(by Dan Harvey Pedrick)
This is the end, my only friend,
—Jim Morrison 1943-1971
Polo! Live it, Love it …Retire from it!
I awoke in a cold sweat, gasping, clawing at my sheets…
But seriously, is there life after polo? Let me say right away and unequivocally—I think so. Or rather, I hope so—because I don’t need binoculars to see the caboose at the end of this train. I can hear its rising Doppler-shifting clickety-clack as it draws nearer and I can feel its cold steel in my bones. This is the Talkin’ Polo Blues, the après-polo scene nobody wants to make: that dreaded Sunday when no horses wait for you in the pony lines; the day when you may well say (like Chief Joseph of the Nez-Percé upon running out of gas just short of the Canadian border) “I will fight no more, forever.”
As I contemplate this disturbing vision I remember what some other players I have known had to say as the shadows of their careers grew long—Bill Powell, for example, the poloist who, back when I was already too old (but not old enough to know better), recruited me into this rarified world of princes and ponies and cowboys and phonies. “I’ve finally got the horses I need,” he mused, “I just don’t have enough time.”
I still don’t have the horses I need. But, to paraphrase the quotable Donald Rumsfeld, you play polo with the ponies you have, not with the ponies you want. Anyway, Bill finally did run out of time (may he rest in peace) but some of his ponies still survive.
Al Jacobs was a man who spent much of his working life on horseback, playing polo in the Canadian Strathconas cavalry regiment after three years on the Western Front during the Great War. “Colonel, Sir, come and watch us play this Sunday out on Pukka Road,” I offered, thinking he’d be thrilled.
“No, thank you, “ he replied brusquely, “That would be no fun at all.”
He was in his nineties and still could not bear the thought of watching rather than playing the game that had consumed so much of his life, a pastime that helped keep his mind off unspeakable horrors witnessed as a youth. “It was all so senseless,” he said, bowing his head after sharing some war stories at last.
Tony Yonge is determined to solve this matter of inevitable retirement on terms uniquely his own. Ordered to give it up years ago by his doctor, his hiatus from playing lasted a mere two weeks. Since then, and after two going-out-of-business-sale fêtes at his club in honor of his athletic longevity, he still joins the lineup on the weekends. Blind in one eye and hardly able to see out of the other, he is hopeless at stick-and-ball. But in the chukkas he manages to get into the play surprisingly often and make his presence felt. When he draws near you hold back, not sure if he can see you. He shoots past you with the warning, “Don’t ride me off, I’m on blood thinner.”
All’s fair in love and Warfarin.
Don José Ignacio Domecq, the renowned king of Spanish sherry producers (known as El Nariz, "the Nose", for his astonishing ability to sniff out the nuances in his own and other’s wines and sherries) still held a one-goal handicap at the age of eighty-one. “Hard work, good wine, good cigars, good polo,” he confided was the formula explaining his long life. One of his most treasured souvenirs was an engraved silver plate awarded by the Hurlingham Polo Association commemorating his fifty years in the game. It was presented to him by Lord Louis Mountbatten just days before terrorists cut down the last Viceroy of India.
Jesús “Chucho” Solórzano, now an elder statesman of Mexican polo, still maintains a sizeable string of first-class ponies although his competitive playing days are long over. “When I do play, I don’t want to have to think about the horses,” he says, shunning standing offers from some well-known players to buy him out. His sons do most of the playing on them these days.
For this opus (working title: The Revenge of Father Time) I thought I might include a few words of reflection from the most recognizable polo player on the planet. Who’s that, you say—Adolfito? Mariano? Memo? No, silly, it is His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales (now retired, from polo if not from royalty). Think I’ve got it wrong? Just say the word “polo” to any non-polo player. The most common response to this oral Rorschach test—other than “Ralph Lauren”—is “Prince Charles.” Try it sometime, and you’ll see.
Anyway, His Royal Highness was conveniently arriving by limousine just two blocks down the street from my house one chilly day last November. So, how could I not clean myself up a little and walk down with notepad in hand and just flat out ask him: Yo, Wales, is there life after polo? He’d probably love to talk about his favorite sport, maybe even invite me inside to chat over a cup of tea.
Security was a bit lax and I walked right up and stood next to the Provincial Premier who waited in the cold to escort the royal couple into the legislature building. The limo pulled up surrounded by a swarm of out-riding police motorcycles, and stopped. Out popped HRH, looked right at me, and said, “Aren't you cold?”
I suppose I should have said, “No, I’m fine—Sir—but, I just wanted to ask…”. But in fact I said nothing. I just stood there like a dope, probably with my mouth open. Forrest Gump’s dumber brother. HRH and his wife turned and strode quickly away chatting with the politicos who closed in all around them.
I realize now I am not made for such bold moves—not like, say, the infamous White House party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi. They also found the security a bit lax but knew how to take advantage of it—and flashed their beautiful straight white teeth instead of their bloody tonsils.
Blessed are the meek (but Fortune favors the brave).
Ah, but I digress. I was trying to write about retiring from polo. And while we all may have different ways of dealing with it—whether ignoring it, writing about it, or even doing a little rat poison from time to time—it is something we all must face sooner or later. Of course you could always try something completely different. There’s finger painting, for example, or collecting bread ties, or falling asleep in front of the TV. But if polo is a metaphor for Life (as HRH once averred in a rare interview in these pages some twenty years ago) then retiring from it must be a metaphor for… Death.
So, it’s a no-brainer: Don’t Do It! Play less often if you must, let your kids or your friend or your sweetheart ride your horses, take a turn on the tractor and cut the turf, volunteer for Third Man… Anything—but don’t give up!
You’re a polo player and up is not in you to give.
(This piece was originally published in POLO PLAYERS'S EDITION magazine, January 2010 issue.)
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