Every summer, I play at the Calgary Polo Club in Alberta, Canada. With our cold and snowy winters, there is no possibility of competing in any other season…
That’s why, this January, with my horses out to pasture, their manes long and their coats shaggy, I searched for a polo vacation: a place where I could raise my skill level, enjoy some warm weather and sleep soundly each night in luxurious linens. I didn’t expect to find it in Ocala, Florida.
I’d heard of Wellington, FL, the American mecca of equestrian luxury, but I had no idea that another beautiful town of sprawling horse farms existed just a few hours’ drive upstate, north of Orlando. With hoof-friendly terrain and home to many prize-winning thoroughbreds, Ocala is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.”
That’s where I found BG Ocala Ranch – a polo school, young polo club and luxury estate rental all rolled into one.
Visitors to the ranch have the option of staying in an eight-bedroom 10,000 square-foot Great House, or guest cottages spread discreetly throughout the 100-acre property. Perfectly positioned next door to the Florida Horse Park, the ranch has access to hundreds of miles of trails, and a beautiful polo field.
On the BG property, a stick and ball field beside the barns makes it easy to practice every day. You can drive to the barn in your car, or a ranch hand will give you a lift on a golf cart. But you can also walk – it’s a whole five minutes away.
The ranch is managed by Marcos Bignoli, an Argentine polo pro who’s played around the globe, in countries ranging from England to Dubai and Brazil. At the height of his career, he was rated 7 in the arena and 6 on the field. He has also founded several polo clubs and schools, including the academy at Capital Polo Club in Washington, DC.
Now Marcos’ job is to grow the fledgling BG Ocala Polo Club (it has a sister club in Vero Beach). To encourage beginners, he will equip anyone who’s interested with a quiet pony, mallet and helmet.
Spending a week under Marcos’ watchful eye increased my confidence. Even though I’ve played in Calgary’s pro pool for a few years now, there’s still much room for improvement.
Every day, after a long, beautiful ride through the live oaks of the Cross Florida Greenway forest, I stick and balled with the resident BG players: Marcos, Victor and Geovanni. The goal at the end of the week was a four-chukker game, to be played on the flawless field next door to the ranch.
During my stay, I rode at least ten ponies, many of which had played high-level polo. I connected with two: Snow White and Palua. They’d be mine to use during the game on my final day.
As that day dawned, I was a bundle of nerves. In Calgary, I ride my own horses. I know the players and how they will interact on the field. Sitting in one of the chairs set out for my team at the Florida Horse Park, I tried to focus on the post-game Asado barbecue preparations, instead of the grooms in action, alongside a fleet of giant trailers.
Beside the BG pros, Marcos also invited other players from the Ocala area for the game. Some were pros and others were people like me – except a little better. Wearing our whites, we played under a perfect blue Florida sky in balmy 70-degree temperatures.
After the first few chukkers of the friendly game, I finally managed to shake off my nervousness – and scored a goal in the fourth. Even though I’m pretty sure it was a gift, wrapped with a bow from Marcos, it was a fantastic way to end my week at BG Ocala Ranch.