Putting on a Show

TenGoal sent Major Jamie Hayward, who competed in this year’s Polo Pony Class at the Royal Windsor Horse Show for the sixth time, into the archives to look at the history of this unique event with revealing results.

The Royal Windsor Horse Show (RWHS), started in 1943 as a one day show to raise funds for the war effort, grew steadily in stature until it adopted its current format of five days in 1977. The Guards Polo Club (GPC), formed in 1955, likewise grew steadily in prominence from two fields laid out on the former wartime airfield of Smith’s Lawn, reaching its current zenith of some 12 fields with the opening of the Flemish Farm Castle and Cavalry Grounds in the autumn of 2014. Both have been blessed by significant Royal association throughout their illustrious history with HM The Queen as Patron of the show and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh as President of both.

Such close links, both in history and patronage, have led to shared synergy with Guards Polo Club sponsoring the Polo Pony Classes at the RWHS, usually held annually on the second Thursday of May, and the show supporting the Royal Windsor Horse Show Cup here at Guards Polo Club, usually played as a Cartier Queen’s Cup match in late May.

The Polo Pony Class, the brainchild of Lord Patrick Beresford, the Club’s first Polo Manager, started in 1959. Then there was a single class for the Colonel Sir John Aird Challenge Trophy for the Champion Polo Pony – won that first year by Major Archie David’s Old Kate and ridden by Lord Patrick himself. In 1973 this class was divided into two divisions; the Heavyweight for HH The Maharaja of Jaipur Challenge Cup and the Lightweight for the General Sir Rodney Moore Challenge Cup. The first two in each class then compete for the overall, original Challenge Trophy. To complement this structure, the Windsor Polo Club of Australia, in 1976, then presented a Reserve Challenge Cup for the pony placed second in the overall Championship.

This format continued until 2016 when, in recognition of the evolving contribution of retrained racehorses to polo, the classes were rebranded. The Heavyweight division became the Polo Pony Class and the Lightweight the Retraining of Racehorse (RoR) Thoroughbred Class. Although, as befitting a show of the grandeur of the Royal Windsor, turn-out of all entrants has been exemplary, since 1977, to commemorate The Queen’s Silver Jubilee, participants have also competed for the Towry Law Silver Jubilee Trophy for the overall Best Turned Out pony which, befittingly, Her Majesty’s High Tea won in 1992.

Indeed, over the years, four of the five trophies now bear the names of Royal winners – HRH The Prince of Wales’s Serene and Coqueta in 1991 and HRH Prince Harry’s Noche in 2018. Other Royal winners from overseas, indeed on a prodigious scale, have been HRH The Sultan of Pahang’s Zorro in 1977, Fleche in 1978 and Ventecinquo in 1980. She subsequently won again, after her owner’s coronation as HM The King of Malaysia, in 1981, 1982, 1985 and 1987.

Royal patronage aside one name has dominated the prize winners over the years – that of the man who started it all in 1959, Lord Patrick Beresford. Although regularly riding for others, most notably HRH The Sultan of Pahang / HM The King of Malaysia, Lord Patrick first featured as a winning owner himself in 1979 on the rich bay gelding Amberjack, who went on to win four times in an 11-year period. To this day Amberjack remains Lord Patrick’s favourite pony, out of a very large quality cast, who was able to stop and turn on his hocks and then take off at the full gallop better than any other pony he has witnessed. Other winners for Lord Patrick includes Amberjack’s full sister Amber Hill. In fact Lord Patrick’s name appears almost annually from 1979 through until 2000 on Cicciolina and in the 13-year period between 1982 and 1994 he had a clean sweep of all the trophies on no less than seven occasions!

There would have been an eighth occasion in 1992 but for HM The Queen’s High Tea, bred by her out of Highclere, winning the Towry Law Trophy for Best Turn Out as mentioned above.

Leading lady player Lila Pearson subsequently bought High Tea and won the Sir John Aird Trophy in 2002, prior to the pair being invited to participate in “All The Queen’s Horses” performance in the Golden Jubilee Pageant at RWHS. Today Lila Pearson is playing High Tea’s grandchildren, by Assam – the 14 year old stallion she bred out of High Tea that continues to play today as a well-behaved entire – incredibly the great, great grand progeny (five generations) of the original gifted mare to HRH Prince Philip.

Another name that features regularly is that of the Vesteys with five family members – Lord Vestey, Hon Mark Vestey, Ben Vestey, Nina Clarkin (nee Vestey, currently the world’s leading lady player) and Tamara Fox (nee Vestey) – being owners of winning ponies. Lord Vestey (Master of the Horse, 1999 – 2018) won on Bigua in 1974 and was still winning in 2011 on Andariego (Reg) 37 years later. A nice touch was that when Lord Vestey rode Andariego, who also won in 2004 and 2010, in the show ring he wore his old Stowell Park polo shirt that he had previously worn in three Queen’s Cup victories in 1971, 1973 and 1978. Meanwhile, Lord Vestey’s niece, Nina, having won on Doug and Sue McGregor’s well-loved grey mare, Jess, in 2018, became the classes’ ride judge in 2019.

The versatility and longevity of polo ponies (besides their owners!) has also been visibly demonstrated through these classes. In previous years Guards Polo Club owned a pool of ponies that would have been played by countless young officers, many of dubious riding ability. Manuella, a beautiful black mare, the pride of the Club’s string, having braved being ridden by all manner of budding polo players from complete beginners, with hands like tractor brakes, to accomplished three-goal players, was herself a winner of The Maharaja of Jaipur Challenge Cup in 1996 and 1997 – surely testament to the adaptability of these superlative equines.

The longevity record belongs, rather embarrassingly, to the author’s own New Zealand mare Chloe who competed this year, aged 23, for the eighth time. She first appeared 16 years earlier in 2003 and featured on the winner’s podium in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

Prolific winning owners over the years, besides Lord Patrick, have included two other Club Life Playing Members. Lord Palumbo won on eight occasions between 1967 – 1980 with six different horses and Galen Weston (whose Maple Leafs high-goal team regularly included HRH Prince Charles) won six times between 1980 – 1986 with five different horses. The most prolific winning ponies have been Lord Patrick’s strikingly beautiful Pierra with five successive wins between 1990 – 1994 and HM The King of Malaysia’s Venticinquo on five occasions between 1980 – 1987.

Statistics aside, one of the most positive changes for these polo pony classes has been the showing surface. Previously the individual classes had been held in the grass arenas, while the Championship was mostly competed for separately in the much larger, main arena – all-weather since 2008 – that threw up some interesting results, due to being more spacious and latterly with a more sure-footed surface. On occasions horses previously placed second earlier in the day would perform better and thus be elevated above other class winners. Today, the classes and the Championship are judged together in the same, all-weather Frogmore arena with more consistent results.

The popularity of the Class has varied significantly since inception 61 years ago but 2019 saw a record 19 entries for both classes, all of a high calibre. Will Brasher, competing for the first time, brought four horses for the RoR class, with his Reutlingen winning both the Sir Rodney Moore Cup and Windsor Polo Club Reserve Challenge. He commented that the show was “a great learning experience for my young horses from the racetrack” of which one, Drawn to be a Lady (Artist), he subsequently sold to the great Uruguayan 10-goal player David “Pelon” Stirling, having been initially trialled for Pelon by the legendary 10-goal maestro himself Adolfo Cambiaso.

In this year’s Polo Pony Class Siri Evjemo-Nysveen had a clean sweep of the first three places, with her mare Luciana not only clinching The Maharaja of Jaipur Challenge Cup but also the Colonel Sir John Aird Challenge Trophy. It is testament to the keen eye of the class judges Anthony Fanshawe (our Polo Manager) and Nina Clarkin that they got it right in such a large and class field, as Siri’s husband, Alessandro Bazzoni, then played Luciana throughout the 2019 English high-goal season in the all-important first and sixth chukkas with his team Monterosso.

Thus with on-going Royal patronage, an illustrious history full of revealing facts and anecdotes, and an all-weather showing surface allowing polo ponies to perform at their best we look forward to another 61 years of RWHS polo pony classes – that showcases these ultimate equine athletes at their finest.

The full article was originally published in the Winter 2019 edition of Ten Goal, The Magazine of Guards Polo Club.