In the hallowed sport of kings, Kyle Fargey is the stableboy who made good. He started at the bottom, mucking out barns and shovelling manure before practising hard enough to become a professional polo player. He is also the director of a riding academy at the Calgary Polo Club, which begins its 126th year in operation on Canada Day.
How does someone who played hockey as a kid in Winnipeg end up a polo pro, often on the same team with his older sister?
My dad, Ross, had worked overseas in West Africa in Ghana at a med school, teaching microbiology for 10 years. He had played a lot of hockey growing up in Manitoba and he always had horses too. In Ghana, he got into polo and loved it. Then, coming back to Winnipeg in the 1970s, he set up a little club at our house. He had acreage for sheep so my sister Dayelle and I would herd the sheep off the field, throw down some pylons, call the neighbours over – and that was polo. Now we're here [at the Calgary Polo Club near the hamlet of De Winton] and it's a beautiful place to train and compete.
What's the biggest misconception about polo?
A lot of people hear the word polo and think of Julia Roberts [in the movie Pretty Woman], or that we play with royalty. It's a lot of hard work.
Which makes it comparable to what other sport?
In some ways, polo is like hockey. We play four on four. We use composite mallets, except for the head, which is made of wood. We can lose a mallet when a player tries to take the ball away and instead breaks the head off your mallet. Players can change mallets and horses [on the fly]. You can have two players going 55, 65 kilometres per hour chasing the ball. You're going all out and twisting to hit the ball. It gets interesting. It is the most challenging thing ever, even independently. You have to work on your game and your string of horses and have spontaneity [on the field]. Then you try to build a team with three other like-minded people with horses that treat them well. That's not as easy as you think.
Canada has some polo-playing talent, but does it have enough horse power to beat the best in the world?
We're up against some people who are specifically breeding horses for polo, which is a growing practice. Polo, unlike a lot of other equestrian sports – say, thoroughbred racing – is where you have to have the live breeding. In Argentina, it's the first place where they're actually cloning horses and those first clones are three and four years old now and starting to play at that similar calibre of the original horse. Boggling! … Then there are regulations as to which drugs you can administer and in a certain time frame. [Horses in some of the other equine sports] get fed unlimited grain and they get super-amped-up. Here, it's more of a balance because, yeah, you want your horses to be running fast, but you also have to have that control to stop and turn.
And if you don't have that speed and control?
You can be the best polo player, but if you don't have the horses to get you involved, then … no one is going to know [you].
This interview has been edited and condensed.