It was cold outside as Garrett Smith gently wrapped his arm around the neck of a brown Thoroughbred.
But the Canadian didn’t seem to mind the brisk weather.
After all, he was heading to warmer temperatures in California to do something he loves: train horses and play polo.
Smith and his uncle, Borden, made an overnight stop with eight horses at Linn Golter’s rural Fremont home. Golter’s sister, June, is married to Borden’s brother, Sheldon.
After a stopover in Fremont, the uncle and nephew continued their almost 2,000-mile trek to Indio, California, where Garrett, 24, plans to assemble a team and play polo until returning with the horses to Canada in April.
The horses then will relax for about a month, before polo season starts in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Garrett lives in Springfield in Manitoba, where his family has the Rocking S Ranch. His family runs a polo school at the Springfield Polo Club.
“We teach lessons and we’re getting into corporate events and starting to offer a more tailored package to a group,” Garrett Smith said.
He’d like polo to be a good option for businesses to use for a company retreat day for employees.
Polo is derived from the Tibetan word for willow stick and is played between two teams with four players on each team, the Rocking S Polo Facebook page states.
“It’s something I can’t imagine living without, but a lot of people don’t even realize the sport’s available,” Smith said.
Despite stereotypes, polo isn’t just a game for royalty. And unlike other equine sports where events are over in a flash, polo matches last longer.
What’s more, the sport has aspects of individual and team development along with that of working with a horse.
Smith plans to play polo this winter at the Eldorado and Empire polo clubs in California.
His love of horses began early.
“I was placed on a horse when I was a little baby,” Smith said. “There’s a picture of my dad coming off the polo fields and he’s got me in his lap.”
Garrett’s dad, Spencer, was a descendant of horse-lovers.
And, as a 10th grader, Spencer told his mother he wanted a horse ranch. His mom said he’d need to get good grades in school and a good job so he could afford it.
“And that’s what he did,” said Spencer’s brother, Borden.
Spencer earned a business degree and became a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company.
“He became a very awesome salesman, because he had the drive of having the best horses,” Borden said. “He loved horses.”
Spencer died of cancer a year ago, but not before passing his love of horses and polo to his children, Garrett, Regan and Katie. Garrett’s love of horses could be seen at Golter’s rural home on Wednesday.
“Garrett was out there at 1:30 in the morning, still making sure they were settled in there, trying to convince them to eat,” Borden said.
The animals are former race horses.
Borden said these horses are trained to play polo, because the faster they are, the better.
“It’s an unbelievable sport,” Borden said. “They are absolutely flying out there.”
“And they stop and go on a dime,” Golter said.
The transition from racing to polo works well.
“Polo is one of the main, secondary uses for horses after retiring from racing,” Garrett said. “They try to find them a secondary career. We like to get them at (age) 3.”
Smith said the Rocking S Ranch has 26 horses, which include three Quarter Horses.
In California, Smith will board the horses at a farm and exercise them seven days a week. He’ll spend the rest of January training each of the eight horses.
Borden said his nephew has played polo in England and in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The men and horses left Canada on Jan. 7 and after Fremont planned two more stops before reaching California.
Stopping overnight is crucial for the horses, Borden said, so they can get a break from being in the trailer and have a chance to stretch their legs.
“They need to stretch, because they’re athletes,” Borden said.
The Smiths appreciated being able to stop at Golter’s spacious place.
“What a great place she has here,” Borden said. “It’s perfect.”