POLO ANYONE? BIG HORN AND FLYING H POLO CLUBS IN WYOMING!

I don’t know about y’all, but when Cookie and me are in the mood for a bit of “the sport of kings” well the first place we think of headin’…Sheridan and nearby Big Horn, Wyomin’, of course!

One of the ten largest polo clubs in the United States today is the Big Horn Polo Club near Sheridan, Wyoming. There are forty-five, full-time members including the last three winners of the U.S. Open. Some of the best American polo players still make a pilgrimage to the Big Horn Polo Club, and the most prestigious polo breeding operation in the world is located there.

During the late 19th Century, Englishmen and Scotsmen moved to the area purchasing ranches usually with the intent of breeding thoroughbred horses. With them they brought the game of polo, which they taught to their ranch hands.

The first spectator game of polo, in Wyoming, was played on July 4, 1893 at the Sheridan fairgrounds. The hour and ten minute game pitted Beckton against Sheridan. Both teams were primarily composed of British players, including Captain Pete Stockwell a British officer formerly stationed in India, who played for Beckton.

The umpire during that game was Frank Grouard. Grouard was captured by the Sioux in 1870. He lived with the Sioux until he joined the U.S. Army and scouted for General George Crook.  After the Indian Wars, Grouard came back to the Big Horn area and went into the horse business.

Malcolm Moncreiffe and Ways

Not long after over a thousand spectators witnessed that first polo game, Scotsman Malcolm Moncreiffe moved from Powder River to the Big Horn area and built a polo field and breeding operation in 1898. Moncreiffe’s breeding operation was one of the finest in the world, and he exported Wyoming-bred thoroughbred polo horses and foxhunters to England. Moncreiffe also provided over 20,000 of his Wyoming thoroughbreds to the British cavalry and artillery during the Boer War.

Along with building his breeding operation, Moncreiffe developed a polo team with his friend Bob Walsh. Bob Walsh, a former piano player in a whorehouse in Miles City, Montana, was by this time the president of Moncreiffe’s First National Bank in Sheridan. By the turn of the century, Moncreiffe and Walsh traveled with their team to Colorado Springs winning a tournament on the lawn of the Broadmoor Hotel. The tournament featured several Army teams, a Denver team and a team from Kansas City.

But it wasn’t Moncreiffe or Walsh who led their team to victory, but genuine cowboy, John Cover. Cover was a bronc rider, steer roper, relay rider and cattleman. As a teenager he started working for Moncreiffe. Cover was eventually put in charge of the polo operation and evolved into one of the top players in the United States. He quit Moncreiffe after a dispute and was immediately hired by Goelet Gallatin who owned the Circle V Polo Company in Big Horn.

The Circle V was started at the end of the First World War, and became one of the premier polo operations in the world.  The Circle V expanded its polo operations to include more than 150 top brood mares, and established a winter location in Aiken, South Carolina. Broodmares from the Circle V were sent to top international players throughout the world including Tommy Hitchcock, Ambrose Clarke and Deveraux Milburn. When Cover arrived at the Circle V, Hitchcock and Milburn trailed him in an attempt to acquire a few of his secrets.  Cover became such a well-respected player, he was asked to join a team of Americans traveling to England. He refused stating “he had cows to look after.”  Cover was known as the second-best Back in the United States, behind his protégé Milburn.

By the 1920s and 30s, world class horse breeders were firmly established in the area including Cameron Forbes, Alan Fordyce and O.H. Wallop. These men also established polo teams and rivalries, friendly and not, resulted in local games benefiting charities such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross and local charitable organizations. Many of these thoroughbred breeders had been in business over 30 years, producing some of the heartiest horses on Earth.

In 1948, the Neponset team repeated history on the lawn of the Broadmoor Hotel winning the National 12-Goal Championship match.  Bloodlines of six Kentucky Derby winners were present on that team.

But polo started to fade from the local scene in the late 1950s. Bob Tate began a resurgence of the sport, in 1963, with Malcolm and John Wallop and a Tepee Lodge team.

By the early eighties, the Moncreiffe field was sold and a group of players established the Big Horn Equestrian Center including the Big Horn Polo Club.  In 2000, two teams with their breeding operations in Sheridan won the U.S. Open.

The Flying H Polo Club, started on what used to be the Circle V, became one of the premier summer clubs in the United States offering high-goal polo. Some of the top international players have participated at the Flying H, including eight U.S. Open winners.

If y’all are interested in takin’ in a game, no need to high-tail it across the Atlantic. Just set sail on a prairie schooner to Sheridan where three days a week from July to Labor Day you can see “the game of kings” at either the Big Horn Polo Club (the oldest polo club West of the Mississipp) or at the Flying H Polo Club.

Now see, Cookie and me we’re just full of culture and the like. Why we might go so far as to bathe before headin’ on over to the polo field.

 

SOURCES:

http://www.poloplayersedition.com/new/sept04.html

http://www.sheridanwyoming.org/activities/weekly-events/polo-matches/

http://www.flyinghpolo.com/history.htm

Blair, Pat, Prater, Dana and the Sheridan County Museum. Images of America: Sheridan. Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

 

8 thoughts on “POLO ANYONE? BIG HORN AND FLYING H POLO CLUBS IN WYOMING!

  1. Just discovered your blog and I love it! I lived in Sheridan from 1973 to 1980. Hated the winters but only because I had two small boys, one in diapers and straddled on my hip, the other tagging along through the snow banks and across icy streets. Loved everything else about Sheridan…and I’ve set one of my series in the vacinity. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Jaye! I’m so glad you discovered the blog and are enjoying your visit to the campfire. I grew up in Wyoming, and actually I’m moving back in a couple weeks!! Most of my stories are set in the Sheridan area, I just love it there.

      Hope you’ll visit again!

      –Kirsten Lynn

    • Thanks, Tanya!! The first time my dad told me there were polo matches in Sheridan I thought he was kidding. But when I started digging into the area’s history and the many Englishmen and Scotsmen who moved to the area it made sense. It’s a fascinating piece of history, IMHO. :o)

      –Kirsten Lynn

    • LOL, Alison!! I’m glad I could share something new! It’s a great piece of Wyoming history, and despite my cavalier title not many connect the dots between polo and Wyoming. :)

      –Kirsten Lynn

  2. Wow. I never would have thought of polo being played in Wyoming. I grew up riding English and there was a large polo club nearby. Our major, local hunter/jumper shows were held on the polo fields. Thanks for reminding me not to make uninformed assumptions!

    • I don’t think you’re the only one, Ally, who doesn’t put polo and Wyoming together right away. :) Unless you dig into the history, many don’t realize how influential the English and Scotsmen who came to Wyoming were. I certainly didn’t until I heard my dad and grandmother’s stories.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!!

      –Kirsten Lynn

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