This weekend, Seattle Polo & Equestrian Club will host its inaugural event, the Seattle Cup Tournament and tailgate polo party at the club’s grounds in Enumclaw. It is the brainchild of Cameron Smith, co-founder and owner of the firm Product Creation Studio as well as the Seattle Polo & Equestrian Club in Enumclaw. Smith grew up in Seattle and shares ownership of the Polo Club with his parents. We caught up with him to talk about the sport, the club and how it came to be.
Leslie Wheatley: Cameron, when did you first get interested in polo and horses?
Cameron Smith: I started riding and playing polo about nine years ago. I took some time off from work and my parents winter in Palm Springs, and that’s where the polo community is. My dad is a big horse guy. He always had them around and just loves horses. I didn’t see any reason to ride a horse. [He laughs.] I wasn’t going to be chasing anything or roping anything. I wasn’t going to wear a top hat and tux, or a cowboy hat for that matter.
But I went down there and my dad was helping this polo player with training the horses and he introduced me to this guy. I started riding some of the guy’s wife’s retired horses [not even his!], and the next thing you know, I was there for the winter riding and training. He showed me the ropes, and I thought that it was a really interesting sport. It’s challenging and team-based. Polo has a lot of strategy and positioning and you get to play with an animal as well, so there are many dynamics. I fell in love with the sport and I fell in love with horses.
LW: Why did you decide to create the Seattle Polo & Equestrian Club?
CS: I was originally looking for a small parcel of land where I could build something where I could practice, because I didn’t have any place to do it in the summers or to keep my horses in the northwest. I play competitive polo in Palm Springs in the winter. I wanted to spend my summers in Seattle because I love it here and my son is here.
I started looking for a little home on twenty acres where I could have a 10-acre field. I found this Equestrian Center which was foreclosed on and standing vacant for three years, so it was in pretty bad disrepair. Everything was overgrown and the fencing was in bad shape. But I saw these two pastures and Mount Rainier and I thought, “I could get people to come here and watch Polo in this beautiful environment.” So, my parents and I bought it and we have been working for two summers now building and grading the field. Now it is starting to look like a real polo field and we are ready to hold our first tournament!
LW: That is so exciting, and it really is stunning with the view! No other field in the world has this view! What is your vision for the club in the next ten years?
CS: Polo is not very well known in Seattle. I joke that I’m the best polo player in Seattle. In reality there are two of us, and we use rock-paper-scissors to see who would win this year. There are maybe seventy people in the whole state who play. It is more like ranch polo, and not something done for the spectator. I wanted to provide the club in the Seattle area to cover three aspects of the sport. I wanted to build it for the person who plays, for the person who wants to play, and for the person who wants to watch.
LW: Nice. You will be responsible for raising more awareness of polo in the Northwest. Tell us what you love about the polo playing lifestyle?
CS: Polo is a very relaxed sport and a lot of that stems from the fact that you are on a horse. Horses are very intuitive and can sense your demeanor. If you are intense and you get on the back of the horse and are stressed out, then the horse gets intense. If you are relaxed and calm, then it calms the horse down. I can be on a horse and it can be nice and calm, and then I give the horse to a beginner to ride and it will run up and down the field.
LW: It’s much more of a cerebral sport than you would think because you need to not only know the rules and the dynamics of the game but you also need to be aware of the animal and of the personality of the horse. Would you say that this sport and its lifestyle teach you to consciously relax?
CS: I do, and it does. The people who play are very relaxed. Look at Argentina. Most of the pros who play come from Argentina. Their culture [outside of Buenos Aires] is called the Pampas. It’s all horse country, and every day the people farm and work the land, and then in the afternoons they get on their horses and play polo. It is a relaxation thing for them. Around here the guys and gals that come and play are getting out of the city to find their relaxation on a horse playing polo.
LW: Well you are the perfect example of that: You run your own successful business in Seattle, and then you come out here and can relax. I think you are on to something. Perhaps we can get more successful business people to come and learn to play polo for their R&R.
CS: Yes, as long as they don’t go building their own polo fields in Seattle. [He laughs.] Just come here and play. We have everything you need.
LW: What knowledge could you lend to people interested in learning about the sport?
CS: First, the horse is 80 percent of the game and 100 percent of the enjoyment of the game. So find a place that has good horses, where you can learn how to ride. All the horses are good here for instruction. Don’t be scared of the horse. Then come and watch to understand the sport and learn the rules of the game. Next year, we will have both beginner horse practice days and Polo Player practice days for the players who need to prepare for tournaments on the weekends. Then you need to learn how to hit a ball.
LW: Its not anything like playing croquet, right?
CS: [Laughs] No, it’s nothing like croquet. We hit the ball with the sides of our mallets not on the little end of it. And the horses are going 35 miles per hour, and our mallets are anywhere from 50- to 53-inches long, and the head of the mallet is pretty small compared to the baseball size of the ball, and they’re running on the ground, and it is usually uneven because of all the horses trotting, and the balls bounce around and are rolling every which way! There are two teams with four players on horses running after that ball. It is very challenging!
LW: Are there female polo players too?
CS: All the polo players are rated so it doesn’t matter if you are female or male.
LW: Can you explain the rating system?
CS: Typically, when you start playing your rating is -02, when you learn the game and to be safe on the field you are at -01. When you learn to hit the ball and you master the six basic shots in the game, you are given a rating of -00- and that is where most players stay.
The professional level starts at 1 and goes up to a 10. There are less than a dozen ten-rated players in the world right now and they are all Argentinian. Most of the best players in the Pacific northwest are of a three-goal rating, with lots of minus ones, zeros, one, two and three-goal players. Goals are the ratings of the players when added up on each team to determine the level for the “Goal” for a game. If you have a six-goal game, it means that the sum of the four players’ ratings on the team is six. The elite players and [wealthy sponsors] are doing twelve-goal and twenty-goal rated games. For players who are at a level three and level four, they are all striving to get on twelve and twenty goal teams. For example, a twenty-goal team could cost three million dollars for one season in Santa Barbara, supported by one patron, meaning one sponsor.
LW: Your first ever Seattle Polo Match will be held on August 9 and 10. How exciting! What can we expect at the party?
CS: We are having our first event, an actual tournament, featuring four to six teams on two different levels. Games last about 90 minutes and will be held twice on each day. Saturday is Tailgating Day with general admission. We have thirty tailgate spots—first come, first served—to park and open up your coolers and picnic tables to tailgate. There is no VIP ticket on Saturday, so the VIP tent will be open on Saturday for everyone with general admission, and there will be food trucks and beverages for sale.
The finals of the tournament is Sunday at 2 PM. We will host the highest level of polo played in the northwest, including Oregon, Washington, BC and Idaho. It’s the first time this has ever happened in the Seattle area! On Sunday, there are VIP tent tickets with table seating and catered food included in the ticket cost. The suggested dress code on Sunday includes big hats [think Kentucky Derby] and sundresses for the ladies, and khakis and seersucker jackets for the guys. There will be awards for the best hats and outfits, and a marvelous time will be had by all. What a wonderful way to spend the afternoon!
I want people to enjoy what I’ve built here. For both the players and the spectators. I want folks in Seattle to get a piece of what polo is like in California. I played for the Beverly Hills Polo Team at the Will Rogers Park this past June and I was awarded the MVP of that game and I won a luggage set from Beverly Hills Polo. There were thousands of people on the sidelines and before the game, girls were taking pictures with the horses and it was a big deal for them, and I’d love to bring that same excitement here to Seattle!
LW: So you are a polo star! Do you want people to love you or your horses more?
CS: I think a little of both would be nice. [He laughs.]
The Seattle Cup Tournament and tailgate polo party is this weekend at the Seattle Polo & Equestrian Club (25901 SE 400th St, Enumclaw).
Saturday, August 9
- Tickets: $10 General Admission. $30 Tailgating Pass
- Gates Open: 3 PM
- Game Times: 4 PM and 6 PM
Sunday, August 10
- Tickets: $15 General Admission. $50 VIP Admission. $50 Tailgating Pass
- Gates Open: 11 AM
- Game Times: 12 PM and 2 PM
Tickets are for sale at www.seattlepoloclub.com/#polo-party