T. F. (Thomas Francis) Dale.

Polo past and present online

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cheeks longer or shorter according as the pony
catches hold when excited in the game. Fancy bits
I dislike and distrust ; I believe that if a pony will
not go comfortably in a double bridle he is not much
use at polo, and I am sure that nine men out of ten
cannot ride him effectively at the game. Many
ponies go better in a standing martingale, and its
use is almost universal among those native princes
and gentlemen of India who play the game. At the
same time it must be remembered that foreign ponies,
Arabs included, have not, as a rule, their heads and
necks so well put on as our English ponies. Standing
martingales are in fashion, but I see no advantage
in them unless they are necessary. Nor do I see
why a pony should not go well without a martingale
if he is properly trained. It stands to reason that
a pony if he has been taught to gallop properly and
in collected form, will do so more pleasantly with his
head free. If a standing martingale is used, should




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we fasten it to the noseband or to the snaffle ? The
general opinion se^ms to be that to fix it to the nose-
band is the right plan. But in practice I have found
it better on the snaffle rings, and I think we may
infer that sometimes one method and sometimes
another is right, according to the disposition of the
pony. If a pony, owing to a faulty neck, requires
to be strapped down tight, then I think perhaps
the noseband is the better plan ; but if, on the other
hand, he may be allowed a considerable amount of
freedom, then the rings of the snaffle may be pre-
ferable. In the latter case the pony is able to
accommodate itself better to the pull, and by shifting
its head to ease the strain on the mouth.

I should have the less hesitation in recommending
a preference for the snaffle rings, if I was quite
sure that the rider was sufficiently independent of
his bridle to be able to avoid giving the pony
unnecessary jerks with the reins. When once the
pony will go comfortably in the martingale he
would not need to have it on except when actually
playing. Thus the risk of deadening the mouth
would be lessened.

The Rugby polo boots for the pony should always
be put on both for play and practice. They are one
of the most useful inventions connected with the
game, and save the ponies from many a blow and
bruise that might produce lameness.

The stable management of the polo pony has for
its object to keep the pony in hard condition, not
only since he is thus able to do his work better, but


also because he is less likely to suffer injury from
or indeed to feel the blows and bruises which are
incidental to polo. To this end a polo pony requires
a great deal more of slow, long work on the road
than he generally has. It is only by steady walking
and trotting that we can obtain the condition neces-
sary to enable a pony to stand the strain of a hard,
galloping game. Polo is harder on the ponies than
it used to be, and we must meet the change by
improved condition.

Supposing that you do not want your ponies to
ride or drive during the winter months, the best
way to winter them is out in the open. A field
with a shed in it is the best place for them. There
is not the same objection to turning ponies out to
grass in the winter that applies to doing this to
hunters in the summer. The ground is not so hard,
there are no flies, nor is there the lush growth of
grass that makes horses fat and puffy. Now that
the season is so long and tournaments so many, I
think the first-class tournament pony greatly benefits
by the complete rest of the fields. Of course the
ponies should always be under the eye of a respons-
ible person, and they must be fed regularly with hay
and corn. This seems needless to say but for the fact
that we know polo ponies are sometimes turned out
and left to shift for themselves, merely to save labour
and stable room. The polo pony wintering in the
field requires careful looking after. His feet must
be taken care of, the hind shoes being removed, and
the front feet, unless very hard and sound, shod with


tips. A pony's feet often grow very quickly, and
they must be carefully watched. Another important
point is a supply of pure water. Without this the
ponies will not thrive.

As to taking the ponies up from grass and putting
them into work, a good deal depends on circum-
stances. In some cases there is not stable room for
the polo ponies until the hunters have gone into
summer quarters. But where either there is no
difficulty about space or labour, or where the polo
pony is the first consideration, the sooner the ponies
come up after the New Year the better. Most
ponies are taken up not later than February. Take
care the stables are not too hot. I hardly think they
can be too cold. In fact, it may be said that no
fairly well-built stable with half-a-dozen horses in
it will ever be too cold. A polo pony undipped
needs no clothing at all when stabled, and even for
a clipped pony one woollen rug is generally enough.
Grooms are fond of clothing because it makes the
coat look bright with a small amount of grooming.
But this is not what we want for condition, for there
is riothing so beneficial as plenty of grooming.
Nevertheless we have to do with the world as it is,
and to encounter the dislike of men to work, especi-
ally if they think that the same results can be
achieved any other way with less trouble. More-
over, few stables keep a sufficient number of helpers
to do without some artificial assistance. As to bed-
ding, I prefer peat moss, for the following reasons.
The animals do not eat it as they do straw, and ponies


are often very keen feeders. There is less waste of
hay. I used to notice that my horses bedded on
peat moss ate up every blade of their allowance of
hay. Lastly, I have never found any ill effects to
the feet from peat moss if it be scraped away from
the floor, and the pony made to stand on the bare
floor for two hours or more every day. Indeed I am
bound to say that with reasonable care 1 have had
on the whole less trouble in that way with peat moss
than with straw. I do not think, however, that
there is any great saving of expense in its use in a
small stable.

But the matter of most importance with polo
ponies when once they are taken up is exercise.
Nor is it easy to give them enough. It needs to
be long, about ten miles a day. It should be slow,
given at a walk or a trot, and it should be on the
road whenever the roads are not absolutely frozen
hard. For my own part I have no objection to
driving a polo pony in harness, and I do not believe
it does much if any harm. I have known some
first-class ponies, like " Skittles," that were excellent
trappers, and I have a great belief in running in the
lead of a tandem or team for conditioning a pony.
Almost anything is better than the humdrum jog
along the roads which most ponies have if they are
left to grooms. However, a polo pony is so far
better off than a hunter that he will probably have
some variety in 'his work. By the middle or end
of March, when a pony is beginning to come into
condition, and its legs are fairly hard with steady




road work, a little work in the field or on the private
polo ground will do most ponies good. Some there
are that are so clever that they need no practice, but
most ponies are none the worse at the beginning of
each season for a little practice at figures of eight or
other school exercises. The majority of ponies once
broken to stick and ball take no notice of them
afterwards, but I have known instances of ponies
pretending they had never seen either before and
that they were very much frightened of them. We
say how stupid the pony is, but the chances are that
it remembers some blow with stick or ball which we
have forgotten, since it hurt the pony and not our-
selves. In any case it is well to try them, unless
they are well known and experienced favourites. As
to the feeding of ponies in hard work, it is im-
possible to lay down rules as to the quantity. Some
require more and some less, and each horse has his
peculiarities, but if we take 10 lbs. of grain given
in four feeds, 6 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and about 9.30
p.m., or as near those hours as may be convenient,
as a basis, we shall find that we are not far wrong.
I have always used bran to mix with the grain, and
believe in it, but it has the disadvantage of being
expensive. I prefer long hay for horses and ponies
in hard work, but in large stables the economy of the
chaff-cutter is obvious. In small stables there is no
gain in it. The best oats and old hay should be used
during the polo season for tournament ponies.

The more experience I have the more firmly do I
believe in leaving water always in the box or stall,


but it must be changed often and the vessels kept
clean. An ordinary zinc pail, placed in a ring
fastened to the wall, is the best because the simplest
plan. Easily emptied and cleaned, it is better than
any permanent arrangement in the manger. The
simpler the stable arrangements are the better. The
best and healthiest stables I ever had were made out
of a range of old farm buildings. The floors were
laid with concrete and all moisture drained outside,
the mangers were earthenware pans let into brick
pillars built up in the corner, at the opposite corner
an iron ring held the bucket. There was of course
no hay-rack, and the ponies and horses had their hay
as they ought to, off the ground. The cost of these
boxes for eight ponies was very small. I may add
that the walls were coloured with yellow wash, which
is better than white. The stable doors faced south,
and had each a half door, so that the ponies could
look out. Horses may be very stupid animals, but
like a great many dull people they are very fond of
looking out of the window and seeing what is going
on. We may be sure that they are not made any
more stupid by doing so.

Polo grooms are very fond of washing their
ponies after a game. It is a slovenly, lazy trick,
and I would never allow it. Hand rubbing and
strapping are most useful, and grooming is as im-
portant as good feeding to the well-being of a horse,
if it be not more so.

Equipment of the Player. — A kindly critic of one of
my books in the Spectator accused me of evading the


question of the dress of a sportsman by recommend-
ing a good tailor and bootmaker. I do not know
that any better advice can be given. The cut of
both breeches and boots is of so much more con-
sequence than the material. It does not matter for
polo at all events of what particular cloth breeches
are made, or whether boots are black or brown, but
it does matter that they fit well or ill. In a game
like polo, which is played in public, the equipment
should fit well and be smart, but it must be that kind
of smartness which comes from the perfection of cut
and workmanship. At the same time it should give
to the player the utmost ease and freedom in the use
of his limbs. Polo is a game which causes us to use
almost every muscle of the body, and there should
be no tightness or pinch anywhere. A really good
tailor and bootmaker can do this for one without
making breeches too large, or boots like buckets.
A friend of mine, a master of hounds, considers
that you ought to be able to draw your legs through
your breeches without unbuttoning the buttons at
the knee at all, and we know that Mr. Jovey Jessop
despised boot-jacks and kicked his boots off when
he came home, but still in neither case could the gar-
ments have been either smart or elegant. Assuming
then, after all, that we cannot escape from the tailor
or bootmaker, white washing breeches, brown boots
with straight, dummy spurs, are the right wear.
Common prudence demands one of tjie polo caps
which were invented by Mr. Gerald Hardy, and are
patented and made by Barnard of Jermyn Street.


The cap is not only a protection to the head, but
is the smartest head-dress you can wear. A polo
whip, if your pony wants it, which I think but few
ponies do that are worth much at the game, will
complete the outfit. To this I may add that a
counsel of wisdom and prudence always, but especially
in hot weather, is to have a greatcoat ready to put on
when we are heated with play and waiting for another
turn at members' games or for a second match.



Those who turn over the pages of this book will find
a number of illustrations depicting polo ponies of
all kinds.

They have been selected with a view to showing
the polo pony at work and at rest, and also of giving
examples of some of the ponies used for breeding
purposes. These ponies come from four countries,
Ireland, England, America, Argentina. Of these
the Irish and English are by common consent the
best, and they supply us with examples of the stamp
of pony which it is desired to breed for polo purposes.
It is true, of course, in a sense, that you cannot breed
a polo pony. But you can breed a pony which by

209 p


conformation and blood is more likely than not
to play polo if it is trained carefully and used with
judgment. The object of this chapter is to show
what is the purpose the breeder of ponies of the polo
type sets before himself, to show why it is thought
that he has reasonable prospects of success in his

That we have the type clegrly before us no one
who will study these pictures can doubt. The prob-
lem to be solved is to breed ponies of the right
stamp, and having done so, to fix the type so that the
polo pony may take its place among our recognised
breeds of horses in the same way as the hackney, the
shire horse, and the hackney pony have already done.
The first thing to do is to discover how the existing
ponies have come into being, and, having so far as
possible traced them to their origin, to inquire if it
is possible by starting from the same point to produce
similar animals. I begin with the axiom that, given
time, patience, and judgment, you can, within certain
limits, establish any variety of our domestic animals.
You have, when once the type is fixed, to eliminate
as far as possible the tendency to reversion which is
the outcome of the law of heredity, so that your young
stock shall come true to type.

Let us take the Irish pony, just because so many
of our best polo ponies have come from Ireland, and
because the origin of the Irish pony can be traced
without much difficulty. Though it may be difficult
to establish the pedigree of any particular animal, yet
it is fairly well understood how the Irish pony came









into existence. In the first instance, no doubt, they
were misfits of hunter-breeding or reversions to
smaller ancestors of that type. Before the days of
polo, or at all events while the demand was still
slack, but few Irish breeders intended to produce a
14.2 pony. A hunter was much more remunerative,
or, if not a hunter, then a troop-horse or a trapper.

But at the foundation of all Irish horse-breeding
was the pony blood of Connemara and Galway.
Horse-breeding depends upon the existence in any
country of the need for a working horse. The Irish
farmer had and has a use for wiry, active, clean-legged
mares of strong constitutions and even temper.
They wanted horses that would work hard and live
in the rough. But there was also in Ireland work
for the smaller, cheaper, and hardier pony which could
maintain itself on the moors and uplands. On these
wild tracts of country there are great varieties of herbs
and stunted shrubs, and these were just what a race
of hardy ponies needed. Then these ponies were
required for carrying burdens, and for such a purpose
the peasants found it indispensable to have intelligent,
docile animals — a sulky, stupid pony was no use to
them. Therefore there was a continual process of
selection for temper and docility going on. These
animals became known, and their blood was diffused
more or less through aU the working horses of the
country. There was, as in England so in Ireland,
and on the borders of Wales, much pony blood
crossed with thoroughbred blood. The mares so
bred produced the famous Irish hunters which may


be seen any day making light of the Badminton
walls, crossing safely the Blackmore Vale doubles,
or flying the blackthorn hedges of the shires. But
now and again in the place of the big hunter came
the 14.2 pony.

When polo began to prosper, these ponies were
rescued from the slavery of the higgler's cart, played
in some Irish county club, and coming to hand
quickly, since an Irish man knows well how to
school an Irish horse, they had a few brilliant days
in the County Cup in Dublin. The best pony soon
found his way to England, and when English con-
dition and Irish horse-flesh combined had made
him one of the best in England, came his day of
triumph. It is the final of the Champion Cup
or of the Inter-Regimental. The score stands at
two all and but ten minutes more remain. " Give
me ' Brian,' " says the master. " He's had three tens
already, sir," replies the groom. " Never mind,
he never failed me yet," and so once more the
good brown pony goes out. Shrinking from no
scrimmage and never hanging back in his stride,
the rider's chance comes, and these two sweep down
with a clear lead for the goal. Who whoop ! and
the bell rings. " It's aU your doing, old man," says
the master as he gives the pony a friendly smack and
swings off to the pavilion, while " Brian " is led away,
his wide nostrils, his heaving flank, his quivering tail
telling of the severity of the struggle. Yet to-morrow
his eye will be as clear, his legs as cool and hard as
ever, he will have cleaned out his manger and rested



well. Let us see now what has gone to the making
of this pony. First, there is the pony of the hills and
moors finding his living on the scanty but nourish-
ing grass and the fibrous stunted shrubs of the wild
country of his birth. Then there is the struggle
for existence which has developed his intelligence,
hardened his constitution, and diminished his size.
One of the chief factors in regulating the size of the
horse is this struggle for existence. This is the
reason why horses that live in herds are always
smaller than those living separately or in small
numbers. In proportion as we make life easier for
the horse and lessen the stress of the struggle, or take
it away altogether, does his size increase. Thirdly,
we have, in the strains of our English pony, the
working mares. The best polo ponies and hunters
are those derived from mares which had real work to
do, and Nature has given us a hint on which we should
do well to ponder, that the pleasure of the sportsman
has its roots far back in the necessities of the peasant
farmer. From these working ancestors we have the
docility and courage for which the ponies and mares
have been selected for generations. Lastly, we have
the infusion of thoroughbred blood, giving the speed
and the shape and make which we need.

Speaking generally, we may say that, while make
and shape, docility, intelligence, and speed are largely
a matter of inheritance, endurance and hardiness are
the result of climate, food, and the circumstances of
the life of the ancestors.

Having thus analysed the materials that have gone


to the making of a polo pony, we have to consider
whether, by selecting the most suitable specimens of
the ponies we have, we can breed with remunerative
certainty an animal of which we can say, this is likely
to make a polo pony if it falls into good hands. But
here comes in a question which we are bound to face.
Supposing that you buy mares of the right type and
put them to similar and suitable stallions, that is, to
horses which, while of the same general type as the
mares, have those qualities which the mares lack, what
security have you that you will not be disappointed
by some unexpected reversion to some unsuspected
ancestors ? This may indeed occur, but what we have
to consider is its probability. I think that while the
existence of the possibility of reversion is not to be
denied, its probability is much exaggerated. For this
there are two reasons : — First^ that the general
tendency of reversion where the crosses are not
violent or to absolutely alien blood, is to the average
or mean type. This applies, I think, to those mental
as well as physical characteristics, which can be
inherited, and thus, of course, to size among others.
Secondly^ that the tendency to reversion diminishes
when the races bred from are prepotent ones. That
is, the tendency to reversion to a different type from
that of the parents, is diminished in direct proportion
to the purity of the race. " It is,*' says Mr. Vernon,
"when two distinct races are crossed that the
tendency to reversion most often declares itself"^
He goes on : "The reversion of hybrids and mongrels

^ Variation in Animals and Plants. H. M. Vernon, M.A., London, 1903.


to one of their pure parent forms after an interval
of two or more generations is especially common.
Hence it would seem that the act of crossing in itself
gives an impulse to reversion." The tendency to
unexpected and undesirable reversion is then to be
looked for less in the offspring of pure breeds, and
especially of those which have been more or less
closely inbred. Now, in the case of the polo pony,
we have descent from two offshoots of a common
stock, the Eastern horse, both of which offshoots have
been closely inbred.

Let me illustrate this by, the pedigree of a pony
which is very likely hereafter to be selected as a brood
mare. In 1904, a filly, a fine type of pony, named
" Modest Maiden," was exhibited at the Knighton
Show by the Radnorshire Polo and Riding Pony Stud
Company. " Modest Maiden " is by " Shyboy," by
" Rosewater," by " Rosicrucian." The last named has
four crosses of " Orville " in his pedigree. " Orville "
has four crosses of the Darley Arabian, which please
note. Now, turning to " Modest Maiden's " dam, she
was a Welsh pony by a trotting (not a hackney)
pony " Royal Revenge II." This pony goes back to
Rystyk's " Hambletonian," said by Americans to be
the king of trotting sires, and through him at last to
the Darley Arabian again. Thus we have a common
descent from one of the sources of our thorough-
bred blood. The rest of " Modest Maiden's "
blood is that of the Welsh mountain pony. Now all
mountain and moorland breeds are very prepotent,
because they are, by the nature of things, closely


inbred. Alien crosses may from time to time be
admitted, but such is the prepotency of a mountain-
bred pony that they can absorb without much deterior-
ation a great deal of alien blood. The climate and
the food are always working with the inherited
tendency to produce a particular type. Sir Richard
Green Price tells me that " Modest Maiden " is in
foal to " Schoolmaster." This horse is by "Wisdom"
out of " Brenta " by " Parmesan." " Wisdom " has
six crosses of " Orville," and " Brenta " through
" Parmesan " has two crosses. Thus the chances of
reversion in " Modest Maiden's " offspring would be
very small. If, further, we carefully select for type,
with each succeeding generation the chances of
unwelcome reversion grow smaller, and the type we
require a practical certainty. " After six generations
of selection," writes Professor Pearson, quoted by Mr.
Vernon, " the selected individuals will, without further
selection, breed true to the selected type within nearly
I per cent of its value." We can then without undue
temerity lay down that the polo pony of the future
must be an animal containing thoroughbred and pony
blood, and be bred from selected animals for six genera-
tions. In practice I do not believe so long a time will
be required, for the above sample pedigree (and others
would yield precisely similar results) shows that more
than half the work is done for us when we begin.
If, as is much to be hoped, the owners of other

Online LibraryT. F. (Thomas Francis) DalePolo past and present → online text (page 14 of 33)