Argentine Polo Horse Breeders Association
INTERVIEW WITH EDUARDO HEGUY
Season after season the Asociacion Argentina de Criadores de Caballos de polo, AACCP (the Argentine Association of polo Pony Breeders) has included in its Yearbook interviews with renowned breeders whose ponies were outstanding in the playing field. As always the intention is to guide those who are just starting out as breeders and any others who wish to apply the methods used by the top breeders.
On this occasion Jose Maria Azumendi, president of the AACCP chatted with Eduardo Heguy, who for many years has been at the top of the 10 handicap players' list, is one of the best backs of the world, won the Palermo Open in 1996 playing for Indios Chapaleufu II and is at this moment in Buenos Aires recovering from an accident suffered during the British polo Season, though the "Ruso", as he is affectionately known, is already thinking of getting his horses ready for the Spring Season in Argentina. His enthusiasm to return to the polo field is only matched by his passion for breeding polo ponies.
J.M. AZUMENDI: WITH REFERENCE TO THE TYPE OF HORSES BEING PLAYED, WHAT IS ARGENTINA'S LEVEL AND WHAT SHOULD BE IMPROVED?
E. HEGUY: We have very good horses here in Argentina, we are selecting for aptitude or playing ability, I can say this based on my experience of horses played by high handicap players, specially in the Palermo Open. We see ever better horses, with very good speed and category. What is most looked for now is a well-trained, tidy horse with a soft mouth, since, more and more, players are now controlling their horses through their mouths. Before, a more open game was played, but now more mouth control is used. Therefore we need better trained horses. The level attained in Argentina is excellent, but many good category horses from the USA, England, Australia and New Zealand also come to play. In Argentina we have to compete with the best horses in the world which come to play at Palermo, so that we are ever more demanding when it comes to choosing the type of horse to play in the Palermo Open.
J.M. AZUMENDI:DOES THIS MEAN THAT THE TRAINERS OR THE PLAYERS OF NEW HORSES HAVE BECOME MORE DEMANDING OVER THE LAST YEARS AS FAR AS IMPROVING QUALITY SO AS TO GET TO THE PALERMO OPEN WITH BETTER HORSES?
E. HEGUY: Undoubtedly. Demands increase each season. A fair or slightly short horse can't be taken to Palermo because it'll get trampled. There are impressively well organised teams, and the difference with other teams is enormous, this is the reason an ever higher category of horse is needed.
J.M. AZUMENDI: DO YOU THINK THAT THE BREAKING IN TECHNIQUE HASNT IMPROVED, HAS, OR THAT THERE IS MUCH YET TO BE DONE?
E. HEGUY: I think that breaking-in techniques have improved a lot. Formerly, the technique used was completely traditional and very rough on the horses. Maybe the mistake lay in giving the trainers too many horses, completely unbroken youngsters. If a trainer is given a completely wild horse he will have double the work. Fortunately this is no longer happening, the trainers are taken horses that lead, accustomed to being handled. If they are tame enough and the trainer treats them with affection and mounts them in a pen, without shouting, they don't even buck. A horse bucks when it is hit, shouted at, etc. But if it is not ill-treated it can usually be taken out in a field for its second gallop without any problem. This decreases the number of fractures and more horses finish their training. horse breakers have changed, they no longer want the horses to buck or gallop when they first mount them, so they mount them in a pen. They handle them more from the ground before mounting them and no longer beat them. One of the reasons for this is that it is difficult to get good horses and therefore greater care is taken of them. I think in this sense things have evolved, and should continue doing so.
J. M. AZUMENDI: WHEN THE HORSES ARE TIED IN THE LINES IN PALERMO, THEIR SIZE IS QUITE CONSISTENT. IS THERE A TENDENCY TO REDUCE THE SIZE OF THE HORSES?
E. HEGUY: This depends a lot on the position they're played in and the physique of the player. I need a larger horse than my cousin Bautista or my brother Alberto or lighter players. Smaller horses make things easier because they're "stuck to the ground" and the ball is nearer so it's easier to hit and direct it. But in Palermo or the larger playing fields the smaller horses, though more agile, don't, in the long run, have the capacity of a larger horse. The ideal horse must be small, very compact and very strong. horses must be like "Colibri", a small horse with incredible strength. I, personally, have "Pastilla", she's a dwarf but she's got impressive legs, quarters and chest.
But I would say that more than a standard size, quality is what a player wants, and there are as many good large horses as small ones. In spite of this a very tall horse is slower, and makes it more difficult to hit the ball. The ideal horse is small, compact, very resistant and strong.
J.M. AZUMENDI: AS TO THE BITS, WE HAVE NOTICED THAT SEVERAL OF THE horses YOU HAVE IN TRAINING OR ARE PLAYING ARE USING A BIT, THOUGH USUALLY PLAYERS PREFER A GAG BIT. WHAT IS THIS DUE TO?
E. HEGUY: I, personally, am trying to change and try other things. I am getting my trainers to use a gag bit a few times, as well as an ordinary bit, so that I don't get a horse who has never used anything but a bit. It's a trial I'm carrying out. Till now my horses had only been trained to use a bit and I myself had to use a gag bit on them for the first time. I calculate that 95% of the polo ponies that play in Palermo use a gag bit. With the speed of the game and with the sharp twists and turns it is very difficult for a horses' mouth to survive the use of an ordinary bit. Only a very special horse will be able to play all its life with an ordinary bit. Some horses use bits their first season and then they're changed to gag bits.
J.M. AZUMENDI:THOSE horses THAT ARE SLIGHTLY VIOLENT WHEN FIRST PLAYED, HOW DO YOU MANAGE THEM, DO YOU USE SIDE-REINS OR DO YOU USE COULBE REINS?
E. HEGUY: I like side-reins, they're also very corrective in the sense of getting the horse to adopt the right stance. They're useful for working the horse, playing it and even playing in the Open. I have no problem playing horses with one or two side-reins, they're excellent, specially for practice work. So I try new horses out with a gag bit and if they take to it I continue using it. If they don't I leave them on an ordinary bit and try to change every now and then so they get used to a gag bit. When I play them on week-ends I use a bit and when I'm using them in practice sessions two against two, which are slower, I use a gag bit. There are also horses that don't take to a gag bit, they strain against it or rest on it, so I put them back on to using an ordinary bit. I always use an ordinary bit with side-reins, I never use it with four reins, because it causes a more abrupt impact, on the other hand, using side-reins one can pull and they tighten slowly with no abrupt impact, so I always use them. At the present time, a drop noseband is frequently used with a bit. Some play with a bit, a curb chain and a drop noseband so that the horse does not open its mouth so much. We are using this on new horses and horses accustomed to ordinary bits. The ideal thing would be to get the horse to play with a simple or double gag bit and side-reins, this would be no impediment to speed, even the speed at which the Palermo Open is played. I sometimes see horses start the season with a simple gag bit and end it with a double gag bit, this is due to the fact that either training or feeding make them slightly more violent and therefore something stronger is needed to control them. It is always better to have a greater possibility of controlling a horse than what is strictly necessary, so as not to pull and tug on the animal's mouth and hurt it.
J.M. AZUMENDI: ARE YOU IN FAVOUR OF PULLING ON A HORSE'S MOUTH?
E. HEGUY: No, I don't like it. If a horse is taught to stop with a gentle tug on its mouth inside a pen, it will stop at a slight pull. I am not in favour of mounting a horse and letting it run off madly in the open, I prefer that it be tried out and galloped in a pen at the beginning of training and that it learn that a tug is a signal to stop. If necessary a little pressure can be exerted by the rider. But the practice of throwing the horse on the ground, kicking its cheek and tugging at its girth should be done away with.
I personally have broken in some horses such as La Granadera that won second prize last year and the reserve championship. And its first gallops were with a leather thong mouthpiece, then I changed to a snaffle, it is easier to school a horse with a snaffle than with a leather mouthpiece. I am truly fanatical about working horses at a walk, they must learn at a walk, learn to stop, to back, and so on. Then speed can be gradually increased, but they know what is being asked of them because they learnt at a walk.
J.M. AZUMENDI: HOW DO YOU TRAIN A HORSE TO TURN IT INTO A GOOD PLAYER?
E. HEGUY:I think plenty of time is essential, specially during their first season. I prefer them to become used to training, to practices, gallops, and not to force them. The first time I only play a horse for two months and not four, then I let it loose again and then play it hard in the summer. I only bring a horse to Buenos Aires at four years of age to play a few practice games, and then I play it hard at six years of age. Before that age I only play it in the country. Obviously there are always exceptions, such as Horacio's La Marsellesa or Pepe's La Pureza, that at four years of age played two chukkers at Palermo. But I am not in favour of bringing horses that are in training to Buenos Aires during the season, because sometimes one gets carried away and it can be prejudicial to the horse.
J.M. AZUMENDI:WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE WORK CARRIED OUT BY THE AACCP AS TO THE SELECTION OF HERDS, OF STALLIONS AND EVERYTHING CONCERNING PROVIDING PLAYERS WITH HORSESS AND WHAT WOULD YOU IMPROVE ON?
E. HEGUY: What are not very frequent, and I really like them, are the sales of dams of selected stallions which the Association used to organise. I believe that before there were sales of selected Thoroughbred racing stallions. I think that there could be sales of selected Argentine polo stallions, because after ten years there is a good number of horses and many breeders would sell stallions out of good mares, as sires.
J.M. AZUMENDI: ARE YOU THINKING OF FORMER PLAYERS WHO HAVE HERDS AND NOBODY TO PLAY THEIR horses, NO SONS TO PLAY FOR THEM, AND WOULD SEND UNTRAINED FILLIES TO THE SALES?
E. HEGUY: I include them, of course. Personally I prefer a sale of fillies, mares and stallions to a sale of new AACCP horses, because new horses have sometimes been tried. If a trainer hands you a horse with a tremendous aptitude it is very unlikely you will send it to a sale, unless you are very pressed for funds. I think the Association is wonderful, it organises conferences, meetings, it organised the Argentine polo Pony breed so that now it is really a breed and now people want a polo pedigree stallion for their herd where before they used a Thoroughbred racehorse. Obviously there is a lot of work still to be carried out establishing the lines with good results.
J.M. AZUMENDI: IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT SORT OF horses ARE IN DEMAND ABROAD, WITH WHAT CHARACTERISTICS?
E. HEGUY: In the 80s the horse we always referred to as a Ścork' was very much in demand in Europe, in Brunei and even the USA. As the 90s advanced both the polo and the horses improved in Spain, in France and mainly in England and the USA. This means that ever better horses are looked for. Palermo has evolved and polo abroad has too. The market has to adapt to this.
In the USA, mainly, several organisations breed racehorses and many of these horses that have never raced go to sales and end up in the polo field. Therefore, one cannot compete with them mounted on a Ścork'. Also, during the last few years several 7 and 8 goal handicap players that did not play in Palermo had to take their best horses out of the country to play them, because they found it very difficult to compete. For this reason good horses must be bred, because the Ścorks' that leave the country are sold where players are less choosy. If one tries to breed high quality horses one may produce good ones and conversely if one tries for moderately good horses sometimes one turns out a really good one. Over the last few years prices for good quality horses have been very good, even within Argentina. In previous times, many horses that had played at Palermo were sold abroad, now if they're sold its amongst the Palermo players, they don't leave the circuit.
J.M. AZUMENDI: WHAT RESULTS HAVE YOU HAD WITH EMBRYO TRANSFER?
E. HEGUY: The first horses obtained by embryo transfer are now 7 or 8 years old. To be frank, we have not seen a clear benefit with this early experience or satisfactory results. I think we were in too much of a hurry to see the results and we also made mistakes with the stallions we chose during the first couple of years. Afterwards several things changed: such as the stallion selection and other factors. Now, I am a fanatic supporter of embryo transfer, mainly because we telescope time and can get progeny out of mares that are still playing which we know will give good bloodlines. Furthermore, I think renting or selling embryos is a good idea, so anybody can do this, one can even buy an unborn foal if one has 7 or 8 receptor mares pregnant. Maybe the best thing is that we can accelerate selection. One can have 7 year old mares and know if their progeny will be good or not, because they were sent to an embryo transfer centre at 4 when they looked like being good. So one can have an 8 year old playing mare with 4 year old daughters starting to play.
J.M. AZUMENDI:WHAT TYPE OF STALLION DO YOU PREFER FOR YOUR HERD?
E. HEGUY: I am now using many Argentine polo Pony stallions. I like their bloodlines, their aptitude, and I believe one has less chance of committing mistakes than with a Thoroughbred racing stallion, which was bought on the strength of its bloodline and type, but without riding it. This system ruined several years work, because one only became aware that a stallion was no good after 5 years and 15 or 29 foals a year. If one makes a mistake with a mare it is not so serious. I, personally, like to have several stallions and lend them to my friends or I buy stallions in partnership with my brothers and carry out tests. In this manner, testing them, one can reduce the chances of error.
When I buy a stallion I want one that has been proven to be good. The last one I bought was Ultrasonido, I'd bought a few of the fillies it threw and trained them and they were good, this decided me to buy the stallion. I don't like buying a Thoroughbred stallion however good its pedigree or racing history if it has not been tested. On the other hand, Argentine polo stallions can be trained, played, and though they may not be good-looking they are going to throw polo ponies, good ones, and this is what one wants. If one is starting out, there are several options. One can start with Thoroughbred mares with a very good pedigree and physical conformation and use an Argentine polo Pony stallion on them to introduce polo bloodlines. Many things have improved. Formerly, one sold good foals for good prices but one did not invest so much in stallions. The idea seemed to be to make as much money as possible and to re-invest less than necessary.
J.M. AZUMENDI:WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE TO BREEDERS JUST STARTING OUT?
E. HEGUY: To break in their foals using a humane method, treating them with affection, getting them used to handling before mounting them. Not to hurry them when they start to play them and not to ill-treat them, to be on the alert for any sign of disease they may show and to breed for pleasure and not for gain.