“In golf, the ball just sits there, and all you have to do is swing at it. In polo, you have to hit the ball while sitting on a horse going 30km/h, with opponents trying to hook you, or ride you off. That’s why I love the game – it is truly a unique sport. ”Meet Don Pennycook, President and owner of Club Polo Nacional.
Alberta-born Don Pennycook had a successful career in fashion, helping to determine the Canadian destinies of brands like Chaps Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein … and then he discovered polo. “It was love at first sight. I started travelling all over the world taking lessons,” says the current president of Polo Canada. “Today, I have 105 horses and we have games three times a week, plus tournaments.” Pennycook’s home and stables are in Sainte-Marthe, near Hudson and Saint-Lazare, in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region, where he moved in 1969 (essentially in the middle of Quebec horse country). Around the world, polo is most popular in Argentina, followed by England, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
“In hockey, baseball and football, you make certain moves and have control over your actions,” he continues. “In polo, you have to work in tandem with another living creature. You and the horse have to be in perfect sync. It is a sport like no other. Beginner polo players, even those who have played sports all their lives, are astounded by the required degree of coordination and flexibility. You need impeccable timing to ride a horse at great speed – go left, go right, turn on a dime and then lean down to hit the ball.” It also requires considerable patience. Pennycook says that it takes years in the saddle to become a decent player.
“Not all horses are made for polo. There is a lot of contact, and the physical aspect of the play intimidates many animals. We are now breeding horses for polo, crossing Argentine mares with a North American thoroughbred stallion.”
In all, 73 of Pennycook’s 105 horses are trained as polo ponies. Games are played Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday on three pitches. Pennycook also organizes an annual charity tournament to benefit the Montreal Heart Institute and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, which raises about $100,000. His passion thus gives him the perfect opportunity to contribute tohis community, while showcasing the relatively unknown sport he loves. “All that, and my wife Carol loves polo, too. How lucky can you get?”
photos: redbox media