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Polo in Haiti: The Untold Story

October 30, 2017

 

When one thinks of Haiti, the Sport of Kings does not automatically spring to mind, however back in the 1920s and 30s, polo was once a part of Haiti’s very elegant social landscape. 


The American occupation (1915-1934) consisted of several military commissions. W. Cameron Forbes led the Hoover Commission in Haiti. A  big lover of the sport, he had a hill leveled to construct Haiti’s original polo field near the capital of Port-au-Prince, soon after arriving on the island. 
A noted polo expert, Forbes started by organizing tournaments and inviting notable players, mostly American. Their time on the island not only facilitated savoring and exploring the beauty of Haiti but also competitive polo matches. Notable players included Walt Disney, Erick Pedley, Tommy Hitchcock, Jr. and Cecil Smith.


Forbes also introduced the sport to local army officers, and with proper training and skills, they were soon participating very competitively in the matches.
Quite naturally, the sport became the subject of curiosity and speculation among the local population. American officers stationed in Haiti for the occupation mingled with the highest level of Haitian government officials at sunny afternoon matches.


As polo grew in popularity, so did the attendance and guests. The Haitians elite flocked to the matches played most afternoons between local army officers, wealthy Americans and stationed Marines.


A 1932 issue of Leatherneck Magazine, a publication for the U.S. Marine Corps, noted that polo in Haiti had long since arrived. In fact, in July 1929, veteran polo players from Haiti and China formed the Marine Corps Riding and Polo Association in Quantico, Virginia. Unfortunately, when U.S. troops left Haiti in 1934, enthusiasm for polo waned.


Fast forward 80 years to 2013, Stephanie Balmir-Villedrouin, newly appointed as Haiti’s Minister of Tourism, was brainstorming ways to improve Haiti’s image and increase tourism in the country. In conversation with the first known Haitian professional polo player, Claude-Alix Bertrand, the idea to create a national polo team for Haiti was born. 


Bertrand has big plans for his motherland. In addition to spearheading Haiti’s national polo team, he vowed to bring polo back not just as entertainment, but as part of Haiti’s sporting panorama in an ambitious tourism project, currently in development.


A competitive polo player, his passion for the sport and his native land are palpable. Bertrand was introduced to the sport of polo at the age of seven while vacationing in Barbados. 


Over the years, his emphatic passion for the sport has continuously gotten him back into the saddle despite major injuries. A United States Polo Association player from 2003-2013, Bertrand is now captain of Haiti Polo Team. The team trains rigorously in preparation for competition regularly representing Haiti. Since 2014, Haiti Polo Team has made history several times, winning notable tournaments on the global polo tour.

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