A lifetime in polo is one way to take you to the top level of the sport. However, for Ricardo “Zorrino” Force, who started at the top at a young age, he has managed to stay there throughout his entire career. Coming from a family of five siblings who all have pursued work as grooms in the equine industry, Zorrino’s four children have followed suit in the family vocation. At 62, he is still going strong and continues to work for some of the top players in the world. Hailing from the town of 25 de Mayo in Argentina, where several of polo’s well known players call home, he has traveled all over the world for the love of the game.
Laughing and smiling in his tack room at the Outback barns behind the International Polo Club Palm Beach, holding his custom “El Zorrino Polo” maté gourd and wearing his token boina*, he tells his story with gusto. One thing that is clear is his appreciation and love for the animals of this sport; the horses. His attention to detail and constant monitoring is obvious when walking along the barn aisles. The shining coats of the horses and the peacefulness they display is a testament to how he runs his day-to-day operations. “It is so important to always have eyes on them.” He says as we ask him to pose with one of his favorite polo ponies. Currently the head groom for Gonzalito Pieres, who is playing for Pilot this season, Zorrino opened his doors and shared a bit of his history and what he believes is most important in taking care of a top string of horses in high-goal polo.
When did people start calling you Zorrino?
“I was wearing an Adidas jacket with the three white stripes running down the sleeves and a friend told me I looked like a ‘zorrino,’ which means skunk in Spanish. I have been called Zorrino ever since. I believe that if you mentioned my real name, people wouldn’t know who you were talking about!”
How did you get your start in polo?
“When I was 12 or 13 years old, I saw polo for the first time and I told myself, ‘one day I will work in polo.’ That day came when I started working at the Aguerre farm with Mariano Aguerre’s father – Martin Aguerre, in Argentina.”
When did you start grooming high-goal?
“I have worked my whole life in high-goal polo. I think it would be impossible for me to work in lower goal because I love the intensity of the high-goal. I like to always be ready and to feel important, making sure that everything is perfect for the player I’m working for. The adrenaline and excitement is what keeps me going.”
Describe an average day for you?
“I wake up at 4:00am every day and I arrive at the barn at 4:15 on the dot. I give the horses food and check that each and every one is okay. I brush them, take them on set, single them or whatever it is they need that day. We finish at about 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning with all the horses muzzled, brushed and curried, all the tack clean, the barn perfect and spotless. Every day it is the same. If you come tomorrow, you will see that everything is always clean, always perfect. Then we come back around 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon. Depending on what is happening that day, Gonzalito [Pieres] might be singling, stick-and-balling or we have a practice or game. We finish around 7:30 or 8:00 in the evening after I have had maté with Gonzalito to discuss what will happen the following day. There are many days where I will stay at the barn from 4:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night and that is a normal day for me. I have twenty horses total at the moment and four helpers, more horses will come for the 26-goal tournaments. Sometimes it takes all day to make sure everything is done right.”
As a polo groom, what do you think separates a good horse from a great one?
“A top horse has everything you want; you can run fast, it turns this way and that way, but it is also quiet and won’t run away with you. If you watch me ride ‘So Easy’ – one of Gonzalito’s top horses, the reins are like having a joystick, you move your hands forward and she accelerates, you turn this way and she is there, you stop and she is there – she does everything, she’s incredible. A great horse is automatic. Anyone should be able to ride it.”
What do you love most about grooming?
“Waking up early! I love waking up at 4:00 in the morning and spending all day at the barn. Some days I don’t go home until late at night because there is an asado** or people want to stay and talk. That doesn’t bother me, I will still be here at 4:00 in the morning the next day.”
What is your favorite memory from your career in high-goal polo?
“In 2009 when Facundo [Pieres] and Gonzalito won the U. S. Open [Polo Championship®] with Audi. It was an overtime chukker that played two or three minutes. The ball went across the field and went out, back across the field and out again, and then one last time across the field and Facundo made the goal. It was one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of.”
Do you have a favorite horse that you will always remember?
“It’s impossible for me to choose just one. I’m lucky because I have so many nice horses all over the world. Right now, I would like to say ‘So Easy’ is close to my favorite. Every single person I’ve worked with has had amazing horses. Gonzalo Pieres, Adolfo Cambiaso, Tincho Merlos, Carlos Gracida, Martin Aguerre, Gonzalito Pieres, each and every one has or has had amazing horses. I definitely remember some of the great ones, but I simply can’t pick just one. There are too many nice ones that I have enjoyed working with.”
What do you consider the most important aspect of horse care?
“Their fitness, that the horses are always healthy. Always being aware of their moods, how they are eating, that they nicker when you feed them in the morning and are happy when you take off their muzzles, how they move, and how their legs and feet look. If they change anything in their demeanor or appearance I try to figure out if there is something wrong.”
Who has been your biggest mentor or influence in polo and why?
“Martin Aguerre, he was the first person I worked for, I watched his every move. My whole life I have always watched the people around me and taken little tricks and advice and put them in my pocket to use on the horses I am taking care of. It’s similar to how I learned English. I never went to school to learn the language, I listened around the barn and everywhere we traveled and I picked up as much as I could. Polo is wonderful that way. You can learn so much from so many people.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
“Eventually I would like to retire with my own horses back in Argentina. Not now, but in ten years maybe I’ll be there. I will still get up early but I will be taking care of my own horses.”
What advice would you give younger grooms beginning their careers in polo?
“Wake up early, listen, and watch everything. You can always learn from everyone around you. Today, the younger generation that is just starting in polo still wants to experience the night life and stay up late. This is impossible if you want to make it in high-goal polo. We get up early to provide the best possible care for the horses, and if you can’t get out of bed, maybe you are not ready to work in this sport.”
*Boina is the Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan word for beret.
**Asado is an Argentine style barbecue