Time Machine OCT '92 - Rebuilding a Polo Club

Rebuilding a Polo Club, a Player at a Time

Date: Sunday, October 3, 2021

Take a journey to 1992, a heady year with change in the air.  The Winter and Summer Olympics loomed large, (it would be the last time both games were held in the same year), silicon valley giants were rolling out revolutionary technological changes as the 'world wide web' (aka the internet) prepared to go public, social unrest reached a new peak in the US, the cold war was officially declared over, the EU opened its horizons to the rest of the continent, pop artists were wearing clothes backwards, and US presidential power was about to change sides. Thus was the year that ushered in the Newport International Polo Series, bearing a striking resemblance to this 30th anniversary season.

Autumn of '92: Rebuilding a Polo Club, One Player at a Time

The inaugural '92 season of the Newport International Polo Series delivered an impressive succession of Saturday polo matches during the summer of 1992, attracting a flurry of media attention and audience exposure to the sport from throughout New England.  As the love of polo was reignited in the Northeast, so began the long and steady repopulation of America's First Polo Club, one player at a time.

The foundations were laid for this objective when Dan Keating took the reins at the shuttered Glen Farm late in 1991, and made his first project the restoration of the indoor riding arena, so that his string of polo ponies, and the eventual equine boarders, and novice polo students would have a facility for training and exercise during the long, wet or frozen months from October through May in New England.  After repairing washed-away footing, a leaky roof, lighting and installation of new side boards, the arena became the center of equine activities and recreation after hours, attracting a scattering of local and regional players for nightly chukkers, as well as anyone Keating could persuade to take individual polo lessons, while barn renovations progressed by day.  After all, polo itself is a collective sport that requires a concentration of players and horses in order to be enjoyed on a regular basis.  

His string of polo ponies had been acquired the previous year, after competing on some disappointing horses, at an opportune moment when a trusted horseman invited Keating to a horse sale in San Antonio - known as a former winter haven for high goal polo that at one time boasted 18 polo fields for 15 resident players before it went belly up in a real estate bust - where they might find some diamonds in the rough. Keating was able to rustle up 10 horses and a dog in the dealings, and headed to Florida for his first season of winter polo, where an abundance of trainers lent their expertise for Keating to learn the skills and nuaces to finish the training of his green ponies into made polo horses.  At the conclusion of the Florida season, he sold off a pair and headed north with the remaining string for another summer at the Myopia Polo Club, while he negotiated with the Town of Portsmouth for the lease of Glen Farm.  Legend has it, that stabling arrangements were a day short upon his arrival, so his 8 horses were turned out for a night in his parents' suburban Boston backyard, leaving not a blade of grass for that summer.

It was on this well-trained string that Keating's first-year students progressed through the first winter, spring, summer and autumn of 1992 at Glen Farm, inspired by the exciting and fast paced Saturday action of the Newport International Polo Series, and the fraternal commaraderie that polo is renowned for.  "A polo handicap is a passport to the world," goes one of many quintessential quotes by Sir Winston Churchill. In time and the natural progression, these novice players would buy horses of their own, and play to their hearts' content as new members of America's first polo club, making way for newcomers, that eventually led to the formation of group lessons.

As one season led to another, some of Keatings students formed leagues of their own, including the Naval War College Polo Club, active to this day, and the Newport Women's Polo League.  Keating also began coaching the next generation of players, forming the Newport Interscholastic Team, which is still actively training high school and junion high competitors to this day, with new players coming up the ranks each year, now coached by Keating's daughter Minnie.  Some of his original interscholastic players are among today's club members here and elsewhere.

With the change of hands of the Glen Farm barn complex lease after 10 years, Keating moved his string a few miles up the road and, realizing that the sustainability of America's first polo club depended upon the continuation of training and lessons, he constructed a state of the art, regulation size outdoor polo arena that remains the center of training today, and has become the ever popular site for competitive arena polo tournaments and club chukkers during the months before and after the summer grass season. With stadium seating, night lighting, electronic scoreboard, PA system and congregational picnic area, it provides ideal conditions for arena polo at professional levels, services the club and players of all skill levels with chukkers, tournaments, clinics and lessons, and is the home of the Newport Interscholastic Varsity & JV teams and the Brown University and Roger Williams University intercollegiate polo.   

Arena polo - what Keating leveraged the Club's future on for the past 30 years - has been dramatically on the rise in recent years, bolstered by the United States Polo Association's support.

Today, novice players are metriculated into weekly group polo lessons in the arena, and progress at their own pace in a step-up program that aims to advance players to arena chukkers, then grass polo lessons and eventually grass chukkers within a calendar cycle, at which time a player can join the club summer after summer, and add arena polo chukkers in the Spring and Autumn to an annual schedule of polo. This year the club welcomed a record number of new members, that started with arena lessons before graduating to the grass Coaching League in a proven step-up program for advancing new players, that is among programs and initiatives supporting the growth of the sport and the sustainability of the Westchester Polo Club, America's first polo club, for future generations. The club is currently the largest polo club in the Northeast.

Time Machine is a 30th Anniversary retrospective anthology of monthly chapters. We hope you enjoyed the trip in time exploring the Polo Series origins in its inaugural year of 1992, and the lasting foundation laid that continually bolsters our efforts in the 30h anniversary season.  To read additional Time Machine chapters published this year, visit Headlines.