Photo by Keni Parks
Growing up with a veterinarian as a father and a professional hunter/jumper trainer as a mother (not to mention a sister making a name for herself as a professional rider), it seems natural that Buck Schott would have been keen for a career in the horse world as well.
That was far from the case.
It wasn’t until a friend in college introduced Schott to the game of polo that his interest in horses – specifically riding them at high speeds while trying to score a goal – was ignited, and his ideal career path came to light.
A Polo Player is Born
Growing up on his family’s River Mountain Farm, a hunter/jumper training and show stable in Versailles, Ky., Buck Schott was surrounded by horses. Riding just wasn’t his thing. Instead, he played sports, showing a particular propensity for lacrosse and eventually earning a spot on the team at the University of Kentucky.
“I rode here and there. Growing up on a farm like ours, it was pretty much impossible not to learn how to ride, and my mom made sure I knew the basics and had a good foundation, but I only rode a handful of times a year. I was always more focused on sports and other things,” said Schott.
“My dad played polo his entire life, but I never really got into that either as a kid.”
It was while in college, when a friend who played for the UK polo team invited him to try the sport out, that he found a keen natural ability for the game, likely due to his hand-eye coordination from lacrosse and other sports combined with his ability to ride.
Schott’s father, who had played polo since the 1970s, was in the process of getting out of the sport and was dispersing his polo pony herd at the time, but when his son began learning to play, he pulled back on his plan.
“He was getting ready to get rid of his last three horses, but we ended up keeping them at the last minute. Then, we went from three to nine in the first month I was playing polo,” said Schott. “The next year we had about 20 and now we try to maintain a herd of about 30.”
The Student Becomes the Teacher
With the game of polo being such a fast, high intensity sport that requires bursts of speed, tight turns and all-out races across the field between players chasing the ball, multiple horses are used by each player during the match. This means polo players must maintain not just a single horse, but a herd, in order to play regularly, often training up young horses and buying and selling their stock in order to improve the quality of their string of playing ponies.
For Schott, as he became better at playing polo, he found he was equally adept at training young horses for the game. He and his father eventually turned that talent into a thriving business, buying and selling polo ponies, as well as playing the sport professionally, under their River Mountain Polo banner.
“Most people don’t get to spend time with their dad sharing a hobby and profession,” said Schott. “It’s let me get to know him on a much deeper level. I’m lucky – it’s a type of relationship most people don’t get to have with their parents.”
Many polo pony prospects are Thoroughbreds who had less-than-successful careers on the track. With the Schott’s training base conveniently located in Central Kentucky and his father’s career as a veterinarian, the pair often have access to their pick of retired racehorses-turned polo prospects.
“My dad often hears about horses through his work that won’t make it on the track but might work well for polo, and we also have gotten some nice horses from New Vocations Racehorse Adoption, which adopts out retired racehorses to non-racing homes,” said Schott. “Often people looking for jumping and eventing prospects want a big, tall and often male horse. We’re usually looking for shorter, more compact horses and prefer fillies and mares over colts and geldings, so it works out well.”
The past few years Schott and his father competed in the $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover, a retraining competition that tests how well one can retrain a recently retired racehorse for a new discipline. Schott won the polo division of the 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover on a mare named Pound Cake that he acquired from New Vocations.
“I enjoy supporting the competition because it promotes new careers for non-competitive racehorses and also lets us promote the sport of polo to new audiences,” said Schott. •