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"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at
Early Days of Texas Polo

Michael Barr

Two teams played some of the first polo games in Texas on the Balcones Ranch near Boerne.

Captain William Michael Glynn Turquand, a retired English military officer, led a contingent of English ex-patriots to San Antonio in 1876. Because San Antonio was the western terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the city was a popular destination for wealthy Englishmen looking for adventure in the American Southwest.

Not long after his arrival in San Antonio, Captain Turquand bought land near Boerne and established the Balcones Ranch. (The modern day ranch is across I-10 from Fair Oaks Ranch south of Boerne.) The Captain chose the hills near Boerne because Kendall County was sheep country. Turquand patented a sheep shearing device in 1875 and wanted to try it out.

But polo, a game he learned in India while serving in the British military, was Captain Turquand's first love. The Captain was among the first polo players to see the potential of Texas mustangs as polo ponies.

On February 8, 1883 Captain Turquand and his fellow Brits formed the Texas Polo Club at the Balcones Ranch. The club's simple purpose was to popularize polo - a game Captain Turquand believed to be "admirably suited to the taste and ability of Texans."

The Texas Polo Club practiced regularly through the spring and early summer at the Balcones Ranch Polo Field. Then on July 7, 1883, Captain Turquand organized an exhibition game at San Pedro Springs Park in San Antonio. That contest, by most accounts, was the first public polo game played in Texas.

Polo 1900

1900 photo

The game was as much a social event as an athletic contest. One journalist estimated the size of the crowd, many from San Antonio's wealthy class, at 1,200. A reporter for The San Antonio Light wrote "the novelty of the game and the reputation of the players were sufficient to attract a large and fashionable audience."

The Texans who turned out for the game liked what they saw. Polo was a fast-moving sport that was both graceful and violent. There were few rules in those days. Riders could do most anything to score a goal or keep an opponent from scoring. Collisions and spills were frequent.

But Texans were not amused with the annoying English habit of bragging about their superior horsemanship, especially after a few beers at the Menger Bar. Something had to be done, and on July 10, 1883, just 3 days after the first public polo game at San Pedro Springs Park, some Texans gathered at the office of the Texans Investment Company in San Antonio. That afternoon they organized the Cowboys Polo Club to take on the British and put them in their proper place.

The Cowboys, undaunted by inexperience, challenged the Brits to a game of polo - any time, any where. The Brits sent word to "bring it on."

On July 14, 1883 The Texas Polo Club played the Cowboys Polo Club at San Pedro Springs Park for the unofficial Texas polo championship. And there was more than bragging rights on the line. The prize money was $100 - winner take all.

There was a lot of trash talk prior to the game. The English poked fun at the way the Texans talked. The Texans ridiculed the tiny "baldheaded" English saddles and the silly way the British popped up and down when they rode.

Despite tough talk by the Texans, the odds were with the British. Those Texans could ride, but there was more to polo than riding a horse. Striking a ball with a mallet while riding a mustang at full gallop was a tricky proposition. The Texans played with gusto, but they hit each other more than they hit the ball.

Still the Cowboys held their own for a while, but their reckless maneuvers and daring horsemanship couldn't overcome the skill and experience of the Brits. The Texas Polo Club won the game 3-1.

After laying the foundation for polo in Texas, Captain Turquand sold the Balcones Ranch to Count Norbert D'Orenay of Hungary in 1885. Two years later Turquand died in Ohio.

Michael Barr
September 1, 2017 Column

"Polo at the Springs," San Antonio Light, July 9, 1883.
"An Unequal Match," San Antonio Light, July 16, 1883.
"Polo in San Antonio Dates Back to 1883 When First Match Was Played at San Pedro Park," San Antonio Express, January 11, 1926.
"Texas Quiz," The Navasota Examiner, July 1, 1954.

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