Catherine Store Road to house country’s ‘premier’ summer polo club

Sep 5, 2017

Credit Aspen Public Radio

A cluster of horses jostled each other across a perfectly manicured field. From hundreds of feet away, many in the crowd could still see the animals’ muscles working.

 Jerry Simmins and his wife, Edith, watched the game from the far end of a good-sized crowd that stretched up and down the sidelines.


“This is a very physical game for the players, but especially for the horses,” Simmins said.


These games were the last of the Carbondale Classic polo tournament, played at the Aspen Valley Polo Club’s fields off of Catherine Store Road, outside Carbondale. Over July and August, the club hosted 12 tournaments, wherein world-class professionals played alongside amateurs.


The crowd at the final games was mostly older and talked quietly as they snacked on the free empanadas. Many wore polo shirts, but there was an occasional Carbondale Mountain Fair T-Shirt.   


Simmins, a retired veterinarian, used to play a lot of polo in El Paso, Texas, where many of the players were working people, he said. Polo, to him, isn’t just a sport for the super-rich.


“There were a lot of people who were making a living, but having to work five to six days a week to get there, but we’d always show up on Sunday to play polo,” he said.


Simmins and his wife owned nine horses, but also had three kids. Eventually, the sport did get too pricey.


“It came to the point where we had to decide who was gonna get fed this month, the kids or the horses,” he said.


Beyond money, there’s another reason why Simmins quit. One of his prized horses developed colic, an intestinal condition, and he had to euthanize her. Until the Carbondale Classic, he hadn’t been to another polo game since he put her down decades ago. Still, as he watched, he admitted he misses the game.   


Many in the crowd came to watch the horses, and many of the players acknowledge the riding is the best part of the game.


“You know, when you’re going 35 miles per hour on a horse, going Mach 1 at acceleration, it’s like sky-diving,” said Mike Azzaro, one of the best polo players in the world who, along with other pros, spends his summers with the Aspen Valley Polo Club.


A lot goes into playing polo at such a high level. Azzaro owns 35 horses; in his prime, he said he owned between 85 to 100. Some players bring their own trainers to Carbondale for the summer, as well as their own horses. They sometimes fly their horses, either on commercial flights, or through FedEx.


The club also has a full-time veterinarian who watches every game and examines the horses daily, and it has a farrier, who shoes the horses.


Melissa Ganzi and her husband, Marc, own the Aspen Valley Polo Club, along with another polo club in Florida. In order to make the game more accessible, all the games this summer were open to the public. During the winter, the Ganzis organize a snow polo tournament in Aspen right before Christmas, which brings out polo enthusiasts and first-timers, alike. They also run a nonprofit polo school in the valley, “...predominantly [for] children,” Ganzi said.


The club’s other goal is “ ...to really make this Aspen, Carbondale, Basalt, El Jebel area a world-class polo destination,” said Ganzi.


They currently have 17 acres off of Catherine Store Road where there are stables, both an outdoor and indoor arena, and the field, which is smaller than the 15-acre regulation size.


The club recently bought more than 100 acres across the road, where two, full-sized fields with grandstands are planned, along with a clubhouse and more.


These plans will not just put the club on the map. For Mike Azzaro, it’s bigger than that.


“For me it’ll be the primer polo club for summer polo in the world,” he said.