By Heidi Baumstark
If it’s worth preserving, it’s worth promoting.
That’s what the National Sporting Library & Museum in Middleburg is all about—preserving the sporting life. And the annual Polo Classic is all about promoting this premier institution, which is the country’s only scholarly repository dedicated to equestrian, angling, and field sports. This year marks the eighth annual Polo Classic on September 9 at Great Meadow in The Plains and is the sole fundraiser for the non-profit National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM).
This year’s Polo Classic will feature two world-class matches: the Founders Cup and Mars Cup. Bo Derek, famous actress and passionate equestrian, will throw in the ball for both matches.
The Founders Cup match includes the Dubai Polo Academy team captained by Steve Thompson, veteran and founder of the Dubai Polo Academy. Players include Petra Spanko, Haider Bangash, and Raja Abuljebain playing against the British Forces Foundation captained by Mark Cann, a retired British Army officer and Director of the British Forces Foundation and the Combined Services Polo Association.
The Mars Cup includes local teams: National Sporting Library & Museum/Greenhill Winery captained by John Gobin, Great Meadow Polo Club Manager and player in the Westchester Cup’s winning 1992 U.S. team and David Greenhill of Greenhill Winery & Vineyards. They will play the NetJets/Beverly Equestrian team captained by Nacho Figueras, former Ralph Lauren model and internationally acclaimed six-goal Argentine professional and Bill Ballhaus of Beverly Equestrian.
Festivities include a parade of the Orange County Hounds; St. Andrew’s Society of Washington, D.C. Pipes and Drums; an honor guard; and an historic carriage driven by staff from Colonial Williamsburg Coach & Livestock. Plus, NetJets will have a mock jet, the luxurious and spacious Citation Latitude, parked by the field that will be open for visitors to tour. And of course, there will be plenty of local cuisine and flowing libations to pair with the polo games.
As owner of Dubai Polo Academy, Thompson said, “I played in last year’s Classic; it was such a fun, well-organized event. Whenever possible, I’ll always try to play in charity matches when they’re for such a worthy cause.” With over two decades of polo experience and training, one of Thompson’s goals is to widen the appeal and accessibility of the sport. NSLM’s commitment to promote country, equestrian, and outdoor pursuits goes hand-in-hand with Thompson’s efforts. “A day at a polo match is for the whole community,” he says. “Families can get outside away from technology, enjoy healthy activities with their children, and watch a fantastic horse sport. It’s also a perfect platform to entertain clients or associates, presenting unique networking opportunities.”
In Cann’s role at the British Forces Foundation—a charitable organization launched to bring quality entertainment to members of Britain’s armed forces (UK equivalent to the USO)—he was invited to bring a team over for the 2016 and 2017 Polo Classics and returns again this year. Cann’s entrance onto the polo field started while he was in the Army. “I was in Germany at the time and was told to accompany my commanding officer’s wife and look after her. I was actually ordered to play polo! I could already ride, but I loved polo right away.” Cann has played all over the world and admits, “It’s a hugely infectious sport. But I’m one of the worst players but get invited to play in all the best places with all the best people.”
Gobin, Great Meadow’s Polo Club Manager, said, “We’re honored to host the Polo Classic at Great Meadow for the third year in a row. It’s exciting to showcase the best of Virginia polo to a captive audience in support of the Library & Museum’s mission.”
As owner of local Greenhill Winery, Greenhill said, “The National Sporting Library & Museum presents the history and beauty of equestrian sports on an international stage and I‘m honored to again take the field in support of this local Middleburg organization.”
Danielle Quinn, on Greenhill’s team, is certainly not new to the equine world, but is relatively new to the sport of polo; this is her first time playing in the Classic. An attorney in Fairfax, Quinn said, “I grew up riding at the age of five, have done eventing and show jumping. Having grown up with horses, I feel it’s important to preserve the evolution of all equestrian sports and learn about the role of horses throughout history. Last year, I took a polo class at Great Meadow and came to the Classic as a spectator. This year, I’m in it!”
As owner of Beverly Equestrian, Ballhaus said, “This will be the fifth year that Beverly has participated in the Polo Classic. The NSLM mission aligns well with ours and our passion for equestrian sports. We also welcome the opportunity to support local efforts.”
Melanie Leigh Mathewes has been NSLM’s Executive Director since 2013 and said their tagline this year is “Mission in Motion.” She said, “People here are so fortunate; they can go to Great Meadow, Morven Park, or Glenwood Park for polo and equestrian sports. Here at the Library, we’re the hub—we connect all of those equine sports, preserving, and promote them in a dynamic, community-oriented place. The Polo Classic allows guests to experience an exciting day of polo while supporting the full variety of exhibitions, public programs, and family activities we host throughout the year.”
In prior years, the Polo Classic was held at Virginia International Polo Club (VIP) located at one of Virginia’s most beautiful historic farms, Llangollen, an 18th century country estate in Upperville. The first Classic was actually in 2010, but it skipped a year, so 2018 marks the eighth one. In 2016, the Classic moved to Great Meadow. “We can accommodate a larger audience at Great Meadow and we were able to add a general admission option so it opens the event to a
Frances Monroe, NSLM’s Membership & Events Manager since 2015 said the NSLM includes not only books and archival collections, but also a 1,200 piece permanent collection of art, The Library & Museum collections span from 1523 to the present, and include one-of-a-kind items such as a handwritten manuscript by Teddy Roosevelt and prehistoric horse teeth. Monroe said, “The number of programs held in 2017 reached 99, which included events for the whole family such as Open Late, a free community summer evening concert series held the last Friday of the month, May through August.” (The next one is August 31 on the Museum’s lawn.) Funds raised in 2017 enabled the NSLM to host five art exhibitions and serve more than 10,000 visitors. There are also regular Gallery Talks, a Sunday Sketch program, and summer art workshops for kids.
Originally founded as the National Sporting Library in 1954 by George L. Ohrstrom, Sr. and Alexander Mackay-Smith, it has expanded to become a library, research facility, and fine arts museum with over 26,000 treasured books and works of art. Vine Hill, the 1804-built brick house on NSLM’s six-acre property, was owned by Ohrstrom, Sr.; and his son, George L. Ohrstrom, Jr., was a past chairman of the board and is attributed to the longevity and continuation of NSLM. The culture and history of country sport—horsemanship, polo, coaching,
steeplechasing, foxhunting, flat racing, angling, shooting, and wildlife—are the subjects to explore inside its generous stacks of rare books, archives, and art collection.
When it comes to polo, Thompson added, “The Classic has been masterminded to create universal appeal within a spectacular backdrop. You can dress to the nines or kick off your shoes and relax in the picnic areas. Polo is often seen as a snobby, elitist sport enjoyed only by the wealthy, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The organizers have gone to extreme measures to get all the ingredients right so this amazing day of polo will create lasting memories for years to come.”
Ballhaus added, “You won’t find a more beautiful setting than Great Meadow in mid-September. It’s sure to be a fun day for all.”
As part of his charity work Cann travels the globe and sees all levels of deprivation. “I’ve seen places that have destroyed their culture or it’s been destroyed by others. NSLM is unquestionably in America’s horse country; it tells our history and preserves it for future generations. And I’ll always support this sporting event as long as I can sit on a horse.”
For the last 25 years Cann has worked in the charity sector. “Ultimately,” he shared, “charities are about life—about uplifting life. At every end of the spectrum nothing holds a community together more than its culture, its history.”
And the Polo Classic helps to do just that. It huddles the community toward preserving the cultured legacy of field sports.
Welcome the 2018 Polo Classic players at Greenhill Winery (23595 Winery Lane in Middleburg) for a “Meet the Players” event on September 6 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. with wine and hors d’oeuvres. RSVP by September 4; visit GreenhillVineyards.com/reservations and search by date. This event features a Polo Fashion Preview in partnership with some local sponsors.
Tickets for the eighth annual Polo Classic are available through NSLM’s website, NationalSporting.org or by calling the NSLM at 540-687-6542. All proceeds from the event benefit the National Sporting Library & Museum located at 102 The Plains Road in Middleburg. Great Meadow is located at 5089 Old Tavern Road in The Plains. ML
This article first appeared in the August 2018 Issue