Texas cow horses have played a role in the growth of polo.
Jay Winborn may be executive director for the National Reined Cow Horse Association, but the topic of polo is likely to come up when visiting with him.
It’s true Winborn’s daily job revolves around cow horses. But the former professional polo player—who still has five horses and plays for recreation—can’t resist talking about the equine sport he still loves.
“My equine background revolves around polo,” Winborn says. “That’s what I grew up doing, and I spent a large part of my life doing it as a profession.”
What many people don’t realize, he says, is the role Texas and cow horses have played in the sport. Winborn grew up in the Dallas, Texas, area, during a time when polo was all the rage there. Dallasite Norman Brinker, known in the business world for founding restaurants including Steak & Ale, Chili’s and Bennigan’s, was an avid polo player and competed on the U.S. equestrian team at the 1952 Olympics. He helped develop the Dallas polo scene, which was active from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s, through his Willow Bend Polo and Hunt Club. It was one of the largest polo clubs in the United States.
“At one time a lot of the top players were coming from [Dallas], and the East Coast bluebloods would come down here to buy horses,” Winborn says. “And they would buy ranch horses. There’s kind of a close connection between the cow horse and the American polo horse. Those horses had all the skills that a polo horse needs: stop, turn quickly and accelerate.
“That is still going on to some degree, but now [training] is more specialized. Because the game has progressed and gotten faster, more Thoroughbreds are being utilized now. But there are still a lot of Quarter Horses in polo.”
Read Jay Winborn’s insights on the cow horse industry in the September 2015 issue.