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DAVID RAGLAND: GROWING FROM THE GRASS ROOTS IN THE GREAT PLAINS CIRCUIT

Jun 04, 2019 10:50 AM

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David Ragland headshot
©Michelle LaVasque

Remaining patient yet consistent in his efforts, USPA Great Plains Circuit Governor David Ragland has made a substantial impact on the growth of polo in America’s heartland. Donning his signature cowboy hat, just one of the many hats Ragland wears as club president and manager of OKC Polo Club, he continues to cultivate his ongoing love affair with polo alongside his wife Judy. Although himself not an Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) alumni (his son Jeremy played I/I polo), Ragland passionately invests his time into the rising generation of polo talent as the beloved coach and advisor for the Oklahoma State University Polo Club. Traveling all over the world at the height of his 2-goal outdoor career, Ragland truly embodied Winston Churchill’s spirit of polo as a passport to the world.

Currently in his second term as Circuit Governor, previously serving from 1987 to 1991 in the region formerly known as the Northwest Circuit, Ragland has dedicated the past five years to stimulating interest and participation across each of his circuit's clubs. Earning a marketing degree from the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Ragland began employment at Duncan Equipment Company in 1967, developing his career with the thriving industrial truck distributor for 43 years. Although beginning his polo journey later in life, Ragland recognized an opportunity in his circuit for resurgence, transforming his property into a full-fledged polo facility. Sitting on the board of various USPA committees since the mid 1980s, Ragland is a wealth of valuable knowledge, fueled by a genuine desire to see as many as possible enjoy the sport of polo.

David ready to ride
©Michelle LaVasque

What is your equestrian background and how did you become involved in polo?

“In 1982, I had just turned 40 years old and I had never ridden a horse. A friend of mine invited me to ride some of his horses at Bob Moore’s Broad Acres Polo Club [now defunct] in Norman, Oklahoma. I went back for a second time and after that I was hooked. And as they say the rest was history!

I didn’t know how to play the game when I first started riding, but I’d played sports most of my life so I was confident that I could learn. Dale Smicklas’ father advised me not to pick up a mallet for a year and to buy an older made polo horse and learn to ride. The following summer I went back down to Broad Acres Polo Club and learned how to play the game of polo. I became a member of the club and eventually club president.

After Bob Moore died in 1998 the players who were playing at and around Broad Acres Polo Club dispersed to different parts of the country. The Moore family closed the club a couple years later and for the next 15 years there wasn’t much polo being played in the Great Plains Circuit. In the winter I would travel to play in the California desert and in the summer I’d go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After a while traveling became so involved and since I had property in Oklahoma City that I purchased in 2008 I decided to start my own OKC Polo Club in Jones, Oklahoma.”

“The thrill of the game for me is making a goal on my favorite horse, there’s nothing like it. Rather than the sport itself, my love for the horse is the most important part of my passion. I love getting in a horse’s head and bonding with him. I call it 'dancing with the horse.' Those are meaningful life experiences beyond description.”  – David Ragland

What have you learned in your time as the club manager of OKC Polo Club?

“A polo manager has to be able to wear dozens of hats and juggle polo balls (and beer bottles!) all at the same time. One thing you have to do as a polo manager is learn to delegate and there are so many important factors to consider including the grooms, horses, and weather to name a few. A goal I have is for the club to become financially sound enough to hire a club manager!"

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

“I lived on Oahu and Kauai in Hawaii for a year (1964) right after finishing undergrad. I worked and took some graduate courses through the University of Hawaii. It is a beautiful place, but eventually I grew tired of the weather being the same every day and went back to Oklahoma’s four seasons.”

David on the ball
Ragland achieved a 2-goal handicap on the grass and 1-goal in the arena.

Which countries have you traveled to playing polo?

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to play both in the United States and internationally. Some of the places I’ve been to include India, Jamaica, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Malaysia and Singapore. Although the polo community is relatively small worldwide that common thread that every polo player shares is the handicap which can get you into just about any country in the world.

My favorite polo vacation has been to Costa Careyes Polo Club on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. It’s a beautiful place where you can rent horses and I’ve taken my family down there many times and just had a beautiful polo holiday. There are two fields right on the beach and there are hotels and casitas [small houses] nearby. It’s owned by an Italian family who have been there for 40-45 years and it’s a beautiful facility.”

How are you involved with the OSU Polo Club?

“I currently coach and advise the Oklahoma State University (OSU) team. In fact we are in the middle of raising $150,000 to build a facility on the OSU campus. OSU is a land grant university and the president has been very helpful in our acquiring 30 acres of prime property designated on campus for the club. Our short-term goal is to fence that property and build an outdoor arena, paddocks, barns and loafing sheds for horse shelter. The long-term goal is to have a covered arena that would enable us to be a host center for all in the middle of the country. Polo Development, LLC is helping us a great deal with that project. I hope to have the arena completed by this upcoming fall.

The responsibilities involved in the I/I program include the health and welfare of horses, financial management, organizational skills, and individual and team development. These are all skills important to polo and important to life, in general. I’m excited to participate in I/I’s programs promoting these skills to young, potential polo players.”

If you would like to donate to help the OSU Polo Club’s construction project, please visit osugiving.com, click “Give” and select “OSU Polo Club.”

David watching arena polo
Coach Ragland watching an arena practice. ©Michelle LaVasque

“The responsibilities involved in the I/I program include the health and welfare of horses, financial management, organizational skills, and individual and team development. These are all skills important to polo and important to life, in general. I’m excited to participate in I/I’s programs promoting these skills to young, potential polo players.”

What have you accomplished for the Great Plains circuit that you are most proud of?

“For 15 years, from 2000 to 2015, there was very little polo in the Great Plains Circuit. Broad Acres Polo Club was the leading club, but when it closed all the pros moved on to other places. Wichita was a regional host center for a while, but with the lack of activity and decreased number of players it had diminished as well. Since we started the OKC Polo Club, Tulsa, Wichita and Northwest Arkansas have experienced an increase in membership and there has been an overall general boost in interest within the Circuit.

I'm especially proud of our OKC Polo Club's polo school. One of the reasons why our club has grown so much is due to our use of knowledgeable instructors who have brought a premiere level of professionalism to the polo school. Our instructors help new aspiring polo players to overcome the fear of falling off the horse and to understand about all of the hand-eye coordination that is required to hit a ball on a moving animal. Students graduate, no matter what their polo skill level, being confident in their improved riding skills which allow them to be safe and have fun.

At the end of the day you have to have interest in horse ownership to go to the next level. You can play arena polo with one or two horses so that’s the reason we have beginner interest because they are not required to buy six horses, a truck, and a trailer.”

David instructing with wooden horse
Ragland teaching a young rider on OKC Polo Club's wooden horse. ©Michelle LaVasque

What is the biggest goal you hope to accomplish for the Great Plains circuit?

“There are several, but the ultimate goal is to grow the USPA membership of the Great Plains Circuit at a rate of 20% per year with quality, committed, dedicated and diversified players. Although there are not a lot of clubs in the Circuit, there is a lot of history and potential for polo because of the horses and the character of those interested in playing here. Mike Carney [USPA Governor at Large] in Wichita, Kansas, is headed to Omaha, Nebraska, to put on a demonstration polo match at the state fair. Hopefully that will spark interest and we will have our first club in Nebraska in the near future!”

If you would like to contact David about your club or are interested in starting a new club in Nebraska, he can be reached at d.ragland@aol.com or (405) 833-5783.

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