ReplayPolo Helps Retired Polo Ponies Find Their Second Career
By Brittany Halstead
Polo is a very demanding sport that requires an equine athlete be exceptionally agile and balanced, exhibit a great work ethic and be acutely responsive to the rider’s aids and body language. Eventually these athletes reach the point of retirement in their professional career. Even when they can’t play at high levels anymore, these ponies are far from the end of their potential and have miles of experience to give. ReplayPolo specializes in rehoming retired polo ponies to pay it forward as therapy horses or members of an interscholastic or intercollegiate polo team to help teach children how to play polo. One of the primary goals of ReplayPolo is to make sure these equine athletes receive the highest standard of care as they enter their second career.
World-renowned 10-goal polo player, Pelon Stirling explained why most players choose to retire their mounts. “If the horse has not played extremely well and needs to be retired because of age, an injury, or has just played enough polo; it becomes complicated for us to find a very good home for them. The horses deserve to live a good life and it is important for us to be certain that the horse will be taken good care of.”
James Armstrong, a former six-goal player, donated his polo pony, Azuri, because he felt it was time to reward her with a much-deserved retirement. Kylie Long, who has ridden at Saddle Up Therapeutic Riding Organization for 11 years, said Azuri is her favorite horse, which she describes as “sweet, dependable and smooth.” The two bonded as they both learned the techniques of dressage and later participated at the Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding’s regional horse show. Kylie exclaimed, “I received my highest score ever in dressage. I was very surprised because Azuri performed better than the retired dressage horses.”
ReplayPolo is beginning to make a lot of connections between owners of polo ponies and therapeutic riding organizations. It is delightful to know these retired polo ponies get rehomed, loved, while paying it forward to help people with disabilities live a better life. Adam Snow achieved a 10-goal rating, something only a handful of USA Polo Players will ever see. He believes “polo ponies are good for therapeutic riding because the quiet ones end up being the best, the hot ones don’t make good polo ponies. The level of desensitization is what makes polo ponies ideal”; that is identical with a therapy horse as well.
Amanda Hogan, a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International Certified Master Instructor and executive director of Windrush Therapeutic Farm, shared her thoughts on retired polo ponies. “Windrush’s founder Marj Kittredge started this program in 1964 with two retired polo ponies and an off-the-track Thoroughbred who became a terrific therapeutic riding horse. We have probably had about 10 more retired polo ponies in the time I have been here.” stated Hogan.
Happy Trails Hawaii Horse Ranch, graciously volunteered to start an Equestrian Assisted Psychotherapy program to help wounded veterans. The program’s horses are actively playing polo ponies and some are retired polo ponies. Sarah Teske, a US Marine, certified EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning) instructor and polo player helped build this program. This program hosts equine sessions for wounded warriors. Sarah said, “Sometimes horses have a better idea of what to do than the humans. The director of Happy Trails witnessed a miraculous moment between a wounded warrior with PTSD and a horse. It was the first time in 6 months, since the kid came off the battlefield that he has smiled. —The horses are magical”. ReplayPolo will be reaching out to disabled veterans, to learn the ReplayPolo modified polo game. Hopefully these disabled veterans will learn, improve and begin to play polo with the Army and Navy.
ReplayPolo modified polo game is in the process of being integrated into PATH international therapeutic riding organizations. Many of these organizations also host Horses for Heroes programs, for disabled veterans to learn to ride and heal with equine therapy. The USPA Armed Forces committee has graciously agreed to help ReplayPolo geared up to help our disabled veterans.
People with disability playing Polo
Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center is located in the home of USA high goal polo, Wellington, FL. Playing polo is one activity that riders at Vinceremos enjoy as a part of therapeutic riding. However, the riders are not mounted on retired polo ponies, they use the center’s horses which the staff acclimate to a 10-inch beach ball and polo mallets. ReplayPolo is hoping for a farm that will do the same but with only retired polo ponies.
Susan Guinan also shares the therapeutic value of polo benefits. “Our riders play polo on a saddle pad with a surcingle. This is similar to the way kids learn to ride and play polo in Argentina. In polo it is all about getting the ball, our natural balance and instincts take over. The young man with autism who verbalizes every movement he makes in his weekly lesson focuses on the task at hand, and the noise and distractions around him disappear. The child who hasn’t found their voice suddenly has lots to say when to ball trickles over the goal line.” What do the players learn? “They learn about what a mallet is, about being on a team, the rules of the game, taking turns and what a goal is on and off the field. The astonishment on the faces of the parents when they witness their child riding down the arena heading towards the goal is simply amazing. This is confirmation that all of this is about the ability of each child, not the disability”, stated Guinan.
Juli Ezcurra, a 15-year-old with Down syndrome, son of Julio Ezcurra, a former six-goal professional polo player; has been learning to play polo for six years in Argentina, Florida and New York. Julio believes, “Playing polo has enhanced Juli’s concentration, alertness, core strength, self-esteem and social skills. Playing polo and the connection between horse and rider enhances the quality of life for people with special needs”.
Polo Ponies’ Career and Life transition
Mark V. Sedacca declares, “As the Chairman of the USPA Equine Welfare Committee, the newly organized ReplayPolo website is beneficial for people with disabilities, beginner riders, intercollegiate team, and for polo ponies. We are fortunate to have Brittany Halstead to help us continue to respect and protect our horses after they leave the polo field.”