Interviews: Patrick "Pat" Ringer.
Norman "Norm" Ringer: The Patriarch of the Family
Elanor Ringer: The Matriarch of the Family
Michael Ringer: Norm's Older Son
Pat Ringer: Norm's Youngest Son
How old were you when you first started to ride horses?
We all started in the late 1960’s, I was 9 years old, my brother was 12, and my dad was 45. Dad was an OBGYN, so he spent a lot of time at work, but this was our way to spend time together, while mom stayed home.
What was so neat about playing polo was I was always hanging out with the older men. It was a man’s sport, not a kids sport, so we as kids were treated like an equals. That also meant they didn’t cut us any slack either.
We would spend all day Saturdays & Sundays, doing nothing but polo. We would gather up the horses, hall them down from our ranch to the polo field in Turlock, CA to play round robbins all day. Then, at the end of the day, we would slow down and have a beverage to enjoy together overlooking the fields as the sun was setting.
We later played in Carmel. Dad once played in San Francisco and another time in England. Then we started playing at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club.
It’s funny though, because I grew up on a ranch in Modesto, I didn’t tell my friends that I spent my summers down there. I didn’t want people to think I was being snooty.
Where did you play your first game? How many chukkers?
I first played at the age of 9, in Turklock, CA. It was a 6 chukkers match. I mostly recall the helmet was too big, and the mallet was so long because a the time, they only had adult sizes.
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.
How would you describe your Dad on a horse?
Dad didn’t start playing until he was 45 years old. He grew up on a ranch, but they didn’t ride very hard because all they had was cattle. So he wasn’t a strong rider. He was always intrigued by horses though. Before he started to play polo, he was into horse racing.My dad and brother were rated as 1 goal players and my highest ranking was 3 goals.
What did the sport mean to him?
For our whole family, polo created a lot of great family memories. It’s unlike any other sport, in that it’s a familial sport. I was really into playing football when I was younger. It wasn’t a family bonding sport though, because my family would be sitting in the stands watching me play. It’s rare that a sport supports and encourages several generations on one team. So many wonderful family moments were created on that field, together.
My Mom and sisters came to watch us play too. They were happy to watch, then go shopping or into the town afterwards.
Do you recall your Dad, Ambassador Glen Holden and Ken Walker spending time together?
Yes, I recall clearly those 3 meeting. Once the games were over for the day, they would meet up at our condo on property, to talk about the direction of the club. What brought them together was preserving the club for future generations.
They all came together for financially stabilizing the club at a time in need. Kenny was there in the trio a strong player in the group, because he was a banker. Ambassador brought the financial background. Dad brought creditability to the group, as a doctor. Since dad used to work at Harvard and University of Chicago, and doctors were revered even more highly than now, he supported in that way. My dad was truly honored, that Glen and Kenny asked for him to be a part of the trio.
Do you have a fond memory of you starting to play?
I loved that we were hanging out with the older men. They treated us as equals, not kids. It was not common for kids to play amongst themselves, so they didn’t cut any slack for us.
As a kid, I played a lot with Jimmy Rogers, Will Roger’s son. Jimmy was very unassuming, no airs about him, friendly, rugged outdoor type, very funny and talkative. He had a ranch in Bakersfield, and spent a lot of his time roping up there. When I met him, he was about 70 years old. He certainly liked to smoke and drink. I still recall him stating, “If I would have known I would have lived this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” It was kinda funny. Jimmy was very friendly about horseman ship and hitting the ball. It felt like I was hanging around a cool grandfather.
Who was most influential in the sport to you?
When I really got into the sport, I was 19 years old. I was pretty good at football at the time, however I got injured so I couldn’t play anymore. However, my injury allowed me to play polo.
When I first started at the Santa Barbara Polo Club, an old cowboy, Dean Mullens approached me and told me that I could be good. I however thought football was the best game there was and didn’t think much of what Dean stated. I even said to myself, “I’d get into polo if I was a fat old man.”
Dean was a 5 goal player back then. He took me under his wing and taught me all about the game. He was from the golden age of polo, knew Harry East, Eric Pedley, and many more of the greats. I was just thinking this old guy was trying to get some money out of me, what is this “old fart” – what are you going to teach me?
He even had me play with some of the best polo players in the world. They definitely didn’t take it easy on me, but that was the fun part. I still remember strong elements of Dean. He was a true cowboy to me. Always wearing his cowboy hat and jeans. Always called each other by our last names. He had always been a real athlete, which certainly did well for him in polo. He had a basketball scholarship in college and then later became a rodeo rider, until his wife, Eleanor, told him he needed to stop. Then, Dean’s uncle asked him if he wanted to break horses. That’s when Dean connected with polo.
When I met Dean, I had already been riding for 10 years. Dean wasn’t even actively playing anymore but he gave lessons to a few people. Dean buttered up to me because I was one of the only youngsters. In fact, I never even paid for one lesson, it really was time for us to spend together, he was passing on his legacy to me. Dean really became a grandfather and best friend to me. We were practically the same guy, but only separated by 50 years.
Who were some of the greats you met because of Dean?
The Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club was the best club west of the Missippi besides Texas. Dean introduced me to some of the polo Hall of Fame guys. Robert Skene, Kenny Walker, Corky Linfoot, Mr. Berry, Joe Henderson, Dale Snickelless, Jack Conants, Ron Walton, Jimmy & Will Rogers, the Oxleys and Leo Hulseman. Even Sylvester Stallone during my last few years.
I still recall meeting Leo Hulseman for the first time. He pulled up in a rolls Royce up to the polo field and came out looking like The Great Gatsby, out of a movie.
I still remember meeting Robert Skene, or more notably “Hurricane Bob”, one of the only 10 goal players worldwide. I honestly thought he was Basil Rathbone when we met!
We ended up playing a lot of games with Bob. He was without a doubt the Babe Ruth of polo. I still recall him making a backshot 500 yards away, and it was a perfect. I ended up asking him how he did it. His initial response was, “you know I charge people for asking these questions”. I ended up softening him up, plus I was just a kid, he gave me some pointers.
There are things you just can’t get from a book. Bob once told me to slightly rotate my hips, and it made a world of difference. I learned to put my whole body into it, my hips, strengthening my upper body angles, my shoulders, everything. Once you get the right angle, it really works! The knowledge to play polo, is truly tribal knowledge, it’s passed down from generation to generation.
What did you really like about the game?
I really enjoyed playing polo because it’s a family oriented and community spirited sport. Dad was a 0-1 goal player, and his teams would set him up to win. One game he put in 9 goals! There were also a lot of BBQ's after the games, it was very casual and family feel.
What do you recall Dean saying about the sport of polo?
A lot of the polo families didn’t pay after WWII. Dean Mullins even said, “a lot of the big polo families didn’t ever play again”. What I’ve found is if you don’t grow up playing it and gaining those skills as a kid, it’s a very demanding sport. Not only because of money, but time as well. After the war, taxation killed it for a lot of people. They didn’t leave a lot for extra play money. The whole country got a lot more serious after the war.
What originally attracted your family to the sport?
Polo is a game that will stand the test of time. There’s a purity to it that technology will never change. It’s a challenge, it’s a tradition, and a little mystical… since you can’t learn it from a book. And you learn different techniques & preferences from each polo player.
Who was your favorite polo pony?
That’s easy. An old mere named Angelica. She was “like a machine”, she followed exactly what my direction was, just like driving a car. She was from a ranch in Argentina. Angelica was a tribute to wonderful Argentinian horsemanship.
Who has been the USPA player that has inspired your family the most?
The player I thought was the coolest was Bart Evans, who was a 7 goaler. His horses seemed like they could do anything.
The Ringer family has been so passionate about staying connected and supporting the Club. Next year, 2021, the Santa Barbara Polo Club will be celebrating its 110th Anniversary. What does the Ringer family envision or hope for the next 10 to 20 years of the Club to look like?
I would like to see the club carry through for ages to come, through innovative ways to keep the sport alive.