Some Like a Different Game

She likes to chew on her lead rope and occasionally this otherwise well-behaved mare will unplug the brake lights by disconnecting the the electrical cord between the truck and trailer. Then again, she once went by the name It’s All About Mary so it might be nothing more than a residual personality quirk.

Now known simply as Mary, the eight-year-old left Canterbury Park four years ago to join the ranks of the polo ponies who chase a ball, rather than a frontrunner, around the grounds of the Twin Cities Polo Club in Maple Plain.

The transition is not as far fetched as it might seem. “Thoroughbreds make good polo horses because they’re used to running and bumping,” said Cathy DeGonda, who adopted Mary from the racetrack after giving up on a horse that wasn’t taking to the game.

For what it’s worth, there are other connections between racing and polo, too, as far back as 1876 when the first outdoor polo game in the U.S. was arranged by a group that included August Belmont and was played at the former Jerome Park Racetrack in New York, where the first runnings of the Belmont Stakes were also conducted.

The august Belmont was a promiment citizen of the area and the time, respected enough to have a racetrack named in his honor.

DeGonda is starting her 12th season of playing polo. A native of Minnetonka, she was on a trail ride with a girlfriend who started to play the game when the subject was broached. “I went to watch her play. I took a couple of lessons and was hooked,” DeGonda said. “That was it.”

The game of polo requires a participant to have a virtual remuda on hand, no fewer than three or four ponies and more if possible. Ideally a polo player has remount for each of the six chukkers (periods or quarters in other games) that make up a polo match.

“Typically to play a game you need at least three horses, if not more,” DeGonda said. Although the same horse can be used in two chukkers of a game, they need a solid rest before returning. A chukker consists of seven minutes of nearly constant stopping, starting and running. “Most people, after playing the game for awhile, will get six horses. Some will bring six or more to a game,” DeGonda added.

Which takes a real commitment and a large trailer, too.

It takes stamina and a propensity for running. “That’s why these thoroughbreds make good polo horses,” Gonda added. “They’re used to a lot of running.”

Mary, unlike DeGonda’s previous horse, was a natural at the game. “She was very calm and easy to teach,” DeGonda said. “I started working her lightly that first fall, rode her on a bunch of trail rides and even took her on a long fox hound hunt. The next spring I started training her.”

Mary not only took to the game but started displaying a real enjoyment for it.

“She loves playing polo. She loves chasing the ball,” DeGona explained.

Polo ponies play the game as young as three years old. “People will play them into their early 20s,” DeGonda added. “They start to slow down a bit about that age, but they know so much by then and they like the exercise.”

Getting a pony in condition to play polo is not unlike training for other equine athletic endeavors.

“We start walking , then trotting, then sets of trots,” DeGonda said. “We’ll do a couple of miles for two weeks or so and then go into cantering.”

Then the real practice begins. “We go out and start hitting the ball and chasing it.”

Mary is a chesnut, about 15.2 hands, with two white hind socks. She’s just about the right size for DeGonda. “You don’t want one so tall you can’t reach the ball with your mallet. I had one once about 16 hands, pretty tall but a terrific horse.”

Once DeGonda made the decision to part with her former horse, she worked out a trade deal, giving the horse to a friend of Canterbury’s state vet Lynn Hovda, who in turn found Mary for her.

Mary is eager to please and unbothered by much of anything, calm enough that an 11-year-old girl has used her to play polo. When the girl approaches her with the bridle, Mary will drop her head to make matters easier for the youngster.

All three of DeGonda’s polo ponies are former racehorses from Canterbury. She has Susie, who raced under the name “Playit,” and she has Boodini, whose name is unchanged.

“Each one has its own characteristics,” DeGonda said, although Mary has played the game more than the others and is a bit more experienced.

Don’t take Mary’s good-natured disposition for granted, either. She’s in charge of the paddock at the DeGonda farm. She runs the show.

“She’s bigger than the other two,” DeGonda added. “She’s the boss.”

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Some Like a Different Game

She likes to chew on her lead rope and occasionally this otherwise well-behaved mare will unplug the brake lights by disconnecting the the electrical cord between the truck and trailer. Then again, she once went by the name It’s All About Mary so it might be nothing more than a residual personality quirk.

Now known simply as Mary, the eight-year-old left Canterbury Park four years ago to join the ranks of the polo ponies who chase a ball, rather than a frontrunner, around the grounds of the Twin Cities Polo Club in Maple Plain.

The transition is not as far fetched as it might seem. “Thoroughbreds make good polo horses because they’re used to running and bumping,” said Cathy DeGonda, who adopted Mary from the racetrack after giving up on a horse that wasn’t taking to the game.

For what it’s worth, there are other connections between racing and polo, too, as far back as 1876 when the first outdoor polo game in the U.S. was arranged by a group that included August Belmont and was played at the former Jerome Park Racetrack in New York, where the first runnings of the Belmont Stakes were also conducted.

The august Belmont was a promiment citizen of the area and the time, respected enough to have a racetrack named in his honor.

DeGonda is starting her 12th season of playing polo. A native of Minnetonka, she was on a trail ride with a girlfriend who started to play the game when the subject was broached. “I went to watch her play. I took a couple of lessons and was hooked,” DeGonda said. “That was it.”

The game of polo requires a participant to have a virtual remuda on hand, no fewer than three or four ponies and more if possible. Ideally a polo player has remount for each of the six chukkers (periods or quarters in other games) that make up a polo match.

“Typically to play a game you need at least three horses, if not more,” DeGonda said. Although the same horse can be used in two chukkers of a game, they need a solid rest before returning. A chukker consists of seven minutes of nearly constant stopping, starting and running. “Most people, after playing the game for awhile, will get six horses. Some will bring six or more to a game,” DeGonda added.

Which takes a real commitment and a large trailer, too.

It takes stamina and a propensity for running. “That’s why these thoroughbreds make good polo horses,” Gonda added. “They’re used to a lot of running.”

Mary, unlike DeGonda’s previous horse, was a natural at the game. “She was very calm and easy to teach,” DeGonda said. “I started working her lightly that first fall, rode her on a bunch of trail rides and even took her on a long fox hound hunt. The next spring I started training her.”

Mary not only took to the game but started displaying a real enjoyment for it.

“She loves playing polo. She loves chasing the ball,” DeGona explained.

Polo ponies play the game as young as three years old. “People will play them into their early 20s,” DeGonda added. “They start to slow down a bit about that age, but they know so much by then and they like the exercise.”

Getting a pony in condition to play polo is not unlike training for other equine athletic endeavors.

“We start walking , then trotting, then sets of trots,” DeGonda said. “We’ll do a couple of miles for two weeks or so and then go into cantering.”

Then the real practice begins. “We go out and start hitting the ball and chasing it.”

Mary is a chesnut, about 15.2 hands, with two white hind socks. She’s just about the right size for DeGonda. “You don’t want one so tall you can’t reach the ball with your mallet. I had one once about 16 hands, pretty tall but a terrific horse.”

Once DeGonda made the decision to part with her former horse, she worked out a trade deal, giving the horse to a friend of Canterbury’s state vet Lynn Hovda, who in turn found Mary for her.

Mary is eager to please and unbothered by much of anything, calm enough that an 11-year-old girl has used her to play polo. When the girl approaches her with the bridle, Mary will drop her head to make matters easier for the youngster.

All three of DeGonda’s polo ponies are former racehorses from Canterbury. She has Susie, who raced under the name “Playit,” and she has Boodini, whose name is unchanged.

“Each one has its own characteristics,” DeGonda said, although Mary has played the game more than the others and is a bit more experienced.

Don’t take Mary’s good-natured disposition for granted, either. She’s in charge of the paddock at the DeGonda farm. She runs the show.

“She’s bigger than the other two,” DeGonda added. “She’s the boss.”

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

A Good Idea Made Better

Sometimes what seems like a good idea turns out to be something altogether different. In this case, a horse named Good Idea wasn’t so good at one thing but is pretty good at another. He was Good Idea when he had a stall in Vic Hanson’s barn at Canterbury Park, even though a wager on him was not. Four years later, he’s a horse of basically the same color but a different stripe. He’s competing as a jumper and doing just fine. “He’s a good jumper,” said trainer Heather Parish. “He’s a good student and a good learner.”

Good Idea, it appears, has the athletic gene going for him; he was simply being schooled in the wrong sport.

Can you imagine, for example, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., the best boxer alive, as a swimmer, or a point guard? Hardly. Or Adrian Peterson as a dancer. He’s a ballet artist at times on the artificial turf, but no one would consider matching him against Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Albert Einstein was a pretty darn good numbers guy. How do you think he might have done, say, as an opponent for Mayweather. Or Mayweather, for that matter, trying to explain E =MC2. The point is you got to be where you belong.

In the case of Good Idea, competing against jumpers apparently suits his abilities more than running against his own kind. “He could run,” said Hanson. “But then he’d stop.” He made five career starts and never hit the board.

Good Idea needed to be where he belonged. He was like a duck out of water on the backside at Canterbury Park, like a centerfielder on a football field, or a planetary scientist going one-on-one with Derrick Rose.

He needed a good home and a new occupation.

Lynn Hovda, the state veterinarian at Canterbury Park, was familiar with the horse and placed a call to Parish when it became apparent he needed a second career choice. “She knew him and thought he would be a good jumper. And he is,” Parish added.

Hovda has a familial connection to Parish. Her daughter, Tyne, who is following her mother’s path and studying veterinary medicine at Texas A&M, trains with Parish. “She also helps out with a lot of the vet stuff here,” added Parish.

“Here” is the Mary Jo Cody show farm in Hugo, where Parish has 18 horses in training, including five former racehorses and where Hovda keeps her horses, too. Cody shelled out $1,500 for Good Idea and then gave him to Parish.

Good Idea is a gentle sort, easy to be around, eager to please, although he does on occasion demonstrate an envious side.

“He gets terribly jealous if he sees me with another horse,” Parish said. “He’ll snarl at us.”

Parish exercises a great deal of patience with the new horses in her barn. “Good Idea is in competition but I haven’t showed him over real big jumps yet,” she said.”He got a first and a second at Mason City, Iowa (recently) but I’m taking it a lot slower with him, three feet jumps or so.”

Parish acquired Good Idea sight unseen, with only the slightest physical description of what she was getting. “He’s about 16.1 hands,” Parish said, “with a white blaze and white socks”

She has been around her game for quite some time. She won a gold medal in the Summer Olympic Festival individual show jumping in 1994. The medal, of course, is in safe hands. “It’s at my mother’s house,” said Parish. “I’m 38 but I’m still not allowed to have it.”

What Parish does have is plenty of business, enough to keep her going anywhere from six or eight to 16 hours some days. She is originally from Maplewood and graduated from Mounds Park Academy before graduating from Skidmore College in – ahem! – Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Any trips to the Mecca, Heather? “Oh, you bet I went.”

Parish then taught fourth grade for several years in California before returning home in the autumn of 2001. She has worked with Cody most of the time since returning to Minnesota and has been at the farm full time the last five years.

“I couldn’t ask for a better job,” she said.

Good Idea couldn’t ask for a better home. He caught his new owner’s attention immediately upon arriving at the Cody farm as a three-year-old. That was four summers ago.

“Lynn told us he had a lot of bling to him,” Parish said. “He does have all those white markings going for him.”

Good Idea picked up a nickname as a result. “We call him Elton,” Parish added.

After Elton John, of course.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

A Second Career for Racehorses

Early in the last century the Milwaukee and Northern Pacific railroads transported settlers intent on farming to various stops in southwestern North Dakota. It wasn’t long before many of those hopeful homesteaders discovered they’d been duped, that the Little Missouri breaks were nearly worthless for producing anything but heartaches and couldn’t provide a living for their families. Many of them left.  Many of the resilient descendents of those who stayed are there yet today. Dr. Dick Bowman is one of them.

The badlands near Bowman, N.D., are anything but fertile ground but have served Bowman nonetheless the many years he has kept a working cattle ranch on 4,000 acres of that unyielding soil. It has served the horse community, too, the last decade, ever since Bowman, who specializes in equine dentistry, began hauling home truckloads of infirm or retired thoroughbreds in need of rest, rehabilitation, dental work or, in some cases, surgery once the racing season at Canterbury Park ended.

Land that couldn’t produce a stalk of corn or shaft of wheat has given new life to hundreds of horses. The Bowman spread was unofficially dubbed the Second Chance Ranch although he suspects the name is already taken, maybe even copyrighted. The horses themselves, more than 40 arrivals from Shakopee at the close of the 2011 meet, aren’t concerned with such particulars and have gone about the business of adjusting to life after racing. Many of them are rehabilitated and then placed with people anxiously awaiting a new mount for the dressage ring or for hunting and jumping, maybe even polo. Some, especially those with incurable lameness or other maladies, will be retired permanently to pasture. Nearly 50 rescued from Shakopee the last two summers are still at Bowman’s ranch.

The details are fuzzy now about how it started. “I never did it with the idea that it was going to turn into something big,” Bowman said. “Somebody had a lame horse, a nice horse, and I didn’t want to see it destroyed so I brought it home with me.” Word spread and each year Bowman had a few more horses that accompanied him home. “One trainer wanted to retire two horses a couple of years ago so he brought them up from Florida specifically to get them into this program,” Bowman added. “That speaks well for the owner and the trainer and it’s happened more than once. I’ve had horses come from Oklahoma and Kansas, too.”

Although he’s done nothing to publicize the program, Bowman has had inquiries from Florida to California about the rescue operation. He has nearly used up his supply of friends willing to take one of his animals after it has healed and adjusted to “civilian” life. There isn’t a big market in North Dakota as it is for thoroughbreds, who make good hunters and jumpers or dressage horses once their racing careers have ended but can’t match a quarter horse for herding cattle. Many of those retired racehorses begin their second careers with English saddles on their backs, a rare sight indeed in southwestern North Dakota.

“The biggest issue is finding a place for these horses once they’re done racing,” Bowman added. Just recently, he returned eight horses to waiting families in the Twin Cities. It is 600 miles from Canterbury Park to the “Second Chance Ranch.” Shipping costs have risen sharply with climbing fuel prices; the diesel fuel alone was $6,000 for the 40-some horses that left Canterbury for the Bowman ranch last autumn. Somehow, Bowman and others involved in the project get the job done.

As Dr. Lynn Hovda, the state veterinarian at Canterbury put it, “it really takes a village back here (the Canterbury stable area) to make this program work.” Horsemen have pitched in. So have backside veterinarians. Canterbury Park president Randy Sampson has written checks to to help finance the program. Hovda says that it started “almost a dozen years” ago. “Dr. Bowman and I were sitting in the office on the backside when we discovered that some horses needed a place. I had a few empty pasture slots at my place. He said he had pasture at his.

“We have about five to seven vets who are licensed here and three on the backside on a daily basis,” Hovda added. Kim and Kevin Voller and Dr. Tracey Turner of Anoka Equine, Dave Sorum and his wife Alicia, Stephen Day, Sandy Larson. If we ask any of them to help out,  they’re willing.” Scott Rhone frequently volunteers his services as a farrier. The Vollers and other vets on the backside often provide surgery for injured animals.

“We have horses with bowed tendons or suspensory problems,” Hovda added. “A lot of people back here help out. My own farrier, Ron Gustafon, has pulled shoes for us at no charge.  Diane Logue has helped procure feed for us at a good discount. Art and Gretchen Eaton (longtime Minnesota breeders and thoroughbred owners) have taken horses to their farm. The HBPA has helped out. Dr. Christy Klatt does all of the paperwork. My husband, Bob, has built box stalls for us. Bless his soul, he has been very good about picking up horses on short notice, too.”

When the horses arrive in South Dakota each one has its teeth checked, and bowed tendons, injured suspensories and broken bones are tended to by Bowman and volunteers from the University of Minnesota veterinary program. There is another rescue operation at work on Canterbury’s backside as well. The Minnesota Retired Racehorse Project and Dr. Jennifer Selvig have helped place horses with new owners the last four years.

That organization is undergoing some changes this year but is willing to help place horses in new homes nonetheless. “We try to connect people and horses,” Dr. Selvig said. “We help people advertise their horses and sell or place them.”  Selvig began grooming and ponying horses at Canterbury in 2003 and has been a licensed veteriarian at the track since 2007.

Hovda says none of it would work without the volunteers that offer help summer after summer. Still, she credits the “heavy lifting” to Bowman. “He does the brunt of it,” she said,”taking 40 to 50 horses a year.”

The unanswered question, of course – one that Bowman has been asked before – concerns the city of Bowman. Was it named after his grandfather, John Bowman, who homesteaded the area in 1908 but left during the depression? Was it named after his father, Leonard, who returned in 1945 and bought the land that today is home to cattle and retired racehorses from Minnesota?

Neither, according to Dr. Bowman. It was conincidence.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

A Second Career for Racehorses

Early in the last century the Milwaukee and Northern Pacific railroads transported settlers intent on farming to various stops in southwestern North Dakota. It wasn’t long before many of those hopeful homesteaders discovered they’d been duped, that the Little Missouri breaks were nearly worthless for producing anything but heartaches and couldn’t provide a living for their families. Many of them left.  Many of the resilient descendents of those who stayed are there yet today. Dr. Dick Bowman is one of them.

The badlands near Bowman, N.D., are anything but fertile ground but have served Bowman nonetheless the many years he has kept a working cattle ranch on 4,000 acres of that unyielding soil. It has served the horse community, too, the last decade, ever since Bowman, who specializes in equine dentistry, began hauling home truckloads of infirm or retired thoroughbreds in need of rest, rehabilitation, dental work or, in some cases, surgery once the racing season at Canterbury Park ended.

Land that couldn’t produce a stalk of corn or shaft of wheat has given new life to hundreds of horses. The Bowman spread was unofficially dubbed the Second Chance Ranch although he suspects the name is already taken, maybe even copyrighted. The horses themselves, more than 40 arrivals from Shakopee at the close of the 2011 meet, aren’t concerned with such particulars and have gone about the business of adjusting to life after racing. Many of them are rehabilitated and then placed with people anxiously awaiting a new mount for the dressage ring or for hunting and jumping, maybe even polo. Some, especially those with incurable lameness or other maladies, will be retired permanently to pasture. Nearly 50 rescued from Shakopee the last two summers are still at Bowman’s ranch.

The details are fuzzy now about how it started. “I never did it with the idea that it was going to turn into something big,” Bowman said. “Somebody had a lame horse, a nice horse, and I didn’t want to see it destroyed so I brought it home with me.” Word spread and each year Bowman had a few more horses that accompanied him home. “One trainer wanted to retire two horses a couple of years ago so he brought them up from Florida specifically to get them into this program,” Bowman added. “That speaks well for the owner and the trainer and it’s happened more than once. I’ve had horses come from Oklahoma and Kansas, too.”

Although he’s done nothing to publicize the program, Bowman has had inquiries from Florida to California about the rescue operation. He has nearly used up his supply of friends willing to take one of his animals after it has healed and adjusted to “civilian” life. There isn’t a big market in North Dakota as it is for thoroughbreds, who make good hunters and jumpers or dressage horses once their racing careers have ended but can’t match a quarter horse for herding cattle. Many of those retired racehorses begin their second careers with English saddles on their backs, a rare sight indeed in southwestern North Dakota.

“The biggest issue is finding a place for these horses once they’re done racing,” Bowman added. Just recently, he returned eight horses to waiting families in the Twin Cities. It is 600 miles from Canterbury Park to the “Second Chance Ranch.” Shipping costs have risen sharply with climbing fuel prices; the diesel fuel alone was $6,000 for the 40-some horses that left Canterbury for the Bowman ranch last autumn. Somehow, Bowman and others involved in the project get the job done.

As Dr. Lynn Hovda, the state veterinarian at Canterbury put it, “it really takes a village back here (the Canterbury stable area) to make this program work.” Horsemen have pitched in. So have backside veterinarians. Canterbury Park president Randy Sampson has written checks to to help finance the program. Hovda says that it started “almost a dozen years” ago. “Dr. Bowman and I were sitting in the office on the backside when we discovered that some horses needed a place. I had a few empty pasture slots at my place. He said he had pasture at his.

“We have about five to seven vets who are licensed here and three on the backside on a daily basis,” Hovda added. Kim and Kevin Voller and Dr. Tracey Turner of Anoka Equine, Dave Sorum and his wife Alicia, Stephen Day, Sandy Larson. If we ask any of them to help out,  they’re willing.” Scott Rhone frequently volunteers his services as a farrier. The Vollers and other vets on the backside often provide surgery for injured animals.

“We have horses with bowed tendons or suspensory problems,” Hovda added. “A lot of people back here help out. My own farrier, Ron Gustafon, has pulled shoes for us at no charge.  Diane Logue has helped procure feed for us at a good discount. Art and Gretchen Eaton (longtime Minnesota breeders and thoroughbred owners) have taken horses to their farm. The HBPA has helped out. Dr. Christy Klatt does all of the paperwork. My husband, Bob, has built box stalls for us. Bless his soul, he has been very good about picking up horses on short notice, too.”

When the horses arrive in South Dakota each one has its teeth checked, and bowed tendons, injured suspensories and broken bones are tended to by Bowman and volunteers from the University of Minnesota veterinary program. There is another rescue operation at work on Canterbury’s backside as well. The Minnesota Retired Racehorse Project and Dr. Jennifer Selvig have helped place horses with new owners the last four years.

That organization is undergoing some changes this year but is willing to help place horses in new homes nonetheless. “We try to connect people and horses,” Dr. Selvig said. “We help people advertise their horses and sell or place them.”  Selvig began grooming and ponying horses at Canterbury in 2003 and has been a licensed veteriarian at the track since 2007.

Hovda says none of it would work without the volunteers that offer help summer after summer. Still, she credits the “heavy lifting” to Bowman. “He does the brunt of it,” she said,”taking 40 to 50 horses a year.”

The unanswered question, of course – one that Bowman has been asked before – concerns the city of Bowman. Was it named after his grandfather, John Bowman, who homesteaded the area in 1908 but left during the depression? Was it named after his father, Leonard, who returned in 1945 and bought the land that today is home to cattle and retired racehorses from Minnesota?

Neither, according to Dr. Bowman. It was conincidence.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.