The History of Polo
In the World
The origins of the game of Polo are uncertain but it is thought to have started well over 2000 years ago, probably around 450 B.C. in Persia. Most certainly though, the game is deeply rooted in Asian history. It was sometime in the 1850's that the British cavalry created the first rules for Polo as we know it today, and by the 1870's the game was very well recognized in England. For more information go to this link at the PoloNews.com website. They have one of the better articles about the history of Polo that I've read.
In the United States
James Gordon Bennett, Jr., (1841-1918) noted publisher of the New York Herald, and avid sportsman, introduced the Polo to New York in 1876. It was in 1878 that he brought the entire British Polo team to the States to show people how it was played. The sport grew in popularity and in 1920 the United States had their own team in the Olympics.
Excerpts paraphrased from the Le Mars, Iowa Sentinel described the establishment of an "English Colony" in Le Mars during 1879 & 1880. English brothers William B. and Frederick Brooks Close began the Iowa Land Company in nearby Denison, IA in 1878 buying large tracts or land, and then selling land as standardized farms. The encouraged English immigrants to develop a colony and many young men came to the colony from England to train in farm management. These Britishers were sometimes remembered as "the fox-hunting English", but that was only one aspect of the lively sporting era they created in norwthwest Iowa. The Norwest Polo League was formed in 1885 and included teams from Sioux City, Council Bluffs, and Omaha, NE. The tragic result was the death of Fred Close in June, 1890, in a polo match with Sioux City at the Crescent Park Polo Grounds. He had trouble controlling his pony, because his arm had been injured in a hunting fall in England two months before. The Le Mars colony kept its vitality until 1895, but after that, a decline set in. The death of Fred Close was discouraging, and so was the legislature's passage of a prohibition law, although it was soon repealed. In 1965, Iowa City became the hometown for the state's only polo team. It was formed by Steve Richardson, a real-estate man, Fred Fluegel, and Iowa City businessman, and Don Coulter, owner of the Sugar Bottom Stables at the Coralville Reservoir. This team received assistance from Jim Binger of Minneapolis and Royal Alworth of Duluth when they sent Herb Pennell, one of the top polo players in the United States at that time, to Iowa City to help organize a club. As of 1974, the team also included Moe Richardson, Nick Estle, Mary Estle, Ed Spencer, Dick Meade and Leo Meade. The team also included Steve Richardson's children Stevie and Rusty. Dick Meade continues to play with the Des Moines polo club today. [Excerts from Polo on the Prairie, The Iowan (Spring 1974) Pp. 10-11]
In Des Moines
The Army first introduced Polo to Des Moines in the 1920s. They played at the Fort Des Moines parade grounds just south of Army Post Road at SW 9th Street on Sunday afternoons. The game waned in the Des Moines area during and after World War II. An article in the Des Moines Tribune on September 5, 1922 states: "The Wakonda club and the Fourteenth cavalry polo teams were the contenders for the championship in the northwest polo tourney at Fort Snelling Monday. The Fort Des Moines team won 6 to 5 although the playing of Captain Wilkinson of the Wakonda team was the brilliant and spectacular event of the contest. The army post team had the utmost difficulty defeating the Wakonda players. The match was the greatest of the tournament."Other short articles from the Des Moines Tribune in 1930 & 1931 indicated that the Fort Des Moines 14th Cavalry team continued to play polo, with matches against Fort Snelling and the University of Missouri mentioned. Polo was brought back to life in Des Moines by Bart Hicklin and Monte Antisdel when they created the Des Moines Polo Club in 1982. Bart built the first field north of Des Moines on Oralabor Road in Ankeny. The first members of the team along with Bart and Monte were Melinda Antisdel, Jack Chopp, Ken Newman, Tim Holt, and Nancy Holt. Jim Goode and Jon Moeller later joined the team. At that time the team drove to Iowa City once a week to practice with the Iowa City Polo Club which is no longer in existence. Iowa City's last remaining member, Dick Meade, is now a member of the Des Moines team. In 1987, Monte bought Mossland Acres, south of Grand Avenue in Des Moines from the Moss family, and named it MoMont Dels. He built a polo field there and it became the next field for the team. Though they had recurring flood problems in that area, they used it until 1990 when they received permission from the City of Des Moines to use the old polo field at Fort Des Moines. They continued to play at Fort Des Moines until 1997. The land for the current field near Cumming, Iowa was purchased by several members of the club in 1995, but wasn't ready for play until 1997. The new Des Moines Polo Club field has 8 paddocks for housing the horses of visiting teams.