This is the third consecutive winter Hall of Fame polo player Owen Rinehart has spent at home. The horseman, who for years was a familiar face on various rosters during the high goal season in Florida, has been spending more time at his Aiken based operation, Isinya.
“I’ve tried to figure out a way to be able to make a living, and stay at home for the majority of the year,” said Rinehart, who like many horsemen has had to make adjustments because of the economy.
Renowned as one of the sport’s premier horsemen, Rinehart has distinguished himself as a polo player, breeder and trainer. And his program at Isinya continues to produce outstanding horses.
However, like many in the horse industry, Rinehart has had to make adjustments, modify and rethink a number of things. He remains very active as a breeder.
“We have 96 horses on the farm, half of which are mine, and half of which are clients,” said Rinehart. “I have three horses in Florida now, that are for sale, and hopefully they’ll sell, and we’ll keep on keeping on.”
And although there may not be as much activity at the farm, with only a handful of horses in work, the activity at the facility will change markedly by March 1.
“In March, we usually start getting a lot of horses up,” said Rinehart, who is a big supporter of the Team USPA program. “I have a couple of guys, a Team USPA guy, who is in Argentina until April, and another guy who works for me won’t be back until April.”
Aiken resident Jeff Shuler, a member of Team USPA, is getting an opportunity to learn from Rinehart, working mornings at Isinya.
“He’s very keen and willing, and a big, strong boy, and we like that,” said Rinehart. “He’s very hard working, and doing a great job.”
Rinehart’s itinerary will find him playing in Aiken in the spring, playing at Flying H Polo Club in Big Horn, Wyo. in the summer, and returning to Aiken in the fall. “Going out to Wyoming for the summer, for two months, works out really well for my 5-year-olds that have never been to town before,” said Rinehart. “They get to see the bright lights for the first time.”
An advocate of the Team USPA program, Rinehart sees it as a way to give back to the sport, by serving as a team mentor, encouraging the players and growing interest in polo.
“I like working with young, enthusiastic people, those who are willing to work hard, and are willing to learn,” said Rinehart. “I enjoy doing that. It’s a good program. The USPA is trying to stimulate interest and get these guys started the proper way.”
A member of the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, Rinehart will be attending this year’s induction ceremony as his friend Mike Azzaro will be enshrined.
“I played a lot with Mike,” said Rinehart. “He’s a great player, and definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He’s an American. I love having the Argentines here, but I obviously support the Americans as much as possible. It’s quite an honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s a big event. I want to be there for Mike, and Adam (Snow) isn’t too far behind.”
But, it’s Rinehart’s commitment to excellence and passion for the sport, and his ability as a horseman that have made him one of the most respected names in the game. His string of horses makes him one of the best mounted players in polo. However, there are two horses in particular that helped to make his career. One of those horses was Hill Country Slim, the Best Playing Pony of the 1986 U.S. Open Finals and recipient of the Willis L. Hartman Trophy, and Rinehart described the gelding as the most important horse of his career.
“Hill Country Slim should probably be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and maybe one day he will,” said Rinehart. “I didn’t have many good ones, but he was one of them. He played two chukkers more than he did one, and for a long time. He’s the best gelding I ever had. I’ve had some good ones, but not great ones like him. It was probably the combination of the timing with him in my career, and me in his.”
However, Hill Country Slim isn’t the only horse Rinehart acknowledged as being an integral part of his string. A mare named Angie would also play a huge role in helping to shape the athlete’s career.
“Hill Country Slim and Angie carried me from seven to 10 goals,” said Rinehart. “They were there, and it took about five years. Angie was a very good producer and I got a lot of progeny from her.”
A two-time winner of the U.S. Open finals Most Valuable Player Award, Rinehart received the honor in consecutive years, 1986 and 1987. In retrospect, Rinehart wishes he would have done more to savor the moment.
“I appreciate everything much more now, and it kind of irks me that I didn’t enjoy it at the time,” said Rinehart. “I was so competitive, wanting to be better all the time, and I was never satisfied. And now, looking back at some of my accomplishments in the sport, knowing where I came from, having limited access to polo, and to accomplish what I did, I’m very proud of it. So, I wish I would have enjoyed it a little bit more at the time.”
Rinehart still plays at a very high level, and although he’s no longer at 10 goals, he strives to be the best player he can.
“I still want to be better,” said Rinehart. “Once you start selling your good horses, it’s difficult, and obviously Father Time catches up with you too. I’m still doing what I love to do.”
The athlete’s presence is being felt during the high goal season even though he might not be playing there this winter. Rinehart recommended a player to fill out the Tonkawa roster in the Wanderers Classic 14 goal. The player was a familiar face to Aiken, Agustin Arellano, and the team would go onto defeat Mt. Brilliant/ELG 12-11. Arellano played with Jeff Hildebrand, Brandon Phillips and Nic Roldan.
“I had a little something to do with that,” said Rinehart. “Agustin did really well with his dad (Julio Arellano) in the fall. He’s at an age (15 years old) where they get better every game, so you don’t mind recommending someone with the right attitude.”
As an athlete, Rinehart remains passionate about all aspects of his sport, and his objective is to produce equine athletes who will distinguish themselves at the elite level.
“My goal is to breed and train horses to get to one of the three opens,” said Rinehart. “It would be fun to raise a Hartman winner, or to have a horse in the Gold Cup in England or the Argentine Open, any of the high goal events, and to get Best Playing Pony.”