By PAMELA CODY
Special to the PRESS
South Padre Island was the location of the First Annual SPI Stables Polo Match on Sunday, March 1st, with SPI Stables facing off against Team McAllen on the bayside at the Shores on South Padre Island. The purpose of the event was to spread the enjoyment of the sport of polo in the Rio Grande Valley and to educate the public about the sport.
Organizing & headlining the event was rodeo rider and lifelong RGV cowboy Pud Nieto, owner of the SPI Equestrian and Events Centre located at 8605 Padre Blvd. on SPI. Pud, a professional rodeo rider and father of 2 hailing from San Perlita, Texas, has been riding since the age of 3. According to Pud, “I started playing polo in 1990 with Dr. Frank Yturria – he got me started on polo.” Nieto started his Island horseback riding business in January of 2014, offering beach horseback riding and both riding and polo lessons at his facility, located on the north end of South Padre Island by The Shores.
For many of the attendees, this was their first polo experience, and veteran horsewoman Jill McClure of Rio Hondo wore a variety of hats for the event, serving as emcee, announcer, scorekeeper & timekeeper. She offered much needed play-by-play, commentary, facts and tidbits about the sport of polo throughout the match, and explained the basic rules of polo to the crowd. “Polo is a team sport played on horseback. Matches are divided into sections called chukkers, lasting 7 and a half minutes each, with 4 minutes in between to change horses.” Teams can range from 3 on 3 to 7 on 7, with the object of the game being to score by driving a small white ball into the opponents’ net using a long-handled mallet. The sport originated in Asia and Persia around 6th century BC to 1 AD, and is currently played in 16 countries. It was formerly but is not currently an Olympic sport. McClure said, “I used to ride and play, so I know the game.” McClure, owner of LT Ranchwear & Interiors of Rio Hondo, Texas, has been riding since the age of 4 but hasn’t played polo in 15 years. “I used to play so I know the game. These guys can hit the ball – you can get hurt if you can’t keep up with the group.”
Marion Melrose, originally from Montreal, Canada but currently living on SPI, was excited about the event. “I think it’s great that they’re having this – I’ve never seen a polo match before!” she said enthusiastically, commenting, “I thought the balls would be bigger…” after the requisite dead silence, she burst out laughing, saying “I guess I walked into that one!” Another charming observer of the day’s festivities was 5-year-old Katlyn Nieto, daughter of competitor Pud Nieto. Toting a stuffed animal and wearing cowboy boots, Katelyn enthusiastically participated in the stomping of the divots at the halfway mark of the match, where the audience is invited to come onto the field and stomp divots into place before the next half of play. The purpose is to help prevent the horses from becoming injured by landing in a hole in the playing field during the remainder of the game. When asked about her dad’s mount, Katlyn didn’t know the name of her dad’s horse, but nodded enthusiastically when asked if she’d ever ridden it. “Yup – he bucked me off!” she said matter-of-factly, smiling with a gap-toothed grin.
SPI Stables won the match over team McAllen, but there will also be a SPI Stable Golf Tournament on Monday, March 2nd, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting AMI, an organization that helps at-risk kids have another chance at life. For information about horseback riding, polo lessons, beach horseback riding or polo event information, contact Pud Nieto at (956)-761-7743 or visit his riding facilities located at 8605 Padre Blvd. on South Padre Island.
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