For the past three years, Team USPA has sent players to Argentina to be mentored by 7 goal professional Gaston Lauhlé. 24 year old Todd Thurston and 21 year old Russell Stimmel were selected this year for this opportunity. Over the past 10 weeks, they have been sharing their experiences right here at PoloZone.com. Russell Stimmel gives us the latest update on their past couple weeks of training.
Two weeks ago today, Gaston turned out all of our horses due to the fact that they needed a rest after two months of riding. Gaston told us that we would each be given a young, very green horse to work with. These horses had been ridden once or twice in their entire lives and were very fresh coming off of a few months turned out on alfalfa! Todd and I took our time in the round pen each day adding a bit more pressure from the ground. This is when Todd’s past experience with Coca-Cola polo team trainer Brennan Whittle really started to show. Todd was dealing with a rank gelding who wasn’t afraid to kick and buck the day that the saddle was put on his back. By that afternoon Todd was riding the gelding in the round pen with a halter, which was quite impressive. The horse I was working with is Sugar Erskine’s three year old stud from impressive blood lines. He was a bit spicy the day I got on his back but I ended up riding him around the polo field. With our broncs in a good mental frame to end on, we felt that we had gotten something accomplished.
That weekend, we got to watch Gaston play in the Chapaleufu open. This tournament requires players above a four goal handicap to play. It was really impressive watching 20-24 goal polo. Gaston’s team ended up winning the Handicap Final, which was a nice way to end our stay in Intendente Alvear.
That Monday morning, Todd, Gaston, and myself left La Pampa for Olavarria, Buenos Aires where Gaston’s brother, Jean-Pierre has a polo club. As soon as we arrived, we played a practice. The fields were very nice and the horses gave us a good feel, especially after riding some rank green horses the week before. The following day, we practiced again and then had a bit of a break as the tournament started on Friday. During this time, Todd and myself accompanied one of Gaston’s head grooms named Epy to a nearby estancia owned by Jean-Pierre. This was an eye opening experience as Epy and a vet caught all of Gaston’s recipient mares’ embryo babies. Most of the babies were one to two and a half months old. The main idea is to try and get the colts used to being handled by people and to make sure they are healthy. Gaston told us that Epy does this several times a month. After this, we started the tournament; Todd and I were on the same team with a three goal local pro named Justo. Our game went well, but we were losing the entire time. We started the sixth chukker 8-5 and I drew a penalty on one of Sugar’s horses early on. Our team was awarded a penalty 3 and I sank it right down the middle. With no time to spare, we loped back to the throw-in and Chapa, our fourth player, scored a goal right away. With our momentum building, the opposing team began to up their attack, but we were able to shut them down time and time again. Justo scored a goal late in the chukker to tie it up. With less than a minute left on the clock Todd received a well placed pass from myself and scored the game winning goal. We were very happy to have come back to win, especially since all of us scored a goal in the last chukker to win as a team.
The next day we played against Gaston who had a decent squad of ringers on his team. The game went very similarly to the day before, and we came from behind by two goals to win. The tournament had six teams, which meant in order to make the finals someone on our team had to shoot penalties against another team to see who would advance. I was chosen, and the person I was shooting against was a four goal pro named Ramone. We flipped to see who would shoot first and I lost the coin toss so Ramone chose to shoot last. We had to shoot three times from the sixty yard line and in the event of a tie, we would keep shooting until someone missed. The horse I was on felt very nice warming up. She was a little mare but had a nice stride and placed me on the ball perfectly. I hit the first one right down the middle and this gave me the confidence to hit the next two right down the middle as well. Ramon missed his first penalty so our team was in the final the next day. I received many compliments on my shooting at the party right after the shoot out, but I think the mare should have received the most compliments.
The next day, Todd had to umpire the consolation game prior to the final with myself running the score board. Rain started to fall heavily in the last chukker and we were concerned that our final would be cancelled. Needless to say, the rain did not let up. We tried to play three chukkers, but once a horse ridden by a player on the other team fell, the umpires decided to call it quits. Unfortunately for us, the other team was winning when the game was called. My team mentioned that we should have another shoot out but the opposing team did not like the proposition, so the score stood, 4-2 in favor of the other team. We received very nice asado knives as the runner-up trophy’s and we came away from the tournament feeling good about ourselves, our horses and our team.
Now, Todd and I are in Palermo until tomorrow, and then we will go onto Pilar and play practices with Gaston until our trip comes to an end.