Philip Kapneck and Polo Ponies
Philip Kapneck played polo in the late 1960s, before he became an Ambassador and moved to Brussels, Belgium, on a mission to encourage business and industry to come to Maryland, as well as other states. He started to play the game with the advantage of having three great horses that could be turned into polo ponies with a little work and training.
Kapneck lived in Potomac, Maryland, so it was an easy trip for him to visit the Potomac Polo field, and in a short period of time, he became a member of the Polo group. He was able to keep his seat and his cool with the horses trained to play the game. He would play on weekends, as today people go out for a game of golf.
Three Ponies Per Match
With three horses for a match, each one played two chukkers, as there were six chukkers in a game. One of his former teammates said, “Philip Kapneck was a natural, because his name, Philip, means lover of horses.”
Most Improved Player
When he started, Kapneck was considered a decent player, but the more he played, the better he became, and finally after 3 years, was rated to score at least one goal during every match, according to his teammates. On the same team, there was a professional player who became a friend of Kapneck’s and it was great to see the professional playing number 3 as a back, and Kapneck playing number 1, as a forward. When the ball was batted to number 3, far down the field, he would backhand it to Kapneck, who had already turned and was heading to his opponent’s goal. The number 3 player was so good that the polo ball would land a few feet in front of the goal and all Kapneck had to do was tap it in to score. This happened so often, that Kapneck said modestly, that he felt “like a spectator on a horse watching the game.”
In polo, the position number 1 player concentrates on scoring, and has the defensive responsibility for the opposing number 3 player and also attacking as the offensive player, similar to hockey. The position number 3 player is like a football quarterback – the most versatile – and attacks the opposing offense while trying to turn the ball upfield, where it would eventually get to number 1. The number 3 player needs to have great accuracy on the polo field, which is normally 300 yards long and 160 yards wide.
During one of his last polo matches, he and his teammates won a large horse trophy on June 8, 1969, that they said was the crowning glory of his polo career. Some of his friends in the diplomatic corps came out to watch him play. One such couple was British Ambassador to the USA, John Freeman, and his wife.
The Fast Pony
Some former teammates who contributed memories to this story said that Kapneck had one horse called Ramrod, who was his fastest in every game. As well as being fast, the horse was built like a tank. In the last game, Kapneck came racing down the field on Ramrod, and hit the ball 25 yards, right into the goal.
As many people would line both sides of the polo field in their chairs or cars, many horns started blowing and all the spectators cheered after that shot, but they were surprised to see Kapneck continuing to ride hard, past the goal. A short time later, the referee was waiting with each team lined up to make the throw-in to start the next inning, as Kapneck eventually came back. One of his teammates said “come on, you don’t have to ride down the field for the audience because they were cheering and the horns blaring” and he said “I didn’t do it for the horns or the cheering, I just couldn’t stop the horse.”
The Pony Wanted To Race
Ramrod obviously had his mind set on racing, rather than playing polo.
The next year, when Princess Anne and Prince Charles visited, on a quick trip to Maryland, Philip Kapneck and his friend Ambassador John Freeman were due to escort Princess Anne to a Potomac horse farm. Unfortunately, word of the visit reached local press, who staked out the farm, causing a change of plans and disappointment for Princess Anne.
The princess wanted to race down to the farm to see the horses and relax, but the press were constantly buzzing around, wherever she went, so the racing was left to the ponies, and the venue for the meeting with Philip Kapneck was changed.
Philip Kapneck is still the trade ambassador to Maryland, and his official website is tradeambassadorkapneck.com.
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