A Problematic Purchase of Polo Ponies
Polo was in fashion at West Point (and the Army) in the first decade of the 20th century. The game was being played at West Point, often with cavalry horses, at least as early as 1902-03. In 1910, a group of cadets asked the Quartermaster, Lieutenant Colonel John M. Carson, Jr., for eight well-trained horses. Carson thought this was a good idea and polled the cavalry officers assigned to the Academy. They also agreed that the ponies were a good idea and Carson went forward with a $2,000 purchase for the horses. He then sent a bill to Washington for reimbursement.
As you might have guessed, the expense was refused as the horses were not “cavalry, artillery, or engineer horses” and Carson was told he was personally responsible for the purchase. This made him the focus of much ribbing at the Academy. According to the New York Times (1910), Colonel Hugh L. Scott, Superintendent, said to Carson, “I see you own some very fine ponies.” Carson replied, “Indeed I do; at least I suppose I do, but $2,000 is a lot of money for one army officer to have to scrape up.”
What happened to the ponies in unclear, but COL Scott was confident that Carson would not, in the end, have to personally pay for the ponies. He told the Times, “He’s got eight as fine polo ponies as there is in this country. Polo ponies are needed at West Point as the game is of great value in teaching the cadets horsemanship and I am sure that in the end Carson will not have to pay the money.”
Polo ponies became a real issue in the Army budget because of the cost to maintain and move them to competitions. To read a lengthy, and sometimes funny, discussion in Congress about the purchase of polo ponies for West Point, check out the Congressional Record from 1913 here.
BONUS: One of the funniest moments in TV history:
Source: “Polo Ponies Bring Col. Carson Dismay.” New York Times, July 17, 1910.