There are two major problems when writing a blog about an active polo family. The first is to find a family member ready to give me a bit of time for an interview. The second is to get a recent photo of the entire family. For this blog about the family von Morgenstern, the first problem was solved by Sophia Jaenecke, Isabel von Morgenstern's eldest daughter, recovering from a bout of 'flu and so, unfortunately for her, unable to play in the German Low Goal tournament being held at the family home and
but able to chat to me. The second was far more difficult, but I was helped here by the German Polo Association
which was organizing its own photo shoot for the Jubilee book.
Castles and Cantankerous Knights
The very old town of Tagmersheim is nestled amoung gently rolling hills, fields of grain and leafy woods. There's a castle there which has been sitting in the same spot since 1100, originally housing a somewhat cantankerous knight and his family. This belligerent fellow started a mini-war with his neighbors , the Wallersteins, who retaliated by burning the castle down. It was rebuilt and now stands pretty much as it did in 1700s above the little town and opposite the church. It was gently sliding into charming decay until the family von Morgenstern found it over 15 years ago.
Dreams and Determination
Isabel von Morgenstern always had the vision of a country house and horses. An excellent rider, she had been selected as a member of the Austrian Olympic squad in dressage. However in 2004 the family were in China and there just didn't appear to be any riding opportunity. While the family were prepared to accept this situation, they hadn't bargained on Sophia and her determination. Sophia, mad keen on horses, refused to give up and found a horse center two hours away. While she was trying to urge an extremely unenthusiastic pony over a couple of jumps, she noticed a group of riders having the time of their lives hitting a ball around with what looked like a hockey stick. Polo, she was told. She rushed home to tell Isabel all about it and how she'd like to try this. In Sophia's words "Mum freaked out. These people can't ride; they sit badly and their hands are all over the place. No way are you going to join them"
The Polo Virus
But again, no one bargained on Sophia's power of persuasion or persistence. Isabel took a lesson. And....? She was hooked.
Isabel got husband Ingo on a horse and the entire family took a 'zero to hero' course with the Copello brothers, Joaquin and Secundo.
The virus had struck. The family was serious about polo.
In 2010 it was time to leave China and move to Germany. Giving up polo was out of the question so the family talked the Copello brothers into joining them, seeking and finding a property suitable for a polo establishment. And this was that sleepy castle in Tagmersheim. Isabel and Ingo spent five years rennovating the castle as a family home. They breathed life into the old stables and built out new ones. It was difficult to get enough land for a full sized polo field but even that was sorted. Germany had a new and exciting polo venue.
You do You
So now Isabel, Ingo, Sophia, Benedikt, Annabel and Leopold enjoy their charming home and provide the German polo scene with two well organized polo tournaments a year.
The spectator crowd at Tagmersheim stays on after the games and enjoys watching the prize-giving, the chanpagne shower, the celebrations. A real party atmosphere. Leaving it late in the afternoon after my job as commentator was done, I drove past the estate pond. Out there in the middle of it, in a small boat, was a lone figure, quiet and concentrated, fishing. It was such a contrast to the scene I'd just left that I slowed right down to get a better look. It was Leopold, the youngest in the family, simply refusing to be part of polo celebrations and doing his thing. It seemed a bit intrusive to grab the iphone and take a photo, but I do now wish I had. It was such an iconic image. Since then, under a gentle form of blackmail, (ipad time for riding lessons) Leo has discovered he's quite good at stick and ball and that it can actually be fun. And so I suspect that the family now has another player.
Positives and Negatives
So what are the positive effects of polo on the family? There was a noticble pause in the narrative as Sophia had a think. "The biggest advantage is being able to spend lots of time with each other. It's rare to find families having so much fun together, playing and travelling to tournaments, often combining this with a family holiday....maybe it's .an excuse to spend time together, but its a bloody good excuse!"
And the negatives? Well the family are all emotional and outspoken, and heated arguments on the polo field can transfer to the home. But the positives outweigh the negatives, says Sophia, and the family is grateful that they're all able to play and have the means to do it.
Foals and Future
The family would like to increase the number of tournaments held at the club possibly to three a year. They'd also love to play as a complete family team some time soon. But there's another target too. Isabel has started a
breeding program and has a handsome breeding stallion, Corchito. The first foals are on the ground and working out well. So to complete the dream is, of course, a family team playing on self-bred ponies.
Now that's a target to go for. Family von Morgenstern...from "no way" to "let's play!"
Photo credits :
POLO SYLT in DPV Jubilee Book