Page 80 - Montecito Journal Glossy Edition Summer Fall 2013

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fal l
Early Polo In
The Way It Was
olo, a game that originated over 2000 years ago in the Middle East as a way to
train young leaders in the skills needed in mounted warfare, was played from
Constantinople to Japan by the Middle Ages. During the period of England’s
occupation and colonization of India, the sport was quickly adopted by British
army officers and tea planters. By the 1870s it was well established in England, and in 1876
James Gordon Bennett, a noted American publisher, introduced the sport in the United States.
Santa Barbarans saw their first polo match during the 1894 Floral Festival when the
Riverside and Santa Monica Clubs played a demonstration match at the Agricultural Park on
April 27. A long tradition of horsemanship, dating back to the spirited rodeos of the vaqueros
on through the 1890 formation of the Arlington Jockey Club, was imbedded in the local
collective conscience, so it was no surprise that the
Morning Press
of 1894 predicted, “Since
Californians in the saddle consider themselves second to none, we expect that a Santa Barbara
Polo Club will be the outcome of this exhibition.”
With rodeos out of favor and perceived as cruel due to their bloody nature, the
writer, who had yet to see a game, was quick to point out that this new sport “is a nice
interesting game, with nothing brutal, or over-exerting about it, and everyone would enjoy
seeing it as there is a marked elegance and refinement about the whole game.”
The Agricultural Park and Race Track stood on
the middle Estero, just east of Stearns Wharf. During
the rainy season, it was wet and muddy. The exhibition
match between Riverside and Santa Monica was touted
in the press as an exciting contest witnessed by an
enthusiastic crowd. Those who participated, however, said
that the added dimension of slippery grounds turned the
game into a skating match. Bob Bettner of the Riverside
team later reported that he’d never forget the exhibition
by Hattie Beresford