BUENOS AIRES - 16-year old equestrian Mateo Coles became the first Haitian to win a gold medal in the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in October, and like many equestrians, he is an emerging champion from a family with a rich history of equestrian success in their blood.
But unlike the famous equestrian families of Argentina and Wellington, the Coles story isn’t well-known; not even Mateo was aware of the history and his connection to another present-day equestrian, Ambassador Claude-Alix Bertrand.
Bertrand, a former USPA player and current captain of Haiti Polo Team, reached out to Mateo last year after an exceptional performance in Florida. Mateo knew of Bertrand as the only Haitian professional polo player in the world, but he didn’t know they were related. Bertrand’s mother, Jessie Coles, is a cousin of Mateo’s grandfather, Serge Coles. Further, Bertrand and Coles share a common great-grandfather, Charlie Coles – not, unsurprisingly, another equestrian champion from the late 1800s in Haiti.
Both Bertrand and Mateo were born and raised in Haiti. Both Bertrand and Mateo emigrated to the United States to pursue education and training. Both have won major titles for Haiti in the country of Argentina. Both Bertrand and Mateo maintain Haitian citizenship and ride with the Haitian flag proudly affixed to their jerseys and jackets, honoring both their country and their ancestors.
Bertrand was named Ambassador UNESCO for Haiti in 2014 by former president Michel J. Martelly.
Representing Haiti in the equestrian world poses challenges for both Bertrand and Mateo. The unlikely association of a country better-known for being dependent upon foreign aid and equestrian heroes, who practice some of the world’s most expensive hobbies, creates a polarity to be managed rather than avoided. Unfortunately, for most of Haiti’s history, the success of its equestrians remained relatively unknown.
In November 2017, Polo Lifestyles published the world’s first history of polo and equestrian activities in Haiti. During the American occupation, polo was made popular in Port-au-Prince by officers who played alongside members of Haitian society who maintained stables. Even when the America occupation ended and the polo fields were neglected, Haitian business families like the Coles, who wanted their offspring to be well-rounded, maintained stables and liveries in Haiti.
Today, the Athletic Club Centre Equestre in Port-au-Prince is one of the meeting place for Haiti’s equestrians. In 2015, the ACCE hosted handicapped children from St. Vincent’s Orphanage with lessons in equestrian therapy. The club hosts annual summer camps for introduction to horsemanship, dressage, and jumping. Higher up in the mountains, other equestrian centers like Reserve Ecologique Wynn Farms and Le Montcel in Kenscoff maintain stables. The Centre Equestre Chateaublond in Route de Freres is also active with equestrian activities for members.
Haiti Polo Team more closely associated its domicile with Cotes-de-Fer on the southern side of the island rather than in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Plans for a polo, racing and sailing resort in Cotes-de-Fer have been underway since 2015.