It’s known as the sport of kings but the game of polo is no longer the exclusive domain of aristocrats – especially here in Mexico.
Polo still attracts its fair share of social high fliers but with 15 clubs and 350 registered players in Mexico, both men and women, the game is broadening its appeal and trying to become more inclusive.
This means that anyone who would like to check out the Mexican polo scene for themselves is welcome at any of the five Mexico Polo Tour events scheduled in western Mexico in March and April (see box below). The first event takes place at Los Agaves Polo Club on the Tesistan highway outside Guadalajara on the weekend of March 7 and 8. There is no charge for entry, and food and drinks will be on sale.
For anyone not in the know, a game of polo consists of two teams of four players astride “ponies” (a traditional term only, as the mount is actually a full-sized horse) who try to thwack a ball with sticks (mallets) through sets of goals. At a high level, it requires superb horsemanship, technical skill and stamina, and is not a recommended pastime for riders with an aversion for the occasional bump or fall.
According to lawyer and polo enthusiast Francisco-Xavier López-Portillo y Lancaster-Jones, British miners and settlers brought polo (along with soccer and other sports) to Mexico in the 1870s, when it was quickly embraced by some prominent Mexican families. The first polo club was founded in 1880 in the Jockey Club of Mexico City. There’s no doubt the game was taken seriously at the turn of the century. During the summer Olympics of 1900 in Paris, Mexico won the bronze medal for polo.
López-Portillo y Lancaster-Jones remembers his father talking about thrilling visits to polo fields in Guadalajara in the 1940s, during the presidency of Manuel Avila Camacho, who had married Soledad Orozco García, a Zapopan native. A former revolutionary general who made his troops play polo to toughen them up, Avila Camacho promoted the sport vigorously during his six-year term and played frequently in Guadalajara, often sharing the limelight with top players from the United States. These American visitors were often too old to be called up for duty in World War II and were more than happy to be feted in Mexico and promote friendly bilateral relations.