The Holden Family Legacy

Interviews: Ambassador Glen Holden, Glen "Jeep" Holden II, Michael Sheller, Glen "G3" Holden III 

Ambassador Glen: The Patriarch of the Family
"Jeep": Ambassador Glen Holden's Son
Geannie: Ambassador Glen Holden's Daughter
Michael: Ambassdor Glen Holden's Son-in-Law 
"G3": Ambassador Glen Holden's Grandson
 

 

Ambassador Glen Holden

How old were you when you first started to ride horses? Do you have a fond memory of this?

When I was 3 years old my sister ran up to me and said “hurry Dad just came home with a pony for you.” Growing up I rode in a western saddle and never in a flat saddle until at age of 29. I was invited to play polo in an arena in Portland, Oregon. It was exciting to me and I wanted to play every week, which I did. The club manager gave me a couple of lessons and helped me buy my first two polo ponies. Then I bought more and more polo ponies!
 

Who taught you how to play polo? What originally attracted you to the sport of polo and why?

Bob Skene, who was a 10-goal player for 18 years gave me more lessons and invited me to go play polo in Singapore, Kuala Lampur, Jaipur and India. On that trip and many that followed for many years, Bob and I plus our wives, Elizabeth and Gloria. We became lifelong friends.
 

Where did you play your first game? 

The now historic Lake Oswego Hunt Club, which is located just outside Portland.
 

What was the name of your favorite polo pony?

Over the years I have owned several hundred polo ponies. Many of them Top-Top ponies that I loved. They are like your children, you love them, would do anything for them, each different, but you never loved one more than the others.
 

Do you have a favorite polo memory?

This is a very hard question, there are so many.

From the time, I started to play polo I had heard about the Santa Barbara Polo Club (SBPC) and how the fields were as good or better than any fields in the World. Therefore, I went to play there in 1963 and continued to play there until I quit playing at 81 years old.

We moved to California in 1972. I played at Will Rogers Polo Club for the first year and often traveled to Santa Barbara on the weekends to play polo.

I was so passionate about polo and the friends I met, I became deeply involved for life. I served as a Governor of the United States Polo Association (USPA) for 10 years, I helped found the Federation of International Polo (FIP) and served as President of FIP for 9 ½ years. In this position, I continued to visit and play polo in many countries.
I was honored to become a member of the “Polo Hall of Fame”
I have won several major tournaments, top wins;
The Pacific Coast Open with family friends, Daniel Gonzalez, his son, Martin Gonzalez and F.D. Walton.
The US Open, again with lifelong family friends; Ruben Gracida, Memo Gracida and Mike Azzaro. our coach was Bob Skene.
The Governor’s Cup: played with my family; son Jeep Holden, son in law, Mike Sheller and Alfonso Giannico who was our professional who cared for our horses and was and still is like a son to me.
 

What was your USPA rating?

2 Goal
 

Who has been the USPA player that has inspired your family the most?

Bob Skene, Ruben Gracida, Daniel Gonzalez and Alfonso Giannico. Each one of these fine men are lifelong friends to each member of my family.
 

The Holden family has been so passionate about supporting the Club. Next year, 2021, the Santa Barbara Polo Club will be celebrating its 110th Anniversary.

When we moved to live permanently in Southern California I was asked to be a member of the Board of Directors, (Trustees) along with Ken Walker, a second or third generation member of SBPC and Dr. Norman Ringer. The Club had been there since 1911, owned by several private parties. It was started by the Fleishman family of Chicago, then the Jackson family of Santa Barbara, then Rudy Tongg of Hawaii who after suffering a bad polo injury, sold the Club to a large company that intended to sell it for development. By good luck, Rudy Tongg had given a “first right of refusal to buy” to the Club, if the new buyer tried to sell it. A plan was started to purchase the Club, developers would build a 144-unit condominium complex, if the Club would give 8.5 acres to the developers. The Developers would buy the fields, stable and tennis area and build the Tennis Club, all for the SBPC.

As the Condos were being built, one of the developers’ partners died and the other went bankrupt. The bank foreclosed on the Condos and Club. The three Trustees told the Bank that if the Bank would complete the condos and pay for the purchase of the property for the Club, the Trustees would run the Club for polo and tennis, help sell the Condos, pay all the bills to run the club, pay off all of the debt left by the Developers. The Bank approved and the Trustees did all they said they would do. The Club was purchased and all debts were paid off. The three Trustees ran the club together at a profit for several decades. Dr. Ringer passed away, at that time Ken Walker and I appointed 10 new Trustees.
 

What do you envision or hope for the next 10 to 20 years of the Club to look like?

Our hope is that those 10 Trustees operate and care for the club and put the land in a “Conservation Easement”, so that the land will be used for Polo only, into perpetuity.

Jeep Holden

How old were you when you first started to ride horses? Do you have a fond memory of this?

Dad put me on a horse at about three years old. It was too big. When I was six, he came home with two ponies, saddles and a small driving cart. We rode them around the yard and at the hunt club. Dad tried to drive the cart through the front door once - I think the scratches are still there from the wheels.
 

Who taught you how to play polo? What originally attracted you to the sport of polo and why?

My polo career began when we moved to Houston, Texas. Joe Barry was a young professional there and taught me how to hit a ball. Playing was easy with all the pros making horses in the winter in San Antonio; they were all very helpful in terms of pointers and tips.
I started hot-walking horses for my Dad at five when he began playing in Lake Oswego. When I was thirteen, I decided it was easier to avoid being stepped on when in the saddle. I had been around the game and wanted to play a little black horse he had that was too small for him.
 

Where did you play your first game? 

I played in Houston and In San Antonio. My chukkers depended on whether Dad was in town. If he was, I would wander through the barns asking the pros or other adult players if they had a green horse they wanted to have worked in a game; if he wasn't I rode the rest of our horses. Games were always six chukkers.
 

What was the name of your favorite polo pony?

There are too many to have just one. My first, the little black gelding, was Take Me. In college, it was Bershire, a little mare with no markings and a deep copper color. In Santa Barbara, it would have to be Bon Chance, Grey Cloud, Sonora and Esperanza - beautiful horses.
 

Do you have a favorite polo memory?

In 1978, Dad and I won the Governor's Cup in Eldorado with 41 teams entered. Dennis Breen and Bobby Barry were our teammates. In 2005, our family team won it again, with Dad, me, my brother-in-law Mike Sheller and Alfonso Giannico. Grooming for Dad again in 1993 for the U. S. Open was great.
 

What was your USPA rating?

My rating is now "A"; my highest rating was 2 goals, which I carried for 22 years.
 

Who has been the USPA player that has inspired your family the most?

Bob Skene was a wonderful player and long-time friend, as well as Daniel Gonzalez. Both have been great mentors and fellow players.
 

The Holden family has been so passionate about supporting the Club. Next year, 2021, the Santa Barbara Polo Club will be celebrating its 110th Anniversary.

We will be there cheering the teams on, just not playing.
 

What do you envision or hope for the next 10 to 20 years of the Club to look like?

Having the Club be a destination for players - grass or arena, young or old, beginner or experienced, man or woman - would be our hope so that polo is played in Santa Barbara for another hundred years, at least.

Mike Sheller

How old were you when you first started to ride horses? Do you have a fond memory of this?

Glen was in his late 50’s when I started to ride. When Geannie and I were on our honeymoon in Oregon, she wanted to go for a trail ride at the resort we were staying at. Little did I know that this would be the start of my polo experience. We had stopped to rest, Geanie looked over at my hands and laughed, “If you want to play polo, you need to put the reins in the other hand.” When we returned from our honeymoon, I started lessons.
 

Who taught you how to play polo? What originally attracted you to the sport of polo and why?

I look my first lessons from Dean Mullins to learn the different shots and then Bob Skene once I started to cantor a bit. I have always played sports and done well, but polo was something new and exciting to me.
I recall being behind Glen’s house one day looking at some mallets Jeep was selling. This was where I met Dr. Al Mortiguy. He looked at me and asked if I was going to start to play. I said I was taking some lessons and would consider playing if possible. He said, “You should think twice about it. Polo is like heroine. Once you start, you are hooked and it’s hard to quit.” He was right, I’ve tried to quit twice, but I always came back.
 

Where did you play your first game? How many chukkers?

My first experience was a practice game on field 1. Back in the day, the pros played every chance they could, so it was not uncommon to be in a 12goal practice game. I felt like “Goofy” in “Mickey goes to the Polo Field” cartoon. It was really fast paced and so much fun. I played 2 chukkers that day, then I couldn’t sit for 3 days.
 

What was the name of your favorite polo pony?

There were so many favorites! Lili, who came from David Gonzales, ran like a bullet and maneauvered like a Lamborghini. Then there was Papa Frita, he was the fastest horse we ever had and was absolutely amazing as was her baby Milagro, “the Miracle”.

However, the horse who stands out the most, I still have a picture of her on my wall at home, Toti. Small but mighty. I could get more done on that horse that any other I played with. I bought her from Alfonso Giannico. We she arrived, I could not believe my eyes, that he sent me such a small horse. I questioned Alfonso why he would send her to me. His response, “Wait until you play with her.” He was right, she was truly amazing. Today, Toti lives on a ranch in Arizona run by a friend of Geannie’s, with many of our retired horses.
 

Do you have a favorite polo memory?

Truly, every one of my memories of polo, are dear to me. Some of my favorites were playing with my good friend Alfonso.
Also, Sunny Hale is also a star in many of my memories. She was such a joy to play with, a person who loved the sport as much as she did. Her gifts and contribution to polo, will never be forgotten by the whole polo world. Unfortunately she passed way too soon.
I also recall Memo asking me three times to fill in for his patrons who were injured. The last time he requested me to step in, I stayed on the sidelines because the Patron wanted to tough it out. At Carlos Gracidas’ funeral, Memo and I connected. I shared how sorry I was for Carlos’ passing. Memo replied, “I regret that day that you did not sub in. I think we would have won that match, then I could have gone to the PCO Finals with my brother.” I’ve always thought Memo is a true gentleman of the sport.
 

What was your USPA rating?

I reached a rating of 2 goals, lasting for 2 years.The majority of my time I was at 0 - 1 goals.
 

Who has been the USPA player that has inspired your family the most?

Daniel Gonzales, without a doubt. I cannot say enough about how much of a joy it was to play with him or just watch him captain a team.
 

What do you envision for the next 10 – 20 years of the Club to look like?

For the close knit family tradition of the sport to continue. I have so many fond memories of the club. Some of the best times of my life! A huge thank you to Glen.


 

Geannie Sheller

How old were you when you first started to ride horses? Do you have a fond memory of this?

I grew up as the girl and the youngest in the family. I began to ride as soon as I could sit in the saddle. I was not allowed to play polo so I started riding hunter jumpers and still ride them today. I recall riding and working the polo ponies but never was given a chance to play.

I have so many incredible family memories about the sport of polo. In fact, when I was young, I had a terrible riding accident that took months to recover from. I was scared and did not want to be near a horse but polo was our family activity, I had to go. My Dad had a horse called Lite Flite, truly a fitting name because he was quick and unpredictable. James Rice was in the barn behind us, he came to me and suggested I sit in front of Lite Flites stall, he said this horse is as afraid of you as you are of him, the rest is something out of a movie. He loved me and he helped me heal, he ended up being a top jumper and we won many Championships together. He lived his entire life with me, he passed away in 1990.
 

Who taught you how to play polo? What originally attracted you to the sport of polo and why?

My loving husband, Michael Sheller, used to take me stick-n-ball. To be honest, in the beginning I was not very good. Then came along Sunny Hale! She signed on to be our instructed at Polo Training Center Santa Barbara (PTCSB) and took me under her wing. From her guidance, I was able to blend the rules that I already knew, along with my riding experience, to have fun and get stronger at hitting the ball. Not only that, but it made me more connected with our family’s sport. It was quite an experience.
 

Where did you play your first game? How many chukkers?

My one and only game was played at our Gehache Ranch next to the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club. PTCSB put in a small teaching field at our family’s Ranch, adjacent to the Club. On a Sunday, Michael, my brother Jeep, my nephew Glen3, Sunny, one of our students, Nicole Davenport and myself played 4 chukkers. We had the time of our lives. I played on the team with my brother and Glen3. Best day ever!
 

What was the name of your favorite polo pony?

My favorite horse was Lite Flite and I had a several favorite polo ponies through the years; Papas Frita, Maria Va, Tyson and Toti. I loved watching Michael play Maria Va and Toti, he would always have a great chukker when these ladies came to the field.
 

Do you have a favorite polo memory?

So many favorite memories: My marriage to Michael Sheller in 1982 is the highlight of my life. We went to Bend Oregon on our honeymoon, he took me on a trail ride through such beautiful mountains, I noticed he had the reins in his right hand, I told him he should switch because the reins are in your left hand and mallet in the right. Little did I know he looked at me and said I better learn to ride and play polo now that I am a part of the family. Lucky me!

Another fun fact; I spent a month with Roonie (Anne) Walker in Santa Barbara, and we fed the horses that lived in a big pasture at the club, Ken Walker taught me how to drive their feed truck, it was a stick on the tree. I was afraid I would hit a horse, Ken said “ don’t worry they will move” with his loving smile. Elizabeth Skene’s dog Mrs. Miniver, Joanie Berry’s laugh, The Go Honey tournament. Nancy Walker had a summer Pancake Breakfast for everyone, grooms, players and kids, we all looked forward to that time together.

I will never forget the pride I felt when The Foxfield Drill Team preformed for the Sunday half time show (we always did something fun during half time ) and my girls Callen and Gloria were on the team. Like me they did not play polo but both were very completive on the A Show Circuit.

My happiest memories will always be watching Michael play polo and the icing would be if he was playing with my Dad.
 

What was your USPA rating?

No rating
 

Who has been the USPA player that has inspired your family the most?

# 1 my Dad! Our whole family has also been very influenced and inspired by Bob Skene, Daniel Gonzalez, Ruben Gracida and Alfonso Giannico. Each of these men gave so much of their skill and knowledge and shared it with Michael. They made him the player he developed into. Lastly, my friend Sunny Hale, she gave Michael and I so much. She helped develop PTCSB.
 

What do you envision for the next 10 – 20 years of the Club to look like?

Santa Barbara Polo Club will be celebrating its 110th Anniversary.
What do you envision or hope for the next 10 to 20 years of the Club to look like?

I grew up with so many wonderful family memories, not just with my own family but with other families that I continue to this day loving and caring about them.

My hope for the future is that lasting friendships continue to be developed and treasured around the sport of Polo.

Glen "G3" Holden

How old were you when you first started to ride horses? Do you have a fond memory of this?

I was too young to remember the first time I got on a horse. Some of my earlier memories were of my father taking me on rides around the Santa Barbara Polo Fields.
 

Who taught you how to play polo? What originally attracted you to the sport of polo and why?

My father, grandfather and uncle started to teach me how to play polo but Alfonso Giannico was the one that started taking me out a couple days a week and really start coaching me. Later on, when I was in my early 20’s, Mariano Uranga started working with me 3-4 times a week. That is when I really started getting serious about polo.
 

Where did you play your first game? How many chukkers?

I played my first game in Santa Barbara at the club when I was 13 years old. I believe I started with just a couple chuckkers. We only had one horse at the time that was small enough for me to handle.
 

What was the name of your favorite polo pony?

I grew up and learned on a horse named Uranga. She holds a special place in my heart.
 

Do you have a favorite polo memory?

I got to play a match set up for my grandfather’s 80th birthday. It was very special because I got to play with my father, grandfather, uncle, and both coaches that taught me growing up. The celebration match was at the Santa Barbara Polo Fields on Field 1. We had tents set up, music, and all our family in town. I believe it was 2004 and my grandfather stopped playing shortly after. It was the last time we all got to play together.
 

What was your USPA rating?

I was rated as a 1 goal player.
 

Who has been the USPA player that has inspired your family the most?

I would probably have to say Alfonso Giannico. He is an amazing horseman and coach. He always took very good care of our family and horses. His family was always part of our family and I see now how important he was to our family’s polo.
 

What do you envision for the next 10 – 20 years of the Club to look like?

I spent so many years and have so many great memories from The Santa Barbara Polo Club. We spent just about every weekend there growing up. I just hope to see the great sense of family and community I felt throughout my years there.

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