HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As ranching grew in Hawaii during the 1800s, Spanish cowboys from California were hired to train Hawaiians to ride horses and herd cattle. Eventually, the Paniolo turned out to be skilled horsemen.
"Polo was a natural progression," Allen Hoe said.
Hoe is president of the Honolulu Polo Club – and an authority on the sport's history in Hawaii. Some believe an Australian introduced polo here, but Hoe believes it was British naval officers who taught the game to the Hawaiian cowboys.
The first recorded polo match in Hawaii was in 1880, on a field in Palama.
"The area that they refer to as Palama is probably the area where Farrington High School is today," Hoe said.
Polo first caught on in Hawaii largely because of the efforts of Hawaii's Merrie Monarch – King David Kalakaua enjoyed horse racing and polo, so he turned Kapiolani Park into a race track and a polo field.
"For many years, it was very active on the weekends, for both horse racing and polo matches," Hoe said.
In the early 1900's, through the end of the 1930's, the polo scene shifted to Hawaii's Army installations. At the time, the military moved on horseback. Polo was ideal for practicing horsemanship.
Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter hosted two active polo clubs. A young colonel excelled at the sport long before he became a four-star general and war hero.
"George Patton was an avid polo enthusiast," Hoe said. "He came from a family of means and he actually had his polo ponies shipped to Hawaii when he was stationed here at Schofield."
After World War II, polo in Hawaii experienced another surge.
"They used to play arena polo on Saturday nights in the old termite palace, Honolulu Stadium," Hoe said.
That peak in polo's popularity lasted about 20 years before gradually fading, but the sport still has a faithful following in Hawaii. Matches are held weekly on fields in Waimanalo and Mokuleia. Maui and the Big Island have clubs, too.
For the past three years the Hawaii Invitational of Polo has brought top-flight players to Oahu. This year's event features eight professionals who play in the U.S. and internationally.
It's part of an ongoing effort to preserve polo's legacy here and attract new fans, but Hoe doesn't believe polo will ever be as big in Hawaii as it once was. Polo ponies are expensive and there aren't many places to play.
"The polo field is like nine football fields. These days, anyone who has nine football fields of space immediately wants to consider resort development," he said.
Polo might be called the "Sport of Kings," but Hoe says that during various times in Hawaii's sporting past, it may better have been called the "King of Sports."