American Polo Pioneer
Sue Sally Hale
I met her when I boarded my horse years ago next to her Polo Farm in Moorpark. We talked about her playing polo in Hawaii where I had grown up. She knew some of the polo players I knew when I was a kid hanging around anyone with a horse begging them to let me ride. Back then boarding next to the Polo Field I was trying to event and questioning my abilities but Sal was so supportive. She made me feel I could do it even at 40 & 50 something. Whenever I felt I was doubting myself, I told me Sal says I can do this so I can. I have one of her polo mallets hanging in my tack room today. I used to bat around a beach ball with it. She also changed my outlook with regard to animals. She had those possums, which I would have previously called wild animals, living in her bureau drawers and one time she told me there was a raven who brought her its dead partner to bury. She did and years later I found a dead raven with its partner hanging around, refusing to leave. I buried it. I probably wouldn't have done that if I hadn't remembered what she told me. I look at that mallet often and think of her and miss her. Wow!, what a gal and influence on my life.
I have only been playing polo since last fall. I went to the desert a few times this winter to play, and played with Sue Sal a few times in practice chukkers and felt very fortunate that she was there to give her words of advise. I felt extremely honored that she played with me and coached me as well. She gave me a lot of inspiration. I understand who she was and her history with polo and I will miss her, and I know the sport will as well.
A Force to be Reckoned With
Sue Sally Hale would be amazed that her death was covered in a story on NPR’s, All Things Considered. Actually, it was her life that was covered and what a life it was. She probably didn’t know how many people she influenced, affected and helped, by introducing them to and encouraging them to play polo. Sue Sal died unexpectedly to most of us, of natural causes at her home in Southern California in April. (of 2003) She was THE reason that there are women playing polo today. She played mainly in California but her influence was felt all over the country. Disguising herself as a man on the polo field for years in order to play in tournaments she was one of the first to break the gender barrier in 1972 when she was accepted into the US Polo Association as a regular playing member. She was a pioneer, a woman to play alongside men and she opened the way for the rest of us. I feel privileged to have played polo with her, against her and to call her a friend.
I first met Sue Sal in 1978 at her ranch in Carmel Valley where she hosted and annual Women’s polo tournament played on a “skin” (read sand) field. Carmel Valley in unlike its upscale neighbor, Carmel-by-the Sea, but is a dry inland valley of homes and small ranches. Sal, as everyone called her, was holding court from the bed of her navy blue, Chevy dually, with an assortment of pound dogs and children seeming to come out of every corner. She looked like a tough cookie and had a strong, slightly roughened voice. Not tall, but strongly built with a quick, wide smile that included her eyes twinkling and weathered skin that had not seen much sunblock. As tough looking as she was, she always wore something feminine as an accessory: maybe a pair of silver hoop earrings or a chiffon scarf tied around the brim of her polo helmet. She might be tough, but she wanted to make sure you knew she was a lady, too.
Polo games at Carmel Valley would sometimes be interrupted by the siren from the local volunteer fire company. Hearing the siren go off, Sal would gallop to the sidelines, jump off of her horse and into her fireman’s boots and pants and off she’d go in her pickup in a cloud of dust. I can’t remember if someone took her place or if we just waited for her, but it was an impressive sight.
Sal always preached and practiced good sportsmanship and I never heard her rudely question the call of an umpire and raise her voice to anyone on the field. She would compliment opponents and support her teammates. She was tireless, kind, sentimental, practical, stubborn and adventuresome. She could calm a frightened child, back up a gooseneck trailer, doctor a horse, cook a big breakfast, french braid hair, change a tire and tell a corny joke, all with equal ease and skill. She was an independent woman raising five children pretty much one her own, including for some time, her oldest son who was recovering from a brain injury from a car accident at age eighteen.
I ended up in her good graces and played with Sal, and her daughters Sunny and/or Stormie in many a polo tournament. (Sunny at age twelve, had the best near-side fore shot of anyone I knew—and went on to be the highest rated women player in the country and play professionally on high-goal teams in Florida.) Sal loved nothing better than to have an all-women’s team and compete on a level with men’s teams. She proved time and time again that four solid players who played good team polo, had good horsemanship and tried hard, could often beat the teams with professional players and ringers on them. Thanks to Sal, I had the chance to play polo in Hawaii twice, Florida, Texas and many games in Indio, California. The games that we played on Hawaii were billed as “Battle of the Sexes” games and we did well, playing against an equally rated male foursome, with us on borrowed ponies. We played in the Pacific Coast Circuit Governors Cup in Indio with an all-female team and made it to the semifinals out of twenty or so teams. We traveled to Midland, Texas to play in the 8-goal Presidents Cup with our team of all 2-goal women ( Sal, Stormie, Sunny and myself). We didn’t win but we didn’t disgrace ourselves either. One slow afternoon in Midland after a few days of rain, Sal organized a pick-up polo game using a beach ball and played in a paddock where the hazards included uneven terrain, cacti and piles of uneaten hay, just the kind of thing she loved doing for fun.
She hauled my horses, got my airfare sponsored, fed me, put my horses up, loaned me cars, loaned me horses and never commented on my independent, sometimes not-so-intelligent young adult decisions. Sal was one of the most generous , giving people that I have ever known.
Sal love playing polo on horses no one less would have wanted. I think she was from a well to do family but shunned her roots. She would find small, inexpensive horses with good attitudes in backyards, sales and out of the paper and train them to play polo in a few months. There they’d be, tied to the trailer alongside the veterans, ready to play in the next tournament for us. They weren’t usually very fast but they were always safe, handy and well-schooled. She played Quarter horses, mustangs, an Andalusian and even a mule. Rarely was there a Thoroughbred in her string. Her best horse was a small, palomino mare with a not so beautiful head, named Maya, who played in a little snaffle bit and no martingale and tried her heart out every game. Sal loved doing things a little bit differently and proving that they could be done, and done successfully her way.
She had a reputation for stirring things up when she thought there were things that needed to be improved. Her letters, both in content and number, to the USPA directors and the polo magazines, were legendary. But the goal for Sal was always the same: Bring new people into the sport of polo, make them comfortable and make it affordable for them. I think that it is safe to say that there are probably hundreds of people who have played polo at some point in their life who never would have tried the sport if Sal hadn’t encouraged them to try it and make it accessible, affordable and fun. Whether you agreed or disagreed with her ideas, you knew her heart was in the right place and she just wanted more people to have the fun that she did playing polo. I thought it was appropriate that the day after she died, the polo magazine, Sidelines, appeared in my mailbox. In it was a letter to the editor from Sue Sally Hale, about how to use money from the USPA to better help young players and encourage more members. How fitting that Sal got the last word in!
As I write down my thoughts and memories about Sal, I envision many other people feeling the need to do the same: All of us trying to pay tribute to the tough little lady from California with a heart of gold, who was a force to be reckoned with.
I have lost the Best of Friends, Vista Santa Rosa has lost its Steadfast Leader (chairman of our community council), Polo has lost its Grande Dame, the U.S. has lost a True Patriot, and the World has lost a Great Lady.
--Ellen Lloyd Trover
I am very blessed to have known Sue Sally Hale, both as a cherished friend and neighbor. She and I, along with my husband and many other of our neighbors, worked tirelessly together to form the predominately Equestrian, Rural, and Agricultural Community of Vista Santa Rosa, California. An incredibly extra special and phenomenal person......Sal will remain in my heart and the hearts of many forever.
Sue Sally was the greatest cousin that I have had. She has taught me how to ride a horse since I was a little girl. She always let me come up there to her ranch every year for my birthday. She has been a legend to everyone in the polo fields. It was sad when I had found out that she had passed away. Sue Sal and I had such great memories and I wish I could have a least had a chance to say good bye. The great memories that she has put in my mind forever will never change. Every time I will get on a horse,it will never been the same way again. Sue Sal will be missed deeply by all the Jones'.
I only had the pleasure of knowing Sue Sally for 3 years. I do not play polo, but went with her last summer up the coast with 7 horses and a pony to several matches. I am a novice that she again was teaching riding at my young age now of 54. In these few years, I have learned so much about horses, people and life itself. Just last week, after doing sets with the horses she quipped, "you know what Louise, I bet we could run this ranch, just you and I." In the next minute, I would flub something, and she would say, "you're fired.!" That happened almost every time I showed up at the ranch. She was a true friend, a blessing to animals and people alike. I will miss her greatly, but I thank God I knew her even if the time was so short. God be with you and your loved ones.
I am having a hard time believing that Sue Sal is gone. I just played with her a couple of weeks ago in the ladies tournament. Even though I did not know her that well, I remember the first time I met her and she asked where I was from. When I said Pierre, South Dakota she was so excited to tell me she was part Sioux Indian and that her Grandfather or Great Grandfather (I can't remember which) had a Headdress in the Museum there. He had been a great warrior in the Indian battles with the whites in the area known as the Black Hills. Very fitting for a women who was also a warrior in her own rights. I will miss playing with you.
-- Therese Volmer
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