T. F. (Thomas Francis) Dale.

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mountain breeds follow the example of Wales and
establish stud books of their own, the task will be much
simplified. Everyi Irish breeder knows the value of the



POLO PONY BREEDING 217

old pony blood, and, as readers will already have
inferred, English hunters and polo ponies owe their
origin in a large number of cases to the Welsh or
other mountain breeds.

To those who doubt this I recommend the study
of the Welsh Stud Book, which will be found at once
amusing and instructive. For the Welsh Stud Book
has the advantage of the vivid pen of Sir Richard
Green Price, and the brilliant essays, full of wit and
substance, of Mr. Charles Coltman Rogers.

The above reflections will help us to realise two
important truths. First, that it is possible to breed
the class of riding pony we want, and secondly, that
the mountain and moorland ponies are deserving
of every assistance and encouragement which it is
in our power to give them. What is needed is not
any undue interference, still less crosses of alien blood,
but a steady and sustained effort to preserve the
purity and hardiness of the breeds. I should like
to see the elimination, by law if necessary, of all
diseased, weakly, or aged individuals, and the removal
of unsound or immature stallions.

If horse-breeders are right in their opinion of the
value of pony blood in hunters and cobs (and who
can doubt it ^), then the landowners and farmers of
the countries where these breeds are produced are the
guardians of a most valuable national asset. They
should be assisted, encouraged, even, if necessary, with
a little gentle compulsion, to do their duty by them.

The Polo and Riding Pony Society has done a
great deal, and of late with the hearty co-operation of



2i8 POLO: PAST AND PRESENT

our leading polo players. Are not our best polo
players among our best judges ? and Hurlingham,
Ranelagh, and Roehampton have thrown open their
shows to the members of the Society, while Ranelagh
in particular has striven to encourage the breeding
classes by a liberal offer of prizes for brood-mares
and stallions. The success of the Society has
justified the policy of the Council in encouraging
local eiFort. This has been achieved by granting
medals and giving prizes at shows in different parts
of the country. Moreover, members of the Council
are frequently called upon to act as judges of pony
classes, and in these ways have helped to encourage
the true type of pony all over the country.

But a more substantial stimulus to the breeder is
to be found in the ready sale there is for ponies likely
to make polo ponies. Four or five hundred of these
are sold at Tattersall's every spring, and are all much
of the same type. It so happens that the polo pony
is the most generally useful horse there is. You
cannot put him out of his place, and he will do every-
thing from drawing a lawn-mower up to winning a
race. The Government covets them for mounted-
infantry cobs, for a trained polo pony is more than
half a troop-horse already. I believe that we shall
come to use animals of this type, not only for
mounted infantry but for light cavalry. I sometimes
dream of a crack corps of guides mounted on
14.2 polo ponies, and think how useful they would
be. They should be ofllicered by men who had
all played in the Inter-Regimental Tournament.





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POLO PONY BREEDING 219

But in any case there is now every reason to
encourage us to breed polo ponies, or, if it is
demanded we should put it that way, animals suitable
for polo. The mares are always useful on and about
a country house or farm, there is a plentiful choice
of good stallions, and the market is a ready one.
Prices, however, are not very satisfactory to the
breeder. The breeding of the polo pony is attracting
considerable interest, and the more largely it is under-
taken the better will be the production of the raw
material of polo, and the better will riding ponies
pay the breeder. As long as ponies are scarce and
the demand greatly exceeds the supply, the price of
the trained pony will increase out of all proportion
to the value of the untrained animal. We see this
from the example of India, where polo has certainly
not grown of late years as it ought to have done,
because of the demand for trained ponies. If people
will buy only those ponies that know their business,
the dealers in Bombay or London find their business
fall off and prices are lowered.

Major -General Haig, the present Inspector-
General of Cavalry, has made some excellent sug-
gestions. He advises that all ponies should be
registered in two classes. Class A includes all
those ponies that have never played in a tournament.
Class B all those that have. He further advises
that in inter-regimental tournaments eighteen ponies
be allowed to each team — twelve from Class A and
not more than six from Class B ; but the whole
number may be taken from Class A if it is preferred.



220 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT

The effect of this would be to oblige a regiment to
buy two-thirds of its ponies when still untrained, it
would increase the number of trained ponies on the
market and thus in time lower the average price,
while it would also stimulate the demand for untrained
ponies and consequently raise their value.

Now it is clearly for the interest of polo players
and breeders alike that the price of trained ponies
should be lowered and that of untrained ones
increased. At present the obstacle in the way of
breeding ponies is the low price of the raw material.
It is difficult to sell a four-year-old pony at all, and a
five-year-old unmade pony is only worth ride-and-
drive prices or a little over, say from ^^25 to £§Oy
according to his quality. Some dealers do not make
their ponies at all, or at most put a finishing touch
on them, and in consequence a polo pony passes
through many hands, and the prices we hear of, which
strike every (One as large, have had to supply four
profits of which none at all went into the pocket of
the breeder. A four-year-old pony bred on a farm
represents an outlay of at least ;^20, and perhaps
more. Taking a very moderate estimate, a profit of
;^5 on this really only means that, one animal with
another, the breeder makes no loss. But the follow-
ing fact will show that this sum is about as much as
the breeder gets as his share. Here is one. A bred
a pony on his farm, at five years old he sold it to B
for {ji^, B played it at a local club and hunted it and
sold it to C for ^£50. C passed it on to D for (,^S'i
only keeping it a short time. D played the pony



POLO PONY BREEDING 221

and, as it shaped well, sold it to one of the fashion-
able dealers for ;£i50, who passed it on to a customer
for ;£300 after playing it in several tournaments. Now
this is not an isolated case. With some variations it
occurs constantly, but it obviously affords insufficient
encouragement to breeders.

The result is that we have a large importation of
Argentine and American ponies, which are very good,
but which have the effect of keeping down the price
of untrained English ponies. If polo pony breeding
is ever to be really successful, our polo governing
bodies must turn their attention to encouraging the
breeders. All that can be done directly the P. and
R. P. S. do, by offering prizes and encouraging
bending competitions to popularise the polo pony.
What is wanted now is for polo players to turn their
attention to encouraging the production of polo
ponies. No way would be better than for players to
undertake, as has been advised in Chapter VI., the
training of their own ponies, and by the adoption of
some scheme similar to that recommended by Major-
General Haig, but adapted to the circumstances of
English polo.

It is quite true that we have succeeded in breed-
ing ponies of polo type and showing them in saddle,
as the four winners at Islington in the novice class
of 1904 will make manifest, but all these ponies and
most of the others coming on are in the hands of
men of means. The P. and R. P. S. has been
fortunate in falling under the control of men who
made the objects of the Society their first aim, and



222 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT

with whom profit was only a secondary consideration.
Such success as has been reached could only have
been attained in this way. But the time has come
when it is only common-sense to encourage others to
follow the lines the Society has proved to be the
right ones, and to seek a proiit in so doing. That
the future of polo greatly depends on the supply of
ponies at reasonable prices being in some way equal
to the demand, no one can doubt. If trained ponies
came down to an average of about ;£i50, and
untrained ponies of promise rose to a price of from
£^o to ;^6o, the problem would be solved and one
obstacle to the popularity of the game removed.
There is a sufficient margin between the lower and
higher prices named, to give ample profit to skill and
judgment in selecting and making ponies.

The value of polo pony shows is unquestionably
great, because there is no doubt that one great
obstacle to the increase of polo pony breeding is that
the farmers and others who might take this up with
advantage have no real conception as to what a polo
pony is. Many of the animals that one sees at
shows in polo pony classes are quite unsuited for
the game in any form. In the same way one is
often shown with pride an animal that may be
useful enough in its way, but could never be of the
least good on the polo field. It is most important
that judges should be selected who are acquainted
with the true type needed for a polo pony. Judges
who combine skill in the game with judgment are
unquestionably the most suitable, and as a rule they




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POLO PONY BREEDING 223

should be left to handle their classes alone. At
polo pony shows single-handed judging is the best.
The judge has a type in his mind and adheres to it
throughout, and supposing him to be competent, he
not only gives as much satisfaction as any man can
where there are but a limited number of prizes and
a number of competitors, but his judgments are
instructive to the onlookers.

These remarks apply only to classes for ponies
likely to make polo ponies, and for made ponies.
The latter class is not worth the money spent on it
except in London, Liverpool, or large centres. In
breeding classes two men, a polo player and a man
who makes a speciality of breeding classes, one who
has been a breeder but has retired, give the most
satisfactory awards. In no case should there ever
be three judges, since the best may often be out-
voted.

Thus the game of polo has enriched the country
with a new and most useful kind of horse, for peace
or war. The polo pony is never out of his place.
You can drive him, hack him, or hunt him, and
he will do all these well. The possessor of good
animals of this type need never stay at home for
want of horses, if he wants to do any work a horse
can help in, or enjoy any sport a horse can share.

Since writing the above I have read two im-
portant publications which support the view ex-
pressed in this chapter. It is not in accordance
with the plan of this book to go deeply into the
subject of breeding. I should like therefore to refer



224 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT

my readers — First, to the valuable preface to volume
viii. of the Polo and Riding Pony Stud Book^ written
by Sir Richard Green Price. In these pages he sets
forth clearly the descent of our polo pony stallions
from "Walton," a grandson of " Herod " (1758).
The former inherited the notable staying power of
his sire " Sir Peter." In the pedigree of " Walton "
the best Galloway blood of the period occurs re-
peatedly. Secondly, to Mr. Theodore Cook's able
and interesting History of the English Turf. The
remarks (vol. ii. pp. 378 et seqq.) on the share of
the English horse (before the importation of the
most famous Easterns) in the credit of founding
our thoroughbred race will come home to every
polo pony breeder. " The old racing men (in the
eighteenth century) were rewarded for their per-
tinacity in racing hard with the material they had, by
suddenly discovering that this ^lateriaj crossed with
the imported Eastern stock produced something much
finer than either. . . . What they already had in endur-
ance they improved in speed, and what was fast was
made to last as well."





CHAPTER XII



THE POLO CLUB, ITS APPLIANCES AND EXPENSES

This is necessarily a prosaic chapter, but it is on a
very important topic. No doubt it will be the one
to which polo managers will turn first. The care
and improvement of the ground is the chief source
of prosperity to the club. Not only is a rough
ground very discouraging to playing members, but
if your ground is a bad one it will be found difficult
to induce visiting teams to come from a distance to
play matches or to enter for tournaments. The type
of a well-designed and well-equipped ground is that
at the Ranelagh Club known to players as the " old
ground." No pains or expense have been spared
on it, and it has had the benefit of time. Ten years
or more of steady work have done wonders for a
ground that apart from its beautiful situation had

225 Q



226 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT

not great natural advantages. When I first knew
the ground there were some serious irregularities.
These have been removed. The corner nearest the
house was slippery and treacherous. This has been
since relaid. The club had to contend against severe
drought during the two seasons I was most con-
cerned with it. A dry season is worse for the grass
of a polo ground than a wet one. Far more injury
is done by galloping on a sun-baked surface of
parched turf than by play on it in wet weather. A
ground, it is true, looks dreadful after a hard match
has been played in a rainy season. If, however, the
treaders do their work well, replacing with the hand
the clods of turf displaced by the hoofs of the ponies,
and the turf is well rolled, scarcely a trace will remain
on the following day, and no permanent injury of any
kind will be done to the grass. In county clubs
the polo ground has always the best-looking grass
in the neighbourhood.

A polo ground may safely be used on three
or four days a week in an ordinary season, but the
same amount of play in hot rainless weather will
cover the ground with dry bare patches. Where
there is no appliance for watering the ground, a
second ground would be very useful, but perhaps
that is like the favourite prescription of the doctors
to hard-worked people of nervous temperament and
small means, " Don't worry, and take a complete
holiday " ; most excellent but impracticable advice.
A polo ground occupies about eleven acres, and it is
not everywhere that a field of thirty acres or more



CLUB APPLIANCES AND EXPENSES 227

of level grass can be procured, and this brings me
to the question that confronts every polo manager.

The Choice of a Ground. — In the case of a new club
those who are entrusted with the first steps cannot
take too much pains about this. The natural
advantages which should be looked for are a level
surface, sound old turf, and convenience of situation.
If money was no object I should be inclined to place
the last first. No polo club ever succeeds unless its
playing members attend regularly, and my experience
leads me to think that nothing in life is more safe to
reckon on, than the dislike of mankind to incon-
venience and trouble. As we have not only a polo
ground to consider, but a polo club to keep up, we
must have sufficient space. A polo ground should
be as nearly 300 yards long as possible, after allowing
for a margin beyond each goal of at least 40 yards
between the back line and the nearest fence. Thus
the polo field would require to be at least 380 yards
in length. The breadth of a boarded ground is
laid down by the Hurlingham rules at 160 yards.
There should be a clear margin of 10 yards all
round the ground outside the guards and boards
with an added 40 yards at each goal end. These ^
margins are most important, and rather than diminish
them it is better, if necessary, to reduce the length
and breadth of the part of the ground devoted
to play. It is not only that the margin is neces-
sary for safety but that a cramped ground is bad
for both the players and their ponies. If there
is a fence or other obstacle too close to the goals.



228 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT

ponies and riders will have a tendency to check
their speed at the end of a run, and this spoils their
play. When once the goal-posts open out before a
player there should be nothing except these in his
mind. A player galloping for the goal should, when
he hits for the posts and believes he has succeeded
in driving the ball between them, not therefore cease
to gallop until the ball has actually rolled over the
line. The same rule holds good for a man who is
defending. The goal is never won or lost until the
ball is over the line. Yet how often we see men
pull up when they have hit for the posts, instead of
following up the ball, and in the same way goals are
often scored that might have been saved, on account
of slackness in riding on the part of the defender.
At all events no excuse should be given for this, but
plenty of space allowed on every side.

Having found a field of sufficient size, that is
near enough to the centre of the district for the con-
venience of members, the next point is to see that the
surface is fairly level and thoroughly well drained.
Nothing is worse than a swampy field. It is plain
that a very uneven field is unsuitable, a slight slope
or even moderate ups and downs are less objection-
able, and where, as at Hurlingham, the centre of the
ground is the highest point, and there is a slope away
to either goal, it does not matter so much. The
ground of the Household Cavalry at Datchet, of
Eden Park, and of the Market Harborough Club,
are excellent instances of fields level by nature, which
have needed nothing but proper care of the grass



CLUB APPLIANCES AND EXPENSES 229

to make them suitable for first-class polo. One
consideration, however, will limit the amount of
rolling done, and that is the cost of the labour.
Mr. T. Drybrough has calculated that a horse
drawing a four-foot roller will have to travel about
twenty-seven miles in order to roll out a polo
ground thoroughly. But we may take it that a
roller should be used as much as funds and weather
will permit. The horse should wear boots similar to
those used when lawns are being mowed. There
are various ways of top-dressing a field — bones, slag,
powdered earth. All, however, are liable to sow
undesired and unexpected weeds. The simplest and
most effectual of all is certainly to use your mowing
machine with the boxes off. This I learned from
Dr. Hastings, and it is interesting to note that not
only does the cut grass make an admirable top
dressing, but that a considerable proportion, probably
more than half, of the blades take root downwards
and spring up to the great advantage of the turf. I
do not think, however, it is possible to lay down
dogmatically any particular form of top-dressing as
universally applicable. This must depend on the
soil, the climate, and on the funds available. The
cheapest and simplest method of strengthening the
turf is to turn sheep on to the ground, never cattle
or horses. In the polo season the ground should
depend on the care of the club, and no one else
should be allowed to interfere. Nor is it desirable
to turn sheep in on the off days. In the case of
London clubs where labour is plentiful, treaders-in



230 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT

can be employed, and very useful they are, but the
manager and his groundman should always go over
the ground in order to assure themselves that the
clods cut out by the ponies' hoofs have been replaced
carefully by hand, a task the ordinary treader-in is
apt to shirk. Plantain and clover should be care-
fully extirpated ; the latter is especially dangerous as
it makes a slippery surface. There is one country
polo ground where, in place of treaders, the squire
employed the schoolboys to put back the clods before
rolling. His wife soon received a request from the
schoolmistress that the girls might be allowed to take
a share of the work. Accordingly the girls were
given a turn, with the utmost satisfaction to them-
selves and the club. Their neat little fingers replaced
the turf most accurately, and it was unanimously
voted that their work was admirable. I believe that
sixpence a-head was the price paid in both cases. It is
very light work, of course, and needing care and
neatness more than anything else.

Not always, however, can we secure good strong
turf, and it may be that we find the grass is foul
with weeds and weak in growth. The best and
simplest method then is to pen sheep on the
ground in the winter, feeding them highly. In
the spring put a harrow over the ground, then a
chain harrow, and then roll thoroughly, and sow
with some of the grass seeds supplied for recreation
grounds by any good firm of seedsmen. After that,
the ordinary cutting and rolling. A polo ground,
however, repays the care expended on it, as every



CLUB APPLIANCES AND EXPENSES 231

one who has played on a well-kept ground knows.
If I was forming a new club, I should also try to
have room for gymkhanas without invading on the
polo ground, and to have a space which would serve
as a practice ground. It is desirable that members
should be able to knock the ball about, and to try
ponies, but it is most undesirable that they should
be allowed to do these things on the match ground.
I have referred to gymkhanas, and any provision
for these will probably return the trouble and outlay
expended on them.

The boards are a very important point in the outfit
of the ground. The Americans call them the "guards,"
a convenient and appropriate name we might well
adopt. The Hurlingham Club first introduced the
boards, and they were found to improve the game.
As originally introduced, the ball used to hang under
the boards. Then at Ranelagh we adopted the plan of
sloping the turf gently up to the boards on the inner
side, so that the ball would not lie under the boards,
but roll back to such a distance as would enable the
player to hit it fairly with the mallet head. The boards
are planks usually of about 20 feet in length, one inch
wide, and eleven inches high. The top must be care-
fully rounded or it will cut the ponies, and I used
occasionally to walk along the boards to see that the
edges were smooth and that no frayed or splintered
sections were to be found. The turf slope is made
by cutting and raising the turf along the boards, and
filling up with earth underneath until you have the
turf within five inches or so of the top of the guards.



232 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT

Then the turf should be carefully pressed down till
there is between six and seven inches of board
above the top of the slope. When the slope cracks
away from the boards, as it will do in dry weather, a
man should go round continually with a box or barrel
of sifted earth and fill up the interstices. It will save
much labour if the polo manager sees that this is
done. My own experience is that the turf slope
requires a good deal of care and attention to keep
it in order. This is, however, one of the most
necessary details in the care of a guarded ground.

Most clubs have a small lawn-mower to keep
the grass short on the slopes. The Ranelagh
Club was the first in London to adopt slopes,
but the idea I believe originally came from Edin-
burgh. The boards of course are only along the
sides of the parallelogram. The back and goal
lines are marked out with white lime -wash by a
tennis-marker. Care should be taken to see that the
line is marked straight and that the goal-posts are
exactly 24 feet apart. The paper goal-posts made at
Willesden are the best I have ever seen, and the
Ranelagh plan of standing them in zinc cases is most
effective in preserving the posts. The new rules
make it advisable to mark out a line at 30 yards, and
again at 60 yards from the goal-line or that line
produced. For matches the centre of the ground
may be marked, but in ordinary games managers and
umpires should be careful not to throw in the ball
always from the same spot, lest the middle of the
ground be worn into bare and ugly patches.




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CLUB APPLIANCES AND EXPENSES 233

The ground having been thus marked out and
brought into order, the next thing is to provide for



Online LibraryT. F. (Thomas Francis) DalePolo past and present → online text (page 15 of 33)