October 7, 2022

For the love of polo

The players have a practice match in Port Mayaca in December. Photograph by Steven Martine

Eenter the 1 mile road that leads to the Port Mayaca Polo Club at Okeechobee, visitors experience the unique realization that they are entering a place like no other. The road branches off SW Conners Highway, along the shores of Lake Okeechobee, and winds east past a stone driveway along acres of fenced pasture. Groups of majestic equines of varying hues run along the fence that borders the pavement, putting the power of gasoline to shame. The road leads to a gentle slope overlooking lush green fields, where these ponies and their riders compete in a sport older than recorded history.

Not many people even know this place exists – and that’s exactly how the Port Mayaca Polo Club likes it.

The players have a practice match in Port Mayaca on December 1
polo training

Since hosting its first polo season in 2007, the Port Mayaca Polo Club has been one of the area’s best-kept secrets. Each season, spectators flock to popular polo destinations like Wellington, while Port Mayaca’s polo scene is largely unknown to the public. For players, however, the club is as close to heaven as riders and their ponies can get.

Port Mayaca Polo Club was founded by Steven Orthwein Sr., an avid polo player and former president of the United States Polo Association (USPA). Orthwein’s vision was to find a place where the field had not been overbuilt, where polo families and their ponies could enjoy wide open spaces and naturally sandy ground, and where he could create a polo community. . players. In 2006 he bought 600 acres of sugar canecane land owned by the Camayen Cattle Co. and developed Port Mayaca Polo Club.

Mr. Musty, owned by Timmy Dutta Jr., is one of approximately 450 horses residing in Port Mayaca
Mr. Musty, owned by Timmy Dutta Jr., is one of approximately 450 horses residing in Port Mayaca.

“Dad was the passionate polo enthusiast,” Steve Orthwein Jr., 41, says of his father, who died in 2018. Orthwein now runs the club on behalf of his family. “Back then, Dad would be here without power just to be here,” he says. “It was a labor of love for him.”

Much has changed since then. Today, Orthwein oversees eight polo fields, a stick and ball court, two tracks, a practice field and miles of trails and bridleways on 600 acres. Like his father, Orthwein is an avid polo player himself. “My grandfather had five sons, and they all played polo, so I was always there,” he says. “Once I started playing, I was hooked.” When asked what he thinks makes the sport so unique, he speaks enthusiastically of his love of the game: “There’s this connection with you and your horse. It’s very fast and it requires strategy and teamwork. It is a very rewarding sport.

Steve Orthwein Jr., owner of the Port Mayaca Polo Club, and one of his horses, Smurfette
Steve Orthwein Jr., owner of the Port Mayaca Polo Club, and one of his horses, Smurfette.

Orthwein likes to play polo as often as he can. And these days, he shares that passion with the 14 families to whom he has sold farm plots at the Port Mayaca Polo Club. Comprising typically 20 acres or more with spacious barns, tracks, paddocks and staff quarters, club farms are owned by families from around the world. “Families often settle in Port Mayaca and ship to Wellington to compete during the season,” says Orthwein. “We are connected to Wellington without being in Wellington.”

Polo mallets
Polo mallets

A few of the players who own farms at the club include: Pite Merlos, Facha (Martin) Valent; Bo and Hutton Goodman; Steve and KC Krueger; the Magrini family; Gonzalito, Facundo and Nico Pieres; Phillip Higgins; and Annabelle Gundlach. In Lot 7, the famous Dutta family just completed their farm, which includes approximately 21 acres, a 28-stall center aisle barn, track, riding ground, paddock and staff quarters, in DecemberBer. Duttas are highly respected in horse riding circles. Father and son, Tim Dutta Sr. and Timmy Dutta Jr., play polo; his wife/mother Susie is an acclaimed international dressage competitor. The family also owns The Dutta Corporation, an international horse transport company.

Horses on a ride
Horses on a walk.

For 20-year-old Timmy, one of the most talented young players on the high-level polo scene, being part of the Port Mayaca Polo Club family is an exciting new step in his career. “There’s no community like Port Mayaca,” says the Wellington native. “It’s the only place in the United States where you can play year-round and have a facility where you can just walk to the fields.” His family, he explains, built their farm in Port Mayaca “to have a place to call home and to really be able to give my horses the best chance at success.”

Dutta first picked up a mallet when he was 12 and has been playing in Port Mayaca since he was 14. He has racked up impressive accolades on the pitch: in 2019, he won the 20-goal Triple Crown in Wellington as part of the Dutta Corp team. (which also included teammates Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Gringo Colombres and Kris Kampsen). He also captained the United States junior team and beat England to win the Hall of Fame Cup (a subsidiary of the US Open).

Timmy Dutta in Port Mayaca with one of his polo ponies, Mr. Musty
Timmy Dutta in Port Mayaca with Mr. Musty.

He travels all over the world for the game – last summer he played tournaments in Argentina – but is happy to be back in Port Mayaca, which he considers an idyllic polo community. “Port Mayaca holds the essence of the sport,” says Dutta. “There is quality polo here, and you have the ability to produce top quality horses. The horses need to relax and they love being in horse country. Being in Port Mayaca gives me an advantage. He notes that polo is an ever-changing game, something he enjoys. “The sport is constantly changing,” he says. “There are always new players and new horses. In Port Mayaca, things are happening constantly something at the polo level.

The youngster is having a busy 2022 season, including playing in the Gauntlet of Polo at the International Polo Club in Wellington with the Dutta Corp team. Of course, Port Mayaca is also on his program. The Port Mayaca polo season began on January 13 and features 13 tournaments, peaking from April 1-10. All club games are open to the public and admission is free. Polo fans are encouraged to back their trucks into the field and lower the tailgate to watch. “We are very different from what people expect,” says club manager Laura Townsend. “We want it to stay that way.”

Carly Persano and Steve Orthwein Jr. take a break from training
Carly Persano and Steve Orthwein Jr. take a break from training.

Once a year the club holds a special tournament in aid of Molly’s House, a Stuart-based charity which provides accommodation for patients (and their families) undergoing medical treatment. The twelfth edition of the Polo Classic to benefit the non-profit organization is scheduled for March 5 and will feature international polo players, a dressage presentation, a VIP party, a “best hat” contest , a classic car show and the traditional champagne halftime divot. The event typically draws around 2,000 attendees, Townsend says, and tickets can be purchased at mollyshouse.org.

For Orthwein, the club is the fulfillment of his father’s vision. When asked what the future will bring to Port Mayaca, he is torn between wanting to keep the club as it is and recognizing that, like the game of polo, the community will also continue to evolve. “I see us growing at a manageable and achievable rate,” he says.

Timmy Dutta rides Mrs. Musty in a practice match
Timmy Dutta rides Mr. Musty during a practice match.

“I see us having generational players too,” he adds, noting that his 5-year-old daughter Hazel is already an avid rider, taking lessons from her grandmother.

For now, Orthwein is content to know that his father would be proud of the club and the atmosphere it created for polo fans: “He always said, ‘I want this to be my legacy.’ He would be delighted with what happened here.

12499 SW Conners Hwy., Okeechobee; 772.577.9078

Upcoming Tournaments at Port Mayaca Polo Club

February: La Bécasse, 8 goals

February: USPA Heritage Cup, 14 goals

February: USPA Butler, 18 goals

March 1-6: Tabebuia Women’s Cup,
18 to 22 goals

March 5: Molly’s House Charity Benefit

March 7-19: U.S. Women’s Polo Championship, 22 goals

March: USPA President’s Cup, 8 goals

March: Live Oak Challenger, 14 goals

March: USPA Monty Waterbury, 18 goals

April 1-10: Mahogany Cup, 8 goals

April 1-10: Shady Lady, 14 goals

April 1-10: The 1909 Cup, 18 goals

*Exact dates are published after the tournament draw