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Polo impresario
Former rodeo cowboy Steve Crowder keeps polo running smoothly.
By L. Bremner
(originally published in Polo Player's Edition March '05 Issue)

When someone in polo mentions the name “Crowder” the name is often instantly recognized.  At some point and time if you are involved in polo you have probably heard of, worked for or done business with Steve Crowder.  He has done everything in polo from train green horses and groom to play polo professionally and run his own polo business.  Crowder has also done a lot to help and support polo over the years, especially young and upcoming players. 

Crowder riding at the rodeo.

Crowder is an enigma.  He is an independent in the Polo World.  He does not sit on any USPA or FIP boards or committees, he does not work for any Polo Clubs or for a specific company or sponsor, yet he has an influence in the Polo industry, especially on the West Coast. Steve’s influence helps young players, it helps pros, it helps patrons and it helps the clubs.  His influence is delivered through his knowledge of horses, people and polo, his numerous contacts, his organizational skills, and his love for polo. “He is a master networker with an entertaining and charming demeanor” said Jessica Bailey of California Polo Club. “ He is also honest, upfront and blunt.”

What Crowder does for a living is provide a broad spectrum of services to the polo industry.  He buys, sells and leases polo horses, puts teams together, is an agent for a handful of pros and manages the polo operations for a number of patrons.  He also coaches polo teams including the last two U.S. FIP World Cup Teams.  

When asked about Crowder, Michele Everett of California Polo Club shared a colorful description of Crowder and his polo operation.  “Before I actually met Steve Crowder I would overhear people in polo saying,  ‘I don't know, call Crowder,’ ’give that horse to Crowder to sell,’ ‘Crowder can get a team together for you for the 8-goal,’ ‘get horses from Crowder.’ Being completely green in the polo world, I thought "Crowder" was some sort of ‘bricks and mortar’ retail store out in the desert where you could buy, sell, or trade stuff for polo!” 

Crowder may not run an all-inclusive polo retail store, but he does run a polo business that can provide you with just about any polo service you may need.  I asked Crowder how he got started in his current business as agent, polo manager, horse sales/leasing, coach and team recruiter.  “People just don’t have time to find the pros and worry about all the details that go along with putting a team together. I just had a knack for it and it turned into a fulltime business” said Crowder. “Putting a team together can be tricky.  You have to know which pros will play well together or why they may not play well together.  You also have to know which pros have the horses and skills for the various levels of polo. “

Crowder's Office.
Crowder coaching the USA FIP World Cup Team in Chantilly, France '04.

Crowder’s first introduction to polo was during a vacation to Florida. He was 26 years old and had been working in the pro-rodeo circuit since he was 16.  He and a couple of his rodeo buddies were driving around Boca Raton, FL when they saw some horses in a field.  They drove onto the property to see what type of horse operation it was and it didn’t take long for Crowder to recognize two mares that came from his Father’s ranch in Colorado. He tracked down the owner of the horses and made his first polo connection.

Crowder grew up on a ranch near Trinidad, Colorado.  He was riding horses before he could walk and started rodeoing in kids events at the young of 8.  Crowder’s Father had ridden in the rodeo circuit himself when he was younger.  His Father was still running chariots, chuck wagons and relay races at rodeos when he was growing up.  Crowder and his brother rode and drove in the various rodeo events.  By the time he was 16, Crowder was riding broncs in the pro rodeos. Soon after he left home to travel with the circuit.  Crowder rodeoed summers and winters and attended college in between.  He was the Captain of the rodeo team at both Lamar, Jr. College and Oklahoma State.  During this time he made the College National Finals twice in Bozeman, Montana.

The rodeo had become a way of life for Crowder from New Jersey to Cloverdale Canada. He continued to work in the pro-rodeo circuit after his first introduction to polo in Florida, but he also started riding green horses for polo and later grooming for Jack Oxley.  In 1978 he quit the rodeo circuit completely and entered polo full-time.

Crowder continued as a groom and player for Oxley and traveled all over the World including: South America, Europe and Asia.  He started out as a groom and had his first chance to play when someone was injured during a game he was working.  They didn’t have anyone else to fill in so Crowder volunteered and played in his first polo tournament.  During the time he worked for Oxley, Crowder reached a rating of 5-goals.  He played all levels of polo including the 22-Goal Sunshine League,  20-Goal North American Cup, the U.S. Open in San Antonio 26-goal, The Silver Cup, and all high-goal Tournaments held at Santa Barbara Polo Club. While working for Oxley Crowder also managed the Boca Raton Polo Club for 15 years. 

It was during his employment with Oxley when Crowder met and married his wife Valerie.  After their first child was born, Jason, Steve and Valerie Crowder decided to move to California.  Since Jason would soon be starting school they wouldn’t be able to travel as much, so Steve took a job with Eric Friden working in the hotel business and still played and worked in polo when he could.  Crowder later worked for Brian Murphy in the construction business in San Diego while playing polo for him.  It was Brian who encouraged Crowder to start his own polo-business.  In 1992 he took Brian’s advice and started his own business called the International Polo Connection. 

The Crowder Family.
Crowder on the sidelines.

It was around this time when Crowder started getting involved with the Pee Wee and Junior polo programs.  He helped grow the Junior Polo Program at Eldorado Polo Club.  Crowder worked with Artie Cameron, Sr., Joe Barry and other polo supporters to encourage and teach kids the sport of polo. The Junior Polo Program was a success growing from 7 to 30+ kids. “It was and still is a dream to see these kids grow into the pros of today and of the future” said Steve.  “I think a lot of the credit goes to two men who are no longer with us and they are Joe and Artie and a bunch of tough little kids who never missed a day.  If we showed up, and we always did, so did the kids.”

“Steve Crowder’s greatest attribute is the hard work he put in to help junior polo” said Fred Mannix, Chairman of the Calgary Polo Club.  Today the Junior Polo Program at Eldorado Polo Club is one of the most successful in the nation. The Eldorado Junior Polo Program has benefited a number of young pros who are now playing at clubs throughout the nation including:  Jeff Hall (8-goals), Frederick Mannix, Jr (7-Goals), Daniel Roensich (6-Goals), Matt Gonzalez (5-goals), Joe Wayne Barry, Jr. (4-goals) Jason Crowder (4-goals), Artie Cameron, Jr. (3-goals), Matt Ladin (3-goals), Joseph Stuart (2-goals) and many others.

Crowder has a very generous nature and will do just about anything in his power to help the sport of polo grow. “Over the years Steve has loaned numerous horses to the PTF (Polo Training Foundation) and Junior Polo programs at the various clubs” said Graham Bray, Polo Manager of the San Diego Polo Club.  “He has done a lot for the youth programs.”

Alan Martinez, Chris Gannon, Jason Crowder, Stevie Orthwein, Jr. and Steve Crowder.
Chantilly, France FIP World Cup 2004.

Crowder has also helped a number of professional players with their careers. Alan Martinez, a 4-goaler, was one of the pros he helped get started in high-goal polo.  “I met Steve about 3 years ago and was glad I did. He helped me get one of my first good polo jobs. I have heard that he recommends me and gives good opinions on my behalf.  Often, I didn’t find out until after I was hired for a job that the patron spoke to Steve prior to hiring me. I hope that one day I can return the many favors that Steve has done for me” said Martinez.

Four-goaler Diego Cossio has worked for Steve since 1995.  “Steve gave me my first job working in the U.S.  He helped me with my visa, housing, transportation, horses and so many other things.  Steve has taught me how to have a good work ethic, how to be a better rider, player and horseman.  Steve is also very fair and treats all of his pros and grooms well.  If you work hard, he will treat you well and make sure you have what you need including a fair salary.  I am still working with Steve and I hope that as long as I am playing polo I am working with him.  His barn and his organization is like a second home to many of us. We just don’t want to leave” said Cossio.  

Seven-goaler Mariano Fassetta is another pro who has worked with Crowder since 2001 and plans to stay in his organization.  “I am really happy working with Steve.  When he is managing the teams I play for I feel more confident.  Steve is really good at organizing everything from horses and pros to team meetings and practices.  He takes care of all the details and makes sure things go smoothly” said Fassetta.

Martinez, Cossio and Fassetta are just a few of many pros who Crowder has helped over the years. He provides young players with opportunities. Crowder finds them playing jobs, negotiates their contracts, mounts them if they don’t have their own string of horses, and coaches them.  He is an advocate for the polo pro. Crowder has worn their boots and has ridden on the path of a pro player himself. He understands the pros needs and the hardships they face as professionals in the industry. 

Steve has also been a consistent supporter of the FIP World Cup Championships.  “Steve Crowder has put together and coached the U.S. Teams for the FIP World Championship in Australia 2001, and France 2004. He also organized the horses for the California 1998 FIP Cup in Santa Barbara, CA. He is careful with detail and is immensely reliable. While his teams have not won the championship they have never failed to qualify and have been well-coached and good competitors” said Glen Holden, President of The Federation of International Polo. 

The challenge of putting together a team for the FIP World Cup is not an easy job.  While many players would like to play and represent the U.S. Team at such a prestigious International Event, it was difficult finding players who could take the time off from their regular paying jobs in order to compete with the team.

Steve understood the player’s needs and decided to find a way to help.  In July of 2004, Steve organized a fundraiser and raised $37,000 for the U.S. FIP Team Players.  The money raised helped cover the players living expenses at home while they were representing the U.S. at the FIP World Cup.

For Steve, it was just another days work done.  What should we tackle next?  Maybe start looking for sponsors and raising money for the next FIP World Cup Team?  Or maybe help that next “Young Gun” get on a team in the 8-goal?  Who knows?  What we do know is that polo would not be the same, especially here in California, if Steve wasn’t part of our industry. 

I think Dina Stuart and her son Joseph summarized it well when they wrote these words about Steve Crowder and his family.  “All of us love this sport and spend a lot proportionately to play it. Some people go beyond that and make generous contributions of time and money through donations to lend support to this sport we love. Steve Crowder adds to that with the sacrifice of his time, his organizational skills, and his entire family! Is it tireless dedication or true love of this game? For the Crowder family, we believe it is both, and we'd like to say thank you for everything.”  

Steve’s polo business is called  “International Polo Connection” which is based in Indio, CA where the Eldorado Polo Club is located. He can be reached at 805-896-4406 or www.poloconnect.com.  Steve also writes the weekly Polo Report for www.polobarn.com.

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