While many may balk at her robust athletic figure, 12-year-old grey mare Disney has proven that a “typey” polo pony physique is not everything. An off-the-track Thoroughbred from Canada, out of Vying Princess by Orchid’s Devil, she carries more weight than your average polo pony, but her willingness and stamina have placed her at the top of Klentner Ranch staple Jesse Bray’s* string. As last year’s Pacific Coast Open (PCO) Final Best Playing Pony she played part of a jaw dropping five chukkers including a portion of the first of two overtime periods. While their partnership has been solid from the start, Bray admits that it has taken five years to perfect the details of her regime to reach the peak of her abilities. Further proving that the inner workings of the relationship between horse and rider are paramount to performance. Vying for the fourth time to garner their first Pacific Coast Open title together, she is the horse Bray depends on when it really matters. An all-around wonder horse, Bray’s girlfriend Hayley Heatley also relies on the mare when playing in lower goal polo. The USPA sat down with Bray and Heatley at the Klentner Ranch barn in Carpinteria, California, to learn more about the grey powerhouse with a winning personality that equals her huge heart on the field:
How did she come to be in your string?
Jesse: “I got her from Joseph Stuart in Indio [California]. Ashton Wolf trained her and Joseph Stuart had her for about a year and a half before me. Originally, I watched Joseph try her in a Governor’s Cup Final. I really liked her in that game and I told Ashton, ‘if Joseph doesn’t buy her, I want to try her.’ Joseph ended up buying her, but from then on, I told Joseph every time I saw him, ‘let me try her.’ Eventually, he took her to Florida and played her in the 12 goal in Sarasota [Florida], but he didn’t get along with her that well. And then when he got to Santa Barbara [California] that summer, it was the first time he had the opportunity to play the 20-goal here, he told me she wasn’t one of his best ones and if I wanted to try her I could. She was a little newer, he bought her as a five-year-old, so she was a little green still. I played her one time and I bought her straight off the one time. She’s been one of my best horses since then.”
“She’s got a big heart and a big motor. She can go and go and go—she always finds a way to keep going.” – Jesse Bray
What chukker do you normally play her?
Jesse: “Lately I have been starting on her in the first and I bring her back as a spare in either the fifth or the sixth.”
What do you think sets her apart from the other horses in your string?
Jesse: “She’s a winner. In any fifty-fifty play that I have, I know that she’s going to win and it’s just up to me to hit the ball. She doesn’t like to lose any ride offs, she doesn’t like to lose any short plays, she just seems to find a way to win each play. She’s got a big heart and a big motor. She can go and go and go—she always finds a way to keep going.
Last year in the [PCO] final she played a little bit of the first, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and then when we went to overtime she played in the seventh chukker. Overtimes are usually only a minute, two minutes maybe, and I knew she could give me that. So I played her in the seventh as well, thinking that she would give me just a couple more minutes, but we played the whole overtime chukker. She’s definitely proven herself to go for it. Plus, after the final she stayed up all month long to play women’s polo in September.”
Hayley: “I think the coolest thing about her is that she’s an absolute pet in the barn. She is the horse that sticks her head over your shoulder in the barn, looking for treats generally. Last year she played the PCO and the next week she played in pro pool and the women’s league and she was perfect. I feel like it’s rare to have a horse that can play at the top level of polo down to my level of polo without a problem. She just has a great mind and doesn’t do more than I ask.”
How has your partnership grown over the past five years?
Jesse: “The first year I got her, I didn’t have a chance to really play her all that much. It wasn’t until the next summer that she started to become one of my better horses and the more I got to know her, the better she did for me. The more I played her too, the more minutes she plays, the better she goes. She’s a very heavy mare, I pull her out of pasture and she’s fat as can be, everybody laughs at her and it takes a while to get her fit. Right now, I’m just starting to feel her going well. The whole summer long, she never really felt that fit, that ready, until now basically. She takes a while to get going.”
Does Disney get any special treatment?
Jesse: “She did for a while, which is why she never really went that well for me, because I babied her too much since she is a heavy mare. The second season of the 16-goal when I played with Geronimo [Obregon] and Facundo [Obregon] the first time I saved her for the end. I thought, she’s my best one, and I had just finished playing the 20 goal in Florida and she was my best horse there as well. I didn’t want to play her that much here until the end and I saved her almost all of July. I started putting her in games in August and she was never good. She never felt fit, because she is such a heavy mare and I took care of her too much. Then last year I just said screw it, I’m going to play her the whole season from the beginning. Maybe not two chukkers from the beginning or two halves, but play her hard and by the start of the PCO she was feeling at her best. She peaked at the PCO which is ideal and this year she feels the same. It took me a couple seasons to figure her out because of that, but I know now once she’s fit and she’s at her best, that she is my best.”
What are your plans for Disney’s future?
Jesse: “Somebody told me that one of her full sisters was a very good racehorse and that her foals are being sold for pretty good money. Once she retires from me I am thinking about breeding her to a racing stallion. I was told I could actually make some money from her racing blood, not just her polo blood.”
Make sure to tune in to Klentner Ranch’s Silver Air Pacific Coast Open semifinal against Sol de Agosto on Thursday, August 30 at 7:00pm ET to watch Disney and Bray in action on uspolo.org.
*Jesse Bray is a member of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.