by Danika Rice
The name Mufasa is often synonymous with Disney’s The Lion King, released in 1994, a story of a little lion cub’s journey to becoming king of his pride. In the film, Mufasa is the name of the cub’s father, but it’s hard to not smile at the similarities between the lion cub and the story behind polo’s Mufasa, who has had a remarkable journey to the top, all his own. About the time the film was taking over U.S. theatres, Mufasa the horse was running on the track in Oklahoma as a three year old. To say the least, the track was not where this gelding belonged, as his lifetime earnings were a whopping $345 over a two year “career.”
A Career Change
It was at the track that 8-goal professional player Dale Smicklas noticed the striking chestnut with the blaze and a roman nose, and bought him to try his hand at polo. Dale regards him as “a gentleman from day one,” but circumstance led Dale to sell the horse after only four chukkers to Tommy Biddle, who would later become Mufasa’s best ally and advocate.
Tommy and Mufasa forged one of the most notable player-horse teams in polo that continues to take the field together to this day. “I remember riding this horse in the pasture of our farm at Gulfstream Polo Club in April of 1995 and really taking a liking to him, riding in and out of the pine trees.
“I made a deal with Dale and started to work him into the little green horse operation that I was trying to start at the time. By the time I had returned from the summer season I had three young horses which I was determined to play and make at Memo Gracida’s in the fall during his La Herradura Classic tournaments…..Out of the three, Mufasa and a grey named Bob went on to play the high goal for me.”
Playing the High Goal
Playing the high goal, is almost an understatement for the amount of polo that Mufasa and Tommy have played together over the gelding’s remarkable 15 year career. He has played in seven U.S. Open tournaments over the years, and would have an eighth, except he got loose from a groom on a set and injured his hip running into a stall corner the day before the tournament began. Tommy says, “He has played every big tournament I have ever been in – US Open, Gold Cup, Camacho Cup, British Open (he was my best horse in England in 2002). He was also was my last chukker horse when we won the Arena Open Championship in Aiken in 2009 and this year I took him to play the Miami Beach Polo Challenge, so he literally has done it all with me.”
Quite the Career
Although Mufasa has not gained many Best Playing Pony awards in his career (only two in his lifetime, to be exact), the longevity and consistency with which he plays has gained him more recognition than a hundred silver trophies ever could. “He may not win many trophies,” Tommy says, “but he damn well has helped win many games. Most impressive on my mind was semi finals of 2002 Open against Memo [Gracida] and Mike Azzaro. They had our Coke team by three going to the last chukker and I made a goal on him, carrying it half the length of the field with someone in my lap. I then narrowly missed a tying goal on him later in the chukker and also laid a bump on Memo that I think even his ancestors felt. Could have been the best chukker he ever gave me.”
Dale Smicklas remarks that Tommy and Mufasa were “made for each other from the beginning. I’ve seen Tommy do some incredible things on that horse, and likewise I’ve seen that horse do some incredible things for Tommy.”
Handed Down to the Next Generation
“The best part of playing him is the confidence he gives me,” Tommy says. “He’s given me confidence every chukker we’ve ever played together, and continues to give it to me today, even 15 years later.” These days, you’ll usually find Mufasa as a spare for Tommy’s 16 and 20 goal leagues, or playing for Tommy’s daughter, Lauren, who now shares the gelding with her dad. “It’s pretty neat to watch Lauren play him because it’s fun for me to watch her experience what I regard as a really cool horse. I have had a few horses that were probably better than him – Senorita and Limu are the two best horses I have ever owned, but the reliability in Mufasa time after time and year after year can never be replaced. And now I just share that with Lauren. I’m proud to own a horse like him.” Pride indeed, reigns supreme, as the roman nosed chestnut continues playing with Tommy and Lauren in South Carolina, New York and Florida throughout the year. For this gelding, polo fields across the country serve as his lion’s kingdom to rule.