Polo Players Edition

FEB2019

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

Issue link: https://polo.epubxp.com/i/1074504

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POLO P L A Y E R S E D I T I O N 9 T here are few jobs more rewarding and least glorified in the polo world than that of the horse trainer. While there are many layers to the process, building a solid foundation can set in motion the upward trajectory of a polo pony's career. While top polo ponies pass through many hands before arriving on high- goal fields, it is often what happens at the very beginning that can make or break a horse's future in the sport. The West has historically been regarded as a source for some of the best polo stock and, subsequently, trainers in the country. Husband and wife CJ and Sheila Lequerica are no exception. Mentored by one of the earliest practitioners of modern natural horsemanship, one step into their barn in Sealy, Texas, and you instantly sense the calm that pervades. The duo behind Vintage Polo Ponies Inc., they are a power couple indeed, and a force to be reckoned with when it comes to molding young equine minds and bodies, yet they remain humble to the core. Generally flying under the radar, you may never guess that Hall of Famer Memo Gracida is a regular buyer, or that they put the first miles on a staple of 10-goaler Facundo Pieres' American string. While the Lequericas now call Texas home, along with their two children Lily and Joe Bob, they initially met around the polo fields of Indio, California. Sheila, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, grew up showing hunter jumpers. She discovered polo in college while attending Colorado State University, which propelled her into an intercollegiate polo career, along with summers dedicated to her new found hobby. Meanwhile, CJ, born and raised on his family's cattle ranch in Central Oregon, opted to skip a formal degree for an opportunity to train with Tink Elordi, a pupil of Tom Dorrance, one of the founders of the natural horsemanship movement. Years later, after a stint working a 9 to 5 job, which Sheila admittedly despised, the two joined forces at high-goal team owner Fred Mannix's Fish Creek. "He [CJ] actually hired me to work for him starting horses at Fish Creek," recounted Sheila. "They needed someone that could ride young horses and get them on the polo field. They were all cowboys and they knew how to break and start them, but no one played polo." Eventually, the couple decided to break out on their own, buying some prospects to train and sell while still riding for others. "It wasn't really a certain thing that happened, it just kind of fell into my lap," said Sheila. "I always wanted horses in my life, I never thought it would be my profession. I didn't know I could really do it, to tell you the truth, but I couldn't do it without CJ. So, when he brought me on, and then we went on our own, this became our life—instead of just a hobby." Bumping and splashing along the long orange dirt roads inundated with standing water due to the heavy rainfall this season, the Lequerica's large covered arena pops out first as you round the corner to their ranch. "Horse training is hard work," says Sheila, "and Memo Gracida said it best one time, 'if you miss a day on a green horse, it's like missing a week.'" So, it's no wonder they describe the arena as their saving grace. With as many as 54 horses in work during their busiest time of year, and copious amounts of rainfall throughout this season particularly, you can undoubtedly recognize the importance of such an investment. "We built it to stay dry, but in the summertime we ride all day and it's hotter than hell here, let me tell you, but that covered arena saves our tails. We can go all day, it's like the air conditioner is on when we ride in the shade." The entire Lequerica family specializes in horse training. CJ's brother Troy and sister-in-law Joscelyn can easily load up horses and drive five minutes down the road from their neighboring farm to make use of the round pen, situated under the arena roof. On this day, specifically, they are saddling two of their client's horses, a pair of unusually large chestnut yearlings, but during colt starting season Troy will often be counted among the ranks to assist. As Sheila prepares for an afternoon practice where CJ will help groom, Troy and Joscelyn offer to pick the kids up from school. "They'll probably have homework," Sheila calls from the arena, "but they can clean up the barn first." A family operation through and through, despite the demands of a rigorous horse training schedule, the Harnessing Polo Potential CJ short works a horse in the arena. Trying to improve and make the horses better is what keeps him going.

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