinion, because the Quarter Horses are so easily adaptable and willing. On top of that, Quarter Horses’ bones are thick and good so they can handle the physical pressures that polo puts on them. They are just great for it. And that’s just the beginner and intermediate. At the professional level, I’m starting to cross my cutting horse breeding with running bloodlines for my polo horses, and I would pick one of those any day over any other breed of horse to play on the polo field because their stop, turn and acceleration is so much quicker.” Sunny says that while many people think polo ponies are like Border Collies and are taught to follow the polo ball, the truth is that with eight riders on the field at a time with different thought patterns, the horse is trained to follow the rider’s signals.

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“A top polo horse is trained to do nothing more than the rider asks,” Sunny says. “And they have to do it with one hand, from racehorse speed to a standstill and for seven minutes – not for 20 seconds and not for 200 yards, but for seven minutes. A top polo pony is just trained to follow the rider’s cues, no matter what they ask him to do. The attribute that I think makes the Quarter Horse excel is its brain. And to me, it has great attributes - the stops and turns, burst of speed, which are incredible. But where I think they have the advantage is they have such a versatile brain and such a brain that is tolerant - very tolerant.” While Quarter Horses are gaining recognition in the sport, thanks to the American Polo Horse Association, Kristy believes that many players were probably hesitant to use them in the past because they didn’t think they were fast enough. “In polo, I think it just comes from being new,” Kristy says. “It’s newer to people to start using the Quarter Horses. The Argentine horse - because polo is huge in Argentina - and Thoroughbreds were just what they used. Maybe a little bit of hesitation comes from people thinking that they won’t be fast enough. I have to 100 percent say the basic person in polo is looking for speed. Whether you’re advanced or not advanced, you think you need speed and that’s what’s going to make you a better polo player. We all know that the fastest racecar is not going to necessarily win the race. It’s the mechanics underneath the hood and the driver behind the wheel.” Sunny created the American Polo Horse Association in 2006, and the association and AQHA recognize the top Quarter Horse at the U.S. Open. “Polo has given me the opportunity to travel around the world, doing what I love to do, and now it’s such a vision to bring exposure to the equine side of polo,” Sunny says. “That’s what I’m so proud about with this alliance with AQHA. Specifically, we get to bring exposure to the breed that I know and show that around the world it’s so well used and doing so well in all different levels of the sport. I’m really excited to finally get to show that.”