WAGENER--Horse safety is paramount in equestrian sport and activity.

The United States Polo Association saw the importance of making sure the horse comes first, and it was nearly 20 years ago Clint Nangle received a call from the then USPA chairman Steve Orthwein, who understood the significance and urgency of creating a USPA veterinary committee.

Committee formation

Nangle, a USPA circuit governor at the time, was charged with the task of forming a committee. A resourceful man, Nangle contacted a number of his fellow circuit governors, addressing the questions of creating a committee. And in less than 24 hours, the veterinary committee was formed, composed of 13 outstanding veterinarians and Nangle, becoming a reality.

Nangle and Steve “Doc” Roberts would play a critical role in creating the first set of USPA Polo Pony guidelines. Roberts provided a unique perspective in that he was a player, head coach of Cornell Polo, and a veterinarian, and had a great depth of knowledge not only about the sport, but equine welfare. However, it was the way that the first set of USPA Polo Pony welfare guidelines were drawn up that’s left an indelible impression on Nangle.

“It was social hour after a USPA meeting, and while the festivities ran on outside, Doc and I closeted ourselves, literally in a coat closet around a small round cocktail table and pounded out our first set of USPA Polo Pony guidelines with Doc pulling by far and away the major oar,” said Nangle.

And although the Polo Pony guidelines have been modified and amended over the years, the heart of the equine philosophy that was produced during the sequestered meeting remains, said Nangle.

A strong team

Dr. Josh Hall, an original committee member, has been an influential contributor, working tirelessly toward the best interests of the horses.

“I can remember a veterinary committee meeting in El Dorado, just Josh, Dr. John Kuhn and myself,” said Nangle. “We had lunch together and developed the basic ideas for our polo pony heart index programs.”

However, it was during that lunch, that a number of other ideas would be conceived and exchanged, and as the committee evolved from its nascent stages, it began to take on a greater presence nationally, said Nangle.

“As we travelled around the country to expand our committee and add representative members, we also changed the committee name to equine welfare,” said Nangle. “We grew to about 30 members which translated to about a dozen or so members at a meeting, no matter where we met and with good geographical representation.”

Dr. Steve Seager, another veterinarian with the committee from its inception, provided the impetus to have the courage to stand up and not back down, meeting and addressing challenging issues, said Nangle.

There were several people who through their passion for doing what’s best for the horse, including Barb Uskup, Peter and Gwen Rizzo, collated articles from various publications, including Polo The Players Edition, and sent them to committee members, said Nangle.

Expanding influence

Members of the Equine Welfare committee would take a more active role when they began serving on other USPA committees, said Nangle.

“First we served with Dr. Tim Nice, of the Cleveland Clinic and then chair of our safety committee, who was later followed by Drs. Thor Norregaard and Vic Ramon, safety committee co-chairs,” said Nangle. “They have been very kind about allowing us to tag on polo pony injury questions to their safety surveys.”

Global presence

The committee worked closely with Dr. Richard Caleel, the chairman of the international committee, who is now the president of the Federation of International Polo.

“We know this will be a wonderful opportunity to share the information we have been fortunate enough to learn across a wide global spectrum,” said Nangle. “In fact, Equine Welfare International with strong assists from Mark Sedacca and Tania Evans is underway. Russ Sheldon has made a fine contribution with his intercollegiate/interscholastic equine welfare representative study, which details the importance of and the responsibilities in the program.”

Passionate people

The program’s efficacy played a role in creating a templet for an equine welfare represented program, one that was endorsed by the USPA.

Several individuals have played an important role through their advocacy of the committee’s mission and purpose, in reaching out to their international contacts. Those people include Bob Leary, Melissa Ganzi. Juan Villamil, Alfredo Vargas and Tony Coppola.

“Danny Scheraga and Lynn Thompson have been long-term committee members, representing our PTF (Polo Training Foundation), while attorney Avery Chapman has been a long-term wordsmith, crafting many documents for us.”

And it was another polo playing veterinarian who would make an impact, adding his talents and vast knowledge to the committee and the sum of its parts, said Nangle.

“Along came Dr. Bill Patterson, who did some of our very first surveys,” said Nangle.

It was Patterson’s expertise and knowledge of equine welfare that would play an important role, during a time of misfortune for the sport, said Nangle.

“Fortunately for us he (Patterson) was well schooled in equine welfare when tragedy struck,” said Nangle. “The loss of 20 top polo ponies at fieldside, even with the expert and tireless efforts of Dr. Paul Wollenman and Scott Swerdlin and their veterinary group.”

It was from that incident that Patterson was selected to head a three member committee that was also composed of Dr. Josh Hall and Kathleen Timmins, and they were tasked with the responsibility of forming a drugs and medications subcommittee, to comprehend and perceive the signifcance of the loss and establish standards in ways to address future issues, said Nangle.

“Bill, Josh and Kathleen did it, and we’ve been blessed with a thoughtful testing program, a huge understanding and a tremendous accomplishment,” said Nangle.

New homes and vocations

The USPA is doing its part to make sure that when a horse is retired it will be able to find a home and still have a meaningful life, said Nangle.

“Of recent date we have decided to take a look at the American Horse Council’s unwanted horse coalition of which the USPA is a founding member,” said Nangle. “Additionally, we are determining what is feasible from a polo pony standpoint. We are fortunate to have Lydia Bibeau heading up this subcommittee with great energy and enthusiasm.”

The welfare of the horse

An organized effort is being made by a committee to gather information with the best interest of the horse im mind, said Nangle.

“Our other new effort is headed by Mark Sedacca with very strong assistance from staffer Lindsay Dolan and our CEO Peter Rizzo, the key man for the hot line contact, who is very close to polo pony welfare.”

The USPA Polo Pony Welfare Guidelines, a resource for the USPA Equine Welfare Committee, based on the Myopia Equine Welfare Committee’s Polo Pony Welfare Guidelines, is a booklet providing useful information with a prudent, sagacious and judicious approach to doing what is best for the horse.

“These spontaneous efforts, by largely what are volunteers, are creating a solid body of useful and intensive reading,” said Nangle.