Attendees of the 2019 annual polo weekend at Bendabout Farm included prestigious players from all over the world, and right next door. Pictured here from left to right are: Jeff Blake, Owen Rinehart, Steve Orthwein Jr., Gillian Johnston, LaVerne Easterly (trophy presentation), Will Johnston, Philip Higgins, Miguel Novillo Astrada, and Sugar Erskine.
Sharing the Tradition: The Johnston Family and Bendabout Polo Weekend
The Johnston polo players spend their summer months in Wyoming and the winter in Florida following the season of warmth so that fields are in prime condition. They have all spent an enormous amount of time bettering the polo facilities around the country, contributing to the level of horses available to the sport, educating the public, and supporting any young people they can who want to play.
Will shares, “Grandad is the biggest supporter of this – he is always looking to the next generation. He loves to take talented young players and give them opportunities. He hosted the youth trainees of the USPA several summers. He’s constantly thinking about how to make the sport more spectator-friendly. And he’s focused on quality – quality of the field, quality of play, quality of horses. Everything he’s given back has made an enormous impact on the sport.”
Summerfield Jr.’s wife, Gil, is very involved with polo youth in Florida as well, serving for years as the vice president of the Polo Training Foundation. Gil and Summerfield Jr. actually met through their shared love of polo. She was born in England and grew up training horses and playing polo. When she moved to the United States, Gil made a career of training horses and continued playing polo. And their daughter, Gillian, echoes her family’s stance: “As a family, we donate fields for young players to have places to train and compete. I truly believe that advancing the sport involves working with the next generation and helping the young kids develop their interest and skills early.”
With three generations still actively involved in promoting the sport from every angle, the Johnstons are also sure to remember where it all began. Summerfield Jr. still oversees the maintenance of the Bendabout field, and the family continues to arrange an annual weekend filled with polo matches, free and open to the public. World-renowned athletes, whom the Johnstons have befriended over their years in the sport, travel from South America and Europe to come and participate in this family-oriented traditional weekend. This past year, the match saw the likes of Miguel Novillo Astrada, a 9-goal player who has won the triple crown and was awarded Argentina’s award for the top athlete (not just polo), and Owen Rinehart, a talented 10-goal American player, just to name a couple.
From their own accomplishments on the field to their indelible marks on the development of the sport for the past, nearly, 90 years, the Johnstons have never lost their love for sharing their favorite pastime with the public.
Summerfield Jr. sums it up saying, “Polo is a wonderful sport and has been a part of our family for generations. We love to work with the horses, we love the competition, and we have been able to travel the world to play all while making lifelong friendships with people who share the same love for this sport.” As his grandson says, “When you love something, you want to share it with people!”