Sometimes you just gotta play polo

October 5, 2016

by Carolyn Newman

Regular polo mallets (above) and blunt ended pole (below)
Regular polo mallets (above) and blunt ended pole (below)

REDWING — When fearless cowboys wanted to have Sunday afternoon fun, they tried playing polo. It was a good way to show off horsemanship skills during the 1950s and 60s.

Some 25 or 30 miles northwest of Walsenburg, and egged on by a rancher, these mostly young men played on a newly mowed and marked meadow. Local men, and a few women, learned to play the sport, but a few broken bones and stitches later, the game died out in Huerfano County.

It was rancher Gus White who promoted the fast-paced game, which is played on horseback with long five-foot mallets swinging at the ball. A proper polo mallet is long and tube shaped, but some cowboys played with a blunt-ended pole (see photo) to hit the ball through a goal.

It wasn’t just the White ranch with a polo field, the Malcolm McAlpines and Greemans had one near the Huerfano River, and a third was east of the present Gardner rodeo arena, according to Ray Garcia.

Gus White complained about the lack of enough players in the vicinity. So his wife and daughters had to fill in at times – either here or at the Whites’ Texas ranch. White’s love of the game continued through the years – he was still playing at 65, according to one newspaper article.

history-polo-1Joe Vargas and Ray Garcia remember watching the polo games as young kids. There was always the chance to earn a dollar after a match by walking the horses to cool them down.

White trained his own horses; the best were thoroughbreds and strong enough to withstand the fast pace, he said. Safety was stressed for men and horses. One story said if a player fell off his horse, he had to buy beer for the entire team.

Information is from Joe Vargas and Ray Garcia, from an Aug. 27, 1961, Pueblo Chieftain article by Betty Kalmes, and from a cowboy polo article online. The photo is of a New Mexican cowboy mallet by Carolyn Newman. The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society. 719-738-2840 (for Newman) 719-738-2346 for the Huerfano Heritage Center.

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