So, how does C.J. Sifton explain polo to Canadians? “Think of it as hockey on horseback,” said the fourth-year Business Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) student.
“The most common question I get is, ‘You mean on a horse?’” added Kingsley Ward, an Ivey Business School student.
Sifton, Ward, and his younger brother Mich, make up Team Canada as they take on Team USA in an exhibition match at the upcoming Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. The trio will also represent Western later this winter, competing in the U.S. Indoor League with the university’s first polo team.
They are looking forward to showcasing the relatively unknown sport – at least in Canada – to the thousands in attendance at the Royal Fair.
“We grew up with the Royal Fair every year,” Sifton said. “When we were younger and looking up at it, you never imagined you could be a part of it. But not only are we going, we’re actually part of it – which is awesome.”
While more of a mainstay in the United States, the sport has deep roots in Canada.
Western was a newly christened university when British garrison officers stationed in Halifax first played polo in Canada in 1878. By the turn of the century, however, polo clubs had popped up around the country, from Vancouver and Calgary to Toronto and Montréal. In 1903, the first national Canadian polo tournament was held in Toronto.
After the Second World War, the sport almost died out entirely. But by the 1960s, clubs in southern Alberta formed the Calgary Polo Club, the strongest polo organization in Canada. In 1958, organizers revived polo in Toronto, where it remains a strong year-round presence. To this day, clubs dot the country.
For Sifton and the Ward brothers, the long-time friends came to the sport through their families.
“All of our families have been into it for years, going back to my great-grandfather. We spent a lot of time in Florida, which is very big into polo. When at home, we have a barn near Richmond Hill where we play most often,” Sifton said.
Sifton, a 20-year-old defender, has played for nine years, including mounting up for matches in Toronto, Palm Beach, Los Angeles and New York City. The Aurora, Ont., native has won two regional all-star awards and was named captain of the National Youth Team.
He admits playing next week in front of a crowd of close to 5,000 will be a new experience when compared to the handful of onlookers at most of their matches. “That’s going to be different, for sure,” he continued. “It’s more for putting on a show for people, but I’m sure it will get a little competitive because we like playing hard.”
The polo match taking place at the fair will consist of three chukkers (or periods), each being six minutes in length. In an effort to educate and engage the audience, a commentator will provide detailed information during the match as to the ins and outs of the game.
Consider this exhibition a bit of a warm up to Western’s upcoming polo season. This past year was a trial run for the team, which plays its games in the States, in the Northeast Region, against teams such as Harvard, Yale and Cornell universities.
Last year, the team had a Cinderella run to the Nationals. A shoot-out loss in the Northwest Region Finals earned them a wild-card berth to Nationals, where they eventually lost in the semi-final round to eventual national champions Texas A&M University.
“There are some powerhouse teams in the States, but we’ve played for a lot of years together, played a number of tournaments together, so we have such a strong connection when we play, more so since we’ve been at Western,” said Mich, a Social Sciences student.
The 18-year-old forward, has played for nine years alongside his brother, Kingsley, a 20-year-old midfielder, including riding in matches in Toronto, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Buenos Aries and Dublin. Mich has received four regional and two national all-star awards; Kingsley has received four regional and one national all-star awards.
When Kingsley lets people know he plays polo – and yes, with horses – he appreciates the inquisitiveness.
“They start asking questions – and it’s awesome. You can explain to them about a sport not many Canadians know about,” he said. “It’s about the people you get to meet. It comes back to the connections and the networking.”
Join Team Canada – comprised of Western students C.J. Sifton, Mich Ward and Kingsley Ward – as they take on Team USA at Polo at the Royal, an exhibition polo match at 7:35 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (Ricoh Coliseum). For information, and for tickets, visit royalfair.org.