Polo in Seville: The End Of The Game?
Klarina Pichler decides that this sport will not die in Seville and will continue to have an impact
[Original spanish article at end]
SEVILLE ALEXANDER FISKE-HARRISON The polo season of Seville came to a close last Sunday with the final tournament at La Mata del Herrador Polo Club. The 5th Campeonato de Andalucía Femenino Internacional, ‘International Ladies’ Championship of Andalusia’, was played with four teams – of four players each – competing from 9 countries, from the United States of America to South Africa. In the end the team sponsored and named for the “Hotel Corral del Rey” beat the home team of La Mata 7-3.
The history of polo in Seville is longer than people think. The Polo Encyclopaedia speaks of a match in March 1899 in which King Alfonso XIII, an avid fan of the sport and the first ever reigning monarch to play in public, issued a challenge from his own polo club Casa de Campo to the Seville team, Moratalla. His Majesty lost 3-4 to the sevillano team of the Conde de la Maza, the Marqués de Viana, the Marqués de Villavieja and the Duque de Arión.
The match became an annual fixture taking the official name in 1899 – in English – “The Seville Challenge Cup”, with the King leading his team once again, this time to victory.
Over the years polo in the city ebbed and flowed, with names more associated with bulls than horses – Murube, Parladé, Miura – appearing frequently on the cartels. In 1939 the Real Club Pineda de Sevilla was founded with horses at its heart and polo on its fields. Indeed, it is still listed as a federated ground by the Real Federación Española de Polo, and yet it has had had no polo field for decades. Instead, it signed a reciprocal deal with the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona in 2014. Indeed, there are three federated polo clubs in Seville. Another, the Royal Club of Andalusia, “El Aero”, also has no field, although its president Enrique Moreno de la Cova was until recently the vice-president of the Real Federación Española de Polo. The only federated club with an actual field was La Mata del Herrador. Formed in 2004 by José Carrasco Vergara, a committee member of the Federación Andaluza de Polo, who purchased this grand 19th century hacienda with its 20 hectare olive farm and constructed within it full polo facilities (which, when one considers it can cost €400,000 just to laser-level the polo field flat, is no mean feat.)
Determined to expand it, ten years later he brought in one of the most fascinating women in polo today, Klarina Pichler, from her own polo club in Austria. Klarina is a player of whom it was said she was in the top five women in the world, reaching a +6 goal handicap. She still plays off a +3 handicap and her capacities as a manager, instructor and creator of both horses and players is unrivalled.
Growing up with horses in her native Salzburg, she was a champion at dressage, showjumping but by the age of twenty-five she had moved on to jockeying racehorses in Munich in Germany. Klarina was visiting Barcelona when the Royal Polo Club of the city asked her if she would like to accompany the Spanish polo team to Switzerland for the Geneva Masters to assist. Having never played before, she fell in love with the sport and decided it was to learn to play it properly, so she moved to Argentina. There she worked with the great +8 goal Argentinian player, Ignacio Tillous and then returned to Austria to found her own club.
In Zurich she found a English thoroughbred male foal who had originally been purchased sight unseen for €100,000, so good was his lineage: his grandfather was Northern Dancer, the 20th century’s “sire of sires” (his never-beaten cousin Frankel, was rated by the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings Committee as the best racehorse in their history.) She then selected four mares exclusively from Argentina, from the herds of established high goal players, starting with Ignacio Tillous, and imported them.
“I wanted the very best and wanted to start small, because I wanted to make them one by one myself, to train them myself, in my own way.”
Inspired by the “natural horsemanship” techniques of Monty Roberts – the source for the novel and film ‘The Horse Whisperer’ – Klarina disliked others methods of making a horse rideable.
“They break its spirit through fear. I come from the idea of inspiring confidence, making the horse confident about being ridden, and then training it for polo from there.”
She founded the Alpe Carinthia Polo Club in 2008 and there hosted 80 horses of other players along with her own herd of 40, renting them out to players for all the major tournaments as well as more exotic ones like the January snow polo of St Moritz and the July beach polo of Ibiza.
However, the offer of Seville was too much to refuse. “Seville is not only historically beautiful and beautifully historic, it also seemed to have an untapped potential with its indigenous horse culture.” She brought with her an interesting list of clients. The British Army’s Cavalry Regiments, the origin of polo in Europe (who brought it from India), come out to train with her, as do the great national teams, from Azerbaijan to Switzerland.
Now, José Carrasco has sold the buildings – if not the grounds – of La Mata to Andalusian clothing magnate, Carlos Cordoba, and so the question arises as to whether or not what Klarina calls “one of the greatest polo fields in Europe”, will remain open. Because if it does not Seville’s only federated club ground will be in another province, Catalonia. Sources say this will not be so… [And José Carrasco has now publicly said it will not – Ed.]
Klarina for one is determined that Sevilla Polo will continue.
“Next Spring will be the 120th anniversary of the founding of this historic Seville Challenge Cup.”
She is already planning its reestablishment.
“The polo season of Seville will begin with something historic and present will be the descendants of the original players, including of the Conde de la Maza and, with the assistance of the Royal Club of Andlusia, all the others as well.
This next season looks to be shaping into something the city can be proud of. Perhaps the dream of El Club de Polo de Sevilla is not dying after all.