Vallejo Polo Ranch and Player’s School

RATON —  Polo is a sport that a person usually associates with the rich and famous and belongs to a country like the United Kingdom. In reality, this game, one of the oldest sports in the world, originated in Central Asia and was first played in Persia sometime between the sixth century BC and the first century AD.  It is played on a horse with two teams of four players each. Each player uses a long mallet to drive a wooden ball down the field into a goalpost.  In 1876, James Gordon Bennett introduced the game in the United States, and its popularity soared. 

These days, if a person travels seventeen miles south of Cimarron to the village of Miami all you would see are ruins of a once palatial ranch named the Vallejo Polo Ranch and Players School. Once upon a time, if you wanted to learn how to play polo but did not have the equipment to learn, all you had to do was pay tuition at this ranch. 

The Vallejo Polo Ranch was founded by W. Leonard Horbury, who lived in Fiztjohns, Rugby, England.  He was a retired British capitalist and a polo enthusiast. His partner was Major Grove Cullum, who was formerly the Chief of Remount for the United States Calvary. They were drawn to the area because of its reputation for fine breeding and training of polo horses. They started the ranch in early 1936, buying up 1500 acres east of Cimarron near Miami. The partners started a training stable and named it the Vallejo Polo Ranch. By May, Cullum had “a string of prospects in training and ready for practice games.”

Cullum was responsible for the training of the horses and players. The polo horses were bred and trained at the CS Ranch and Philmont Scout Ranch. Both ranches trained the horses and staged polo games and horse shows in the summer. The average polo pony is actually (confusingly enough) a full-sized horse, capable of sudden bursts of speed. They are usually 14.2 to 16 hands at the withers.  Horbury devoted his time and finances to developing the school to learn the fundamentals of polo and horsemanship. 

The architecture of the buildings was the traditional Southwest style with eighteen-inch walls made of adobe brick. Adobe bricks are made of mud and allowed to harden for about two weeks. They are eco-friendly. The walls ensured the buildings were cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 

According to a brochure handed out in the late 1930s,  “Vallejo, to the best of our knowledge and belief, is the only school of its kind. To start polo in the ordinary way, either as a recreation or as a career, requires an unusual amount of expensive equipment, such as horses, saddles, stabling facilities, etc. At Vallejo, all these essentials are provided and included in the nominal tuition fee. The term is from early spring to late fall and the individual must live on the campus. Horses are accommodated in luxurious comfort.”

The business partners advertised their ranch in “Horse and Horseman in Esquire, Fortune, Town and Country, and Outdoor Life.” Their slogan was “We train both man and horse.” The school opened on June 12, 1937. The tuition included room, meals, a private mount, saddle and bridle, and instruction in polo, equitation, and jumping.  It was a smashing success— for a while.

  Due to the beginning of World War II in Europe, it was sold two years later to F. Kirk Johnson who dropped the polo and concentrated on providing western vacations. It was named Vallejo Guest Ranch. “Under the direction of Lyle Brush, well-known dude rancher from Pecos, New Mexico, guests attired in big hats and boots were soon guiding their private mounts through the nearby timbered hills and canyons.” The dude ranchers were popular with eastern vacationers. Although short-lived, the Vallejo Polo/Guest Ranch, and its facilities and programs, have served as models for several later dude ranch operations in the southwest. Nearby was 25,000 acres of nature with twenty miles of streams. In open season, the guests could hunt big game such as deer, elk, bear, wild turkeys, and grouse. They could play golf or learn to play polo, ride, or jump horses. In addition to hunting, there were some wonderful area attractions nearby: Cimarron Racetrack and Polo Field, Taos Pueblo, and the Taos Art Colony.

In 1941 Vallejo was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Tom Maxey. It closed operations in 1944 due to the demands of World War II. As one remembers, during this time, there were quite a few restrictions on food and supplies. The property was again sold to new owners, and became a private ranch.

The ranch started as a polo school, became a vacation place primarily for easterners, and eventually shuttered the windows and locked the doors to be used no more.  Unfortunately, as of August 24, 1988, the ranch was dissolved and is no longer in existence. A person must wonder if the sport would be more popular if World War II had not interfered.

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