This past Sunday in Lexington, Ky., the inaugural Lexington Catholic Cup was played at the expansive polo fields of the Kentucky Horse Park. The sun was shining, two local teams were vying for bragging rights – Wickliffe Veterinary Pharmacy and Augustus Hill – and as one would expect, there were former racehorses all over the field.
The match benefited the newly-formed Equine Academy, a college preparatory academic enhancement program offered at Lexington Catholic High School. The four-year program offers students a myriad of professional exposures in all facets of the horse industry while also giving them daily classroom tutelage on equine management, in addition to their traditional high school curriculum.
“Chett Lott was instrumental in getting everything in place. He came up with the idea of offering tailgating opportunities at a Lexington polo match to benefit the Equine Academy, and the idea took off from there, with Crown Services signing on as a sponsor to offset the costs and make it a true fundraiser for us,” said the Academy's executive director, Sarah Coleman.
“Local polo pro Jorge Vasquez was fantastic too and gave our students a polo lesson on August 17 so they could sit on a horse, swing a mallet and really understand the dynamics of the game when they watched it this weekend. It really gave them the understanding that while it's fun and exciting, this is not an easy game to play.”
Since many of the spectators in attendance for the match were supporters of Lexington Catholic and polo novices, the Lexington Polo Club offered a lighthearted tutorial prior to the match, allowing people to better understand the basics of the game and the challenges players face on the field.
The play was spirited, but friendly, with each team boasting a current student of Lexington Catholic (Jate Bernard played for Wickliffe, and Trent Lott played for Augustus Hill). The final score of the match was a 4-4 tie with both teams displaying camaraderie, excellent horsemanship, and a fair amount of humor.
While all of the ponies played hard, one polo pony caught my eye, and she turned a few other heads too, resulting in her earning the title of Best Playing Pony at the conclusion of the match.
“Jambalaya is her polo name, and I actually just officially bought her the morning of the match, after originally leasing her for a six-goal match a few weeks earlier,” said Wickliffe Veterinary Pharmacy owner Jackie Bernard. “I purchased her from a pro named Louis Ansoles. He originally purchased her as a polo prospect from a training center in Louisiana, and most of her polo training was in Florida.”
What impressed Jackie about Jambalaya was how aggressively she played for Louis but also how she instantly adjusted to Jackie's level of play.
“She's quiet enough for my son to play but talented enough for a professional,” said Jackie. “One of the most impressive things about the mare is how quickly she can relax after a tough chucker. This past Sunday, she'd already played a chucker and a half in the six-goal match earlier that morning before I played her in the Equine Academy Cup. She had some unbelievable defensive moves that day. She is never willing to give up.”
Horses are a family affair for the Bernards. Aside from Jackie owning Wickliffe Veterinary Pharmacy, her husband, Bill, is a well-known veterinarian in Lexington and the founding partner of Lexington Equine Surgery and Sports Medicine.
“Polo to me is something we can do as a family, whether it's playing or spectating,” explained Jackie. “Jate [17 years-old] played with me in the Equine Academy Cup and is a 4.0 student and soccer player at Lexington Catholic. Jack is eight and is learning to play polo on his favorite horse, Tommy.”
That family mindset is the driver behind every one of Jackie's purchasing decisions when it comes to buying polo ponies.
“When choosing horses for our polo string, I look for horses I can play as well as ones I trust with my boys,” said Jackie. “Jambalaya will be a member of our family for many years to come. She's a very level-headed and quiet mare, but she's able to step up when asked.”
That knack for knowing a good horse when she sees one comes from years of experience. Jackie's equestrian background is deep and varied, having ridden most of her life and having spent time as a trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses before founding Wickliffe and playing polo with the Lexington Polo Club.
“I first got involved in polo as a beginner clinic at Saxony Farm and was hooked for life,” said Jackie. “At my level of polo, it's important to be as ‘well mounted' as possible, so you can focus on playing the game and not worry about the horses.
“Polo ponies take years to make and are mainly Thoroughbreds. They're built for the rigors of the sport and truly love the competitiveness. The older ones start to anticipate the play and actually follow the ball. They're amazing athletes. Just one more thing Thoroughbreds are good at!”
OTTB Showcase: JAMBALAYA
Height: 16 hands
Color: dk b/br
While Jambalaya was a racehorse in training at the time her original polo owner, Louis, purchased her from the training center in Louisiana, her tattoo is not completely legible and she did not come with her Jockey Club papers. New owner Jackie Bernard is interested in solving the mystery of who her talented OTTB truly is, and will give us an update when the answer is found.
If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos.
Jen Roytz is the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. She also handles the farm's Thoroughbred aftercare efforts. She currently retired Thoroughbred Point of Impact (by Point Given; a.k.a. Boomer), who retired from racing in late 2011 and is in training as a hunter/jumper. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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