American Polo Pioneer
Sue Sally Hale
When I was a kid, I had my horses at the equestrian center, which is now the Riviera Country Club, then called Riviera riding club. We all rode in a 'rider's gang' and Sue Sal was our leader. She was magnificent on her mustang. One day, I never will forget was when we all were out in the 'upper field' and Sue Sal's horse got kicked by another horse and the veteranarian came to put him down in front of all of us by shooting him point black in the head. Sue Sal and all of us wept together as a team and whenever we would see each other through the oncoming years, we would talk about the old days and she always said that roan mustang was the best horse she ever had! God bless you, Sue Sally Jones.
Sue Sal was my soul mate. She made more sense to me than any person I've ever known. I met her for the first time at the fairgrounds in Paso Robles while we both attended a horse trials in Templeton, and we became fast friends. As often as I could, I would haul up to her barn in Carmel Valley to spend time riding and learning from her. What wonderful times those were - riding in the truck piled high with kids and dogs, forging the river on our horses to get from the barn to the house, galloping over the 40 acres of cross-country jumps, stick & balling on the polo field, and going together to see Star Wars for the first time. She was the best of friends and a terrific teacher ("more leg, Nancy, more leg!"). I loved Sal, and I loved her kids. When Sal moved to Texas, to develop women's polo at Willow Bend, I tagged along. What an experience! We (Sal, me, and her kids) lived in an old farmhouse a couple of miles from the club. We turned our horses out in a large pasture next to the house and usually ponied our horses over to the club for work or games. This was the summer of 1980 - heat wave in Plano, where the days were 113 degrees every day for six weeks. Then to make matters worse, the well went dry - we would all take turns getting in the shower to let a few cupfuls of water dribble over us. Temps at night "cooled" down to 80 - we slept with fans on us. We hauled in water for the horses daily, and a little for ourselves. But we had a really great time and a lot of laughs in spite of the heat, lack of water, and tornado warnings - we even survived the snake that lived in the tree. Sal never lost her positive attitude and good humor about the situation - a hallmark of her personality. Some years later, in Moorpark, I would join Sal & Company again to ride and laugh and work hard at all we did. I have but one regret - over the years, after I moved away to Oregon and Sal moved to the desert, we lost touch. I have been thinking about Sal a lot the last few months, feeling a great need to contact her and check in - but I waited too long. I still feel a part of Sal in me and always will. Sal was a one-of-a-kind human being - as good as it gets. I love you, Sue Sal - happy trails!
--Nancy Wild ("Nanny" to Sal)
My father first played with Sue Sally in the 50’s in LA. They were good friends for many years and he even had the chance to visit the Carmel Valley Ranch in the 60’s and we all played one Sunday.
I was in school at RLS from ’67 to ’71. I slept on the Hale sofa a lot of nights when I was supposed to be in the dorm. One of my favorite memories was the year that the team anchored by Prince Philip was touring the US and had stopped for an exhibition of Sunday pomp and grandeur at the Pebble Beach field. On the following Wednesday Sue Sally called me at school and said, “They’re on their way to Carmel Valley to play get out here!” I hitchhiked the ten miles to the house and then waded across the river to find her waiting with a horse for me. A half dozen of us were on the field when the royals came up the long dirt road in convertibles. That afternoon was the kind of event that only Sue Sally Hale could have pulled together.
The year Brooke was born she played until the eighth month and then the doctor told her she had to switch to umpiring. I worked for her the year after high school, she didn’t pay me enough to eat on and then she fired me; I loved her none the less. All my best to the Kids, the world is a better place because she was in it.
Sue Sally taught me, along with so many others, to ride at her place called Sleepy Hollow Farms in Carmel Valley, in the late 1960's. The horses were Tiger, Jet, Sam, Gumdrop and Cecily, among others, now long gone. There was a gentle, older white horse there too; he took off with my friend, Bonnie, after a lesson one Saturday and she hasn't ridden since. Sleepy Hollow Farms was a magical place, off Robinson Canyon Road, before condos and SUV's. It was practically inaccessible by car during the winter--and this made it all the more magical. It was our own special place to trail ride and roam, without the watchful eyes of our parents. Sue Sally's house was over the river and parents usually picked their kids up at the house. We either waded in barefeet over the river or sometimes rode horses over it and took turns leading them back. I remember swimming in the river on horseback. The arena where we had lessons or shows was a good distance away from the barn and the whole ranch was circled by a trail that wound mysteriously through the woods. It was a well beaten path, a great one for exercising horses. We often rode out over the dirt road and climbed up the mountains on gorgeous trails that offered views clear to the ocean. We went wherever we wanted.
Sue Sally was ALWAYS on horseback, even during lessons. She'd race around and yell out directions, not loud, just right. She drilled us the old fashioned way, about the most important things. Keep your heels down, be still but, flexible. Clean your tack after each ride. Light hands. Her passion was clearly polo and on Sundays I often signed up to tack up, tape up, wrap tails and hot walk horses after the games were over. I watched her with amazement every time. She seemed larger than life, so strong and so passionate. She led the men around the field. She yelled. I remember the cliffs rising above the polo field. It wasn't a professionally marked or trimmed field. They played on a beautiful meadow that stretched out below Carmel Valley cliffs. I remember the sounds of the game, her voice rising above the others, the clack of the sticks, the rumble of the hooves pounding down the field. Huge designer homes now sit quietly on Sue Sally's polo field and the road is now paved and gated. The river has been moved and it's now just a creek. But if you go there, and look hard, you can still see Sue Sal and her team mates like old Mr. Hermann of the Farm Center, chasing, trying to catch her.
At this time of her life, I recall that she was always either pregnant or just having a baby. Once she delivered a baby (she advised it was quite safe to ride up until labor, as long as you always rode) she was back in the saddle before the umbilical cord was gone. Her children started riding before they could walk and like their mom, were rarely seen out of the saddle. I spent many memorable weekends at Sleepy Hollow, and many afternoons after school. As I look back on it now, I see that Sue Sally and those horses helped me get some through rough teen years. She gave me a passion and love for horses.
Here it is now, some 40 years later, and I started lessons and riding again three years ago, just about the same time Sue Sally passed. Thank you Sue Sally. Love to her kids.
I never had a sister, but Sal comes very close to being one. My husband knew her as a little girl with pig tails around the old Riviera Polo Club in West LA. She was always on a horse having tons of fun. I met Sal after JRS and I married and she became a part of our family and visa versa. Our daughter Tina lived with her in Carmel Valley while we went off to various places. Sal mounted her well and gave her all sorts of equine challenges. Along about that time in our family’s life, 1973-75 we were aspiring to have an Interscholastic team and Sal welcomed the boys all from Texas, put them up, mounted them and they took on the Robert Louis Stephenson team.Of course they had a blast and a team was born. To those who knew her this was so typical of her generosity and encouragement to aspiring new players.
One year we did and exchange and Sal brought her students out to Texas for a horse show and we mounted them. I particularly remember Josh Hall as he piloted one of our horses around the jump courses under Sal’s tutaledge. I don’t think that that was his favorite activity but he really got into paddle ball against the wall of our house. Later we heard he had become a vet’ specializing in equines. On that same trip,Sal always an optimist and nothing being impossible, got me up at dawn to practice for our Pas de Deux, when we just didn’t have time or the place to do it. We went out in the Mesquite and ran through our routine and I got to laughing so at her that I could barely ride, but we won later in the day. Years later Sal came back to Texas with her family to play polo and it really rained. Not to be daunted she went to town and bought beach balls and got the whole club out in a pasture to stick and ball. After the horses got over the shock of these big yellow and pink balls coming at them, everyone had a hilarious time and some great practice.
When Sal’s Mom died, she gave Tina some of her Mom’s treasures that she knew Tina would enjoy. Frequently she would call just to say Hi and to tell us about her great grey horse or her Affletecky (or whatever it is!), just a fun, short chat. She was always taking care of someone and Tony Veen , our mutual friend, lived at Sal’s and she took good care of him almost to the last.
She had more pictures on her walls than anyone could imagine and almost all of them were of horses, bygone film days and of course polo. How she had time to work her string of ponies and paint amazed me, but she turned out some incredible art work, which she was so generous with. Her paintings were quickly done and captured the true essence of how a horse moved and the game of polo. Sal really knew how to use a horse to its fullest and yet not harm it. She knew its limitations and hers and she appreciated a good horse whether it was a Clydesdale or a Mini. If it had four legs she played it and did so very well. I don’t know anyone who gave more of themselves to riding and to helping others also learn to ride and to enjoy jumping, eventing, gymkhana, team penning, polo or whatever the day called for. She had a nice house but chose to let others live in it while she lived in her barn right beside her beloved horses, cats, dogs, geese, chickens, goat, ginneas, possums and critters. One day she went into the bathroom and the goat, who is quite portly laid down in front of the door and went to sleep. Sal couldn’t get the door open until finally someone came along and heard her and got the goat to move.
Sal leaves us with a great void. There just isn’t another like her, but one thing for sure if anyone can, she’s the one to teach St Peter how to play polo.