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Polo History

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Polo is thought to have originated in China and Persia around 2,000 years ago. The name of the game may well come from the word "pholo" meaning 'ball' or 'ballgame' in the Balti language of Tibet. The first recorded game took place in 600BC between the Turkomans and Persians (the Turkomans won). In the fourth century AD, King Sapoor II of Persia learned to play, aged seven. In the 16th century, a polo ground (300 yards long and with goalposts eight yards apart) was built at Ispahan, then the capital, by Shah Abbas the Great.

The Moguls were largely responsible for taking the game from Persia to the east and, by the 16th century, the Emperor Babur had established it in India. (It had already long been played in China and Japan, but had died out by the time the West came in contact with those countries).

In the 1850s, British tea planters discovered the game in Manipur (Munipoor) on the Burmese border with India. They founded the world's first polo club at Silchar, west of Manipur. Other clubs followed and today the oldest in the world is the Calcutta Club which founded in 1862. Malta followed in 1868 because soldiers and naval officers stopped off there on their way home from India. In 1869, Edward "Chicken" Hartopp, of the 10th Hussars, read an account of the game in The Field magazine while stationed at Aldershot and, with fellow officers, organised the first game.

Then known as "hockey on horseback," it was played on a hastily-rolled Hounslow Heath where a shortlist of about 10 rules was also hastily assembled. But, it was John Watson (1856-1908), of the 13th Hussars, who formulated the first real rules of the game in India in the 1870s. He later formed the celebrated Freebooters team who won the first Westchester Cup match in 1886. He was a key player at the All Ireland Polo Club which was founded in 1872 by Horace Rochfort of Clogrenane, County Carlow.
The first polo club in England was Monmouthshire, founded in 1872 by Captain Francis "Tip" Herbert (1845- 1922), of the 7th Lancers, at his brother's estate at Clytha Park, near Abergavenny. Others, including Hurlingham, followed quickly. Handicaps were introduced by the USA in 1888 and by England and India in 1910. The first official match in Argentina took place on 3rd September 1875. The game had been taken there by English and Irish engineers and ranchers.

In 1876, Lt Col Thomas St.Quintin, of the 10th Hussars, introduced the game to Australia. He is credited with being the Father of Australian Polo. Two of his brothers stayed on there as ranchers and helped the game to develop. In the same year, polo was introduced to the USA by James Gordon Bennett Junior who had seen the game at Hurlingham during a visit to England. Today, more than 77 countries play polo. It was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1939 and has now been recognized again by the International Olympic Committee.

The history of Polo at a glance

600 BC. The first recorded game took place between the Turkomans and Persians (the Turkomans won).

4th century AD.King Sapoor II of Persia learned to play, aged 7.

7th century AD. Polo spreads from China to Japan

16th century AD. A polo ground (300 yards long and with goal posts 8 yards apart) was built at Ispahan, then the capital, by Shah Abbas the Great. The Moguls were largely responsible for taking the game from Persia to the east and by the 16th century the Emperor Babur had established it in India. Polo was revived in Japan by the 8th Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751) and was played until early 20th century. It was the favourite sport of the last Shogun who surrendered power to the Emperor in 1868.

1850s. British tea planters discovered the game in Manipur (Munipoor) on the Burmese border with India.

1862. The first polo club in the world was formed by British tea planters at Silchar, west of Manipur. Calcutta Polo Club, the oldest existing polo club, was founded.

1868. Malta Polo Club founded due mainly to army and naval officers stopping off there on their way home from India.

1869. Edward "Chicken" Hartopp, 10th Hussars, read an account of the game in The Field, while stationed at Aldershot, and, with brother officers, organised the first game - known then as "hockey on horseback"- on a hastily-rolled Hounslow Heath against The 9th Lancers. The 1st Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards were quick to follow suit on grounds at Hounslow and in Richmond Park; and then on a small ground near Earl's Court known as Lillie Bridge.

1872. The first polo club in England was Monmouthshire, founded by Capt. Francis "Tip" Herbert (1845 - 1922), 7th Lancers, at his brother's seat, Clytha Park, near Abergavenny. All Ireland Polo Club was also founded in 1872 by Horace Rochfort of Clogrenane, Co. Carlow.

1875. The first official match in Argentina took place on 3rd September, where the game had been taken by English and Irish engineers and ranchers.

1876. Lt. Col. Thomas St. Quintin, 10th Hussars, introduced the game to Australia - he was the "Father of Australian Polo" and two of his brothers stayed on there as ranchers and helped the game to develop. In the same year, polo was introduced to the U.S.A. by James Gordon Bennett Jr, who had seen the game at Hurlingham while on a visit to England.

1888. Handicaps were introduced in America

1895. The height for polo ponies was raised from 14 hands to 14.2.

1910. Handicaps were introduced in England and India.

1919. Height restriction on polo ponies was abolished.

Today, upwards of 77 countries play polo. It was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1939 and has now been recognized again by the International Olympic Committee.

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POLO 2 9 T R I V I A

1. Name the last polo player to legally play LEFT HANDED / as he was grandfather in till career ended?

2. Name the only native born USA player to ever win the Argentine open??

3. Name the player who after long unthinkable prison by the Japanese in WWII and came back and went to a Ten Goal handicap?

4. What year did polo arrive in the USA?

5. How do you line up post a penalty one for a throw in…?
bet we have you?

6. What was Mickey Brittan’s handicap during his years with the United States Marine Corps and before he became a Beverly Hills/ Hollywood notable ??

7. What was the handicap of Bill Meeker during his Notre Dame football years??
- prior to shoving off for France and polo at Bagatelle ?

8. What mature fifty + lady player wiped out the author of this web site in his first chukker in Hawaii on 7 March 1976?

9. Is it true that polo players are smarter and better looking?

10. What is the origin of the word polo? pulu??

ANSWERS:

1. Name the last polo player to legally play LEFT HANDED / as he was USPA grandfathered in till career ended?

Skee Johnson

2. Name the only native born USA player to ever win the Argentine open??

Billy Linfoot nine goaler Corky’s linfoot’s father

3. Name the player who after long torturous imprisonment by the Japanese in WWII and came back and went to a Ten Goal handicap?

The imitable Robert Skene

4. What year did polo arrive in the USA?
our centennial 1876

5. How do you line up post a penalty one for a throw in…?
bet we have you?

Yes we do

More penalty # one’s should be called -
now look it up in your blue book
and reread the blue book annually

6. What was Mickey Brittan’s handicap during his years with the United States Marine Corps and before he became a Beverly Hills/ Hollywood notable ??

8 goals ( perhaps one of those United States Marine Corps “Sea Stories”)

7. What was the handicap of Bill Meeker during his Notre Dame football years??
- prior to shoving off for France and polo at Bagatelle ?

Nine Goals - blarney - no indeed just the luck of the Irish

8. What mature fifty + lady player wiped out/ rode off the author of this web site in his first chukker ever in Hawaii on 7 March 1976?

Hawaii’s incredible & lovable Mrs Murph Dailey and at 94 is still charging ahead

9. Is it true that polo players are smarter and better looking?

Well…. don’t ask this writer He got a waiver

10. What is the origin of the word polo? pulu??

from the far east east / India a wood pulu from which the ball was made.

 

 

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U S Marine far east, Chicagoan, Top Executive, a nine goal polo spirit & Damn Good Guy

When asked how to describe the very exclusive game of polo, back in 1955, the very elegant Baron Elie de Rothschild, scion of the international multi-generational banking family replied, in his most unctuous French accent, “It is a fabulous exciting fast game on horseback, with four excellent riders on each team, however, it is difficult to differentiate whether there are eight gentlemen trying to act like gangsters, or eight gangsters impersonating gentlemen!”

In Los Angeles, during the twenty-first century, it is equally hard to describe the local polo scene. In my opinion, there are characters at the fields who are actors impersonating polo players or polo players who think that they are actors. Realistically, it is a great deal of fun. At Fair Hills Farms, our arena training facility, which since 1980 has been known as an incubator of new polo talent, my introductory pep talk ends with this inspirational statement, “It doesn’t matter if you are short of money, and/or short of time, once you are infected by the Passion of Polo, you will work it all out, and continue to rise to the occasion of your polo needs! Polo will expand your universe, horizons and all capabilities!!!

Maynard “Mickey” Brittan – 3/1/2013
[Player since 1955]

 

 

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It is well known that the late Walt Disney was a polo player and great fan of the game.

 

 

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A poem by Rudyard Kipling- The Maltese Cat

maltese cat

Notes on the text 
 Notes edited by Alastair Wilson. In updating these notes, the present editor has drawn very largely on the notes of the ORG, which seem to have been written by Reginald Harbord himself, with assistance from Mr. P.W. Inwood. Entries which have been taken word for word, or virtually word for word, from the ORG are shown in black type.

[Jan 30 2006] 

Publication 

This story first appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette on 26th and 27th June, 1895, and in the Cosmopolitan Magazine, July, 1895. It was collected in The Day’s Work (1898), in Scribner’s Edition (Volume XIV), in the Sussex Edition(Volume VI, page 263), and in the Burwash Edition (Volume VI). 

It was also reprinted as a single story (Macmillan, London, 1936), with illustrations by Lionel Edwards, R.I., with four full-page coloured illustrations and 25 black-and-white pencil drawings. [The ORG speaks of this as being an edition of the whole book, The Day’s Work, but this is almost certainly incorrect. None of the standard bibliographies mention such an edition, while the ORG, in amplifying the comment, speaks of four full-page coloured illustrations and 25 black and white drawings, exactly as in the single story volume.] Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Ayers also informs us that there has been a further edition of this story, with the same illustrations, published by the Lambourne Press, London 1989 (ISBN 0 9513697-3-3). 

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The Story 

The present editor has a soft spot for the tale having been introduced to it at his preparatory school, at the age of 10-11. On Sunday evenings after chapel in winter, our headmaster would gather the 50 or so boys of the upper school in his study, where we sat on the floor, on chairs, on cushions, while he read to us: mostly I remember Conan Doyle’sThe Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, but "The Maltese Cat" also stuck in my mind.

This is a story about a game of polo – or to be more precise, one polo pony, the 'Maltese Cat', in that game. Kipling’s bent for anthropomorphism is once again in evidence, but with more justice, for a pony is at least a sentient being, not like a ship or a railway engine. The setting is India; to be precise, the polo ground at Umballa, (now Ambala, in the state of Haryana, North-west India), then a major army cantonment. We are about to have a description of the Final match of the 'Upper India Free for All Cup' in the year 1880-something. Various details will be revealed as the tale is told, but for the uninitiated it may be said that the match is between a team from ‘The Archangels’ and one from ‘The Skidars’. The Archangels are from a British (almost certainly) Cavalry regiment, whose members are well-to-do: The Skidars are a 'poor but honest native infantry regiment’, whose British officers probably had little to live on beyond their pay. After an epic struggle, the Skidars are victorious. 

The story was first given the title of “The Manx Cat” (presumably because the 'Maltese Cat' has a short “neat polo tail” – see page 279, line 16 – similar to the stub end of a tail that a feline Manx cat has) and there are indications of it in the magazine story. It was for a time the author’s intention to include it in a Third Jungle Book, but the idea of this book never took shape.

Professor Carrington’s special note on "A Walking Delegate" in the ORG - also to be reproduced in this Guide - is worth attention, for it also mentions the story and Kipling’s own keenness to master the game of polo in spite of his poor eyesight. He played on his grey pony, “Dolly Bobs” at Lahore in 1884-86. 

 

illo2

'Skidars' and 'Archangels' 

After the events of 1857-8, known as the 'Indian Mutiny' to the English of the next century, and today more often referred to in India as the (First) War of Independence, British military presence in India was two-fold. There was a large army, the successor of the Honourable East India Company’s army, which was recruited in India, and administered, equipped and paid by the British-controlled Government of India. It was employed, until 1914, very largely in India alone, though Imperial campaigns were fought in Ethiopia and Burma and elsewhere. The rank and file were native Indians (some came, as they still do, from independent states such as Nepal – the Gurkhas): non-commissioned officers were all native Indians, promoted from the ranks: there were Indian superior officers, some of whom later received Viceroy’s commissions. (There were also Anglo-Indians and Europeans in the Indian Volunteer Force, a Territorial, or National Guard, reserve – cf young Ottley in "The Bold ‘Prentice" in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides). But all the senior regimental officers and the General Staff were British. This was the Indian Army: the 'Skidars' were part of that army.

There was also a very substantial Imperial garrison of British troops: over the years it varied in size, but in broad terms it was between one-third and one-half the size of the Indian Army. British regiments would stay for a considerable period in India, perhaps up to seven years at a stretch, with recruits coming out, and time-expired men going home, annually in the Imperial troopships. The Crocodile was one – see "Soldier and Sailor Too" (Barrack Room Ballads): also the Malabar and Jumna in "Troopin'" (also from Barrack Room Ballads). They were recruited in Great Britain and paid by the Home Government, but (subtle difference) paid for by the Indian Government. The Archangels were, it is implied though not specifically stated, part of the British Army in India. In social (and financial) terms there was a vast gulf between the officers of a crack British cavalry regiment, and the British officers of a native infantry regiment. That said, it should not be inferred that one army was superior to the other in any way. Regimental tradition could be as strong in the Indian Army as in the British Army, with successive generations, both Indian and British, following one another into ‘their’ regiment.

Thus, the scene is set for a classic version of the old David versus Goliath tale. It is a superb piece of descriptive writing, although it may not have been good polo by modern standards. 

 

illo3

The Game of Polo 

Polo (from Tibetan pulu 'a ball') is the most ancient game with stick and ball. Hockey, hurling (the Irish game), and possibly golf and cricket, are descended from it. Polo was once described as 'hockey, or hurling, on horseback', but historically the reverse is the case: hockey and hurling are polo on foot. Persia, from the earliest records extant, was the home of polo, which through the ages spread to Constantinople, through Turkestan to Tibet, China and Japan, then from Tibet to Gilgit and Chitral (the area where modern Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir meet), and possibly to Manipur (one of the most eastern states of India, bordering on Myanmar (Burma). It flourished in India in the 16th century, and after a blank of 200 years it came into Bengal from Manipur. 

Major-General Sherar in 1863 reintroduced it to India with two teams of Manipuri natives. In 1869 it was brought to England by the 10th Hussars and in 1871 the first recorded match was played on Hounslow Heath (Hounslow was one of the major cavalry barracks in England) between the 9th Lancers and the 10th Hussars, with eight players a side. Another account says that in about 1850 the British planters in Assam began to play in local polo, and that in 1859 the Cachar Polo Club, “the oldest in the world”, was formed. 

[Assam was the general name for the eastern area of British India, which contains Manipur. The hilly areas are well suited to growing tea, and the British developed substantial tea plantations in the area in the second half of the 19th century.] 

The first code of rules was drawn up by the committee of the Hurlingham Club in 1874. This club in 1876 fixed the height of ponies at 14.0 hands; a hand is four inches, and the measurement is taken from the point of the withers - at the top of the pony’s foreleg - to the ground. At this time five players a side was the rule. In 1882 the number of players on each side was reduced to four.

In India, the height limit of ponies was raised in 1888 from 13.2 to 13.3 (i.e., 13 hands 3 inches, or 55 inches = 4 feet 7 inches, or, if we must, 1.4 metres), and the Hurlingham Committee in 1895 raised it to 14.2. In 1902 the height of ponies in India was raised to 14.1.

In 1919 the height limit of ponies was abolished. In 1921 a committee in London evolved a code of universal rules, which have been adopted wherever polo is played, with local modifications as regards height of ponies and duration of matches.

Polo today is played with four players on each side, on much the same principles as hockey and association football.[This was written in the early 1960s, when the old formations of forwards, half-backs and full-backs were still very recognisably in use, and those were the positions usually assigned to the team members in polo. A match lasts one hour, divided into periods of play (chukkers, alt. spelling chukkas) and during the intervals ponies are changed. Ed.] 

‘Offside’ was abolished in 1910, and handicapping introduced. [A player was said to be offside if he played the ball, it having been struck to him when he was in front of the striker. Players were given a handicap of so many goals: the maximum is 10. The difference between the sums of the handicaps of two teams represents a margin by which the team with the higher handicap must beat the lower, merely to draw. Thus if a team of crack Argentine players whose combined handicap is, say, 30 is playing a team of lesser players whose combined handicap is no more than 24; then the Argentine team must score at least seven goals more than the other side to win. The present Prince of Wales, who has just decided that he can no longer play competitive polo, had a handicap of 4. Ed.] The periods of play were shortened from ten to eight minutes, seven periods being played instead of six.

Up to 1909, the best polo ponies were bred mostly in Ireland, England and Australia, the latter going chiefly to India, where country-breds were largely relied on, very good animals not more than 13.2 (cf "The Mares’ Nest" fromDepartmental Ditties, v. 2, lines 5 & 6: 

“… That Lilly – thirteen two and bay – 
Absorbed one-half her husband’s pay”.
Then Arabs were bred, later to be superseded by 'walers' from Australia (so named because they came mostly from New South Wales) which in India could only be beaten by the best country-breds and Arabs when the height was raised to 14.1 in 1902. Of recent years the Argentine pony has come into its own and is as good as can be obtained anywhere. The best ponies, whatever their nationality, are thoroughbred or nearly so. A thoroughbred sire and a dam, if not quite thoroughbred, of the old Irish stock, probably results in the best breeding.

The following is an illustration of the increases in the price of ponies. [This section was also written in the late 1950s/early1960s when, in Great Britain, inflation had barely started to eat into the value of money compared to the way that it did in the period 1965-1995. Ed.] In 1890 the 17th Lancers left India and sold their ponies at auction at about Rs 800, i.e. £53. In 1891 Egyptian ponies could be purchased in Cairo for £20 to £25 apiece and some of these were sold at Tattersalls’ two years later for from 150 to 250 guineas (£165 to £275). 

In 1897, at Rugby, 32 ponies fetched an average of £280, the record for that time being reached by “Sailor” at 750 guineas (£787.50). In 1913 the Duke of Westminster’s best ponies were sold in America at from £600 to £700. In 1928 all records were broken with the sale of a single first-rate pony for £4,400. The present compiler of these notes has left all these figures in, because the writer of the ORG notes goes on to observe: 'Polo is no longer a game for the penniless subaltern, if it ever was.'

In 1909, English polo players got an unexpected shaking up from the Americans at Hurlingham. The Americans had never recognised the offside rule, and played in consequence a faster game. They used strokes hardly ever attempted elsewhere; hitting under their ponies necks instead of using backhanders from the sides of the ground. They hit harder and passed more accurately. In them the science of attack was well developed, they galloped faster and were more accurate goal-hitters. This led to the assimilation of the rules on both sides of the Atlantic. The offside rule was abandoned, the Americans took over the British rule permitting hooking of mallets (sticks), and the handicap system was adopted by the British.

Today (1964) the Argentines are the undisputed leaders of the Polo world.

 

 

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Eulogy: William Mackall Jason 1926 - 2011

Polo will never forget Mack Jason - never.

1926 – 2011 The simple dash (-) within epitomizes one exceptional life.

Quality gentlemen of the World War II era such as Mack Jason are indeed, America’s “greatest generation”. Mack validated it in everything he undertook - his impressive family, his businesses and of course a singularly “defining” avocation labeled polo. Mack played throughout the world and raised the bar wherever he went.

After returning from the Far East and the war, no less than as captain of a U.S. Navy mine sweeper ship. (albeit only ranked an naval ensign)

Young Mack Jason while delivering dry cleaning met the love of his life Madelyn Gilmore and they with a distinctive style and a quiet class hit the equestrian trail with a passion for all things polo. Remarkably, along the way they were able to breed a Kentucky derby winner ’79 named Spectacular Bid.

Clearly, polo defined Mack as he rose to a three-goal handicap placing him in the top 4% of polo association players.

He also set an example by “giving back” to the sport; as a U. S. Polo Association player, delegate, governor, treasurer, membership chairman, Director Polo Training Foundation and Ambassador to the International Polo Federation, which originated in Argentina. He invested unstintingly in the development of programs and the growth of polo in clubs such as Menlo, Eldorado, Santa Barbara, Palm Beach, Horse Park, and Mokuleia Hawaii. Menlo Polo was uncommon. He was Mr. Polo and President at this club he treasured which is located at the Circus Club in Atherton, California. Mack kept Menlo special as the emphasis was on friendly chukkers and comporting one’s self as ladies and gentlemen. Mack and Madeline personified the Gilmore family tradition of service and dedication to the Game of Kings.

Madelyn Gilmore Jason, a polo lady second to none, passed away last year at the same time of day as Mack 11:05 am. Madelyn and Mack made an quite the polo family. Daughter Lyn Jason Cobb and her family continue this four-generation tradition with the same enthusiasm Lyn’s father, Mack and grandfather, Bill Gilmore brought to the game. Their daughter Madelyn has joined Lyn and her husband Herschel on the polo pitch since she was twelve years old. Mack and Madelyn would be proud.

 

Two “Mack” classics …

Once on the polo pitch at the Menlo Polo Club one new minus two player in his first season scored an easy goal and was quietly celebrating on his way back to the midfield line-up when Mack rode along side and said: “that was your first goal- right?” The rookie nodded - smiling from ear to ear… no one else noticed – Mack did

Years later when the same player now a seasoned veteran and messed up an easy shot at goal; Mack again rode alongside smiling and said a common refrain of his:

“what’s the matter can’t stand prosperity?”

companioned by his patented special laugh he kept the sport fun and was the exemplar of quiet leadership.

 

What manner of man was William Mackall Jason? Well, I will tell you.

Mack Jason had a profound sense of style, class and above all exceptional manners. -

The French would have called it "je ne se qua”

Defined: as a mysterious quality, one that is impossible to define -

one either comprehends “it” or if you do not understand - you may never get “it”

Mack Jason had it.

Polo Clubs worldwide would do well to have their players emulate Mack and proselytize his style and form throughout the polo world.

No easy undertaking --- Mack Jason was a one-of-a-kind gentleman - a treasure without peer.

Mack for over forty years was my mentor. I battled not to disappoint him both on and off the polo field.

Polo & I will never forget Mack Jason NEVER

Mahalo Nui Loa Mack

Patrick Brent

Honolulu

Once a USPA Governor - FIP ambassador and Two Goal player Journalist / Businessman in Hawaii

 

Mack with Prince Charles
Mack in a game with Prince Charles at Eldorado with plaque

mack on horse
Mack playing position 3 at tourney at Menlo Polo while being pursued by Bud Dardi of the Santa Rosa Polo Club.

 

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