By Samantha Charles
Sidelines Founder and Publisher
Searching through 25 years of old Sidelines issues has taken me on a fantastic journey.
While sifting through old, dusty boxes of Sidelines, I discovered a mission statement I wrote more than 15 years ago. The rewarding news? After 25 years on this journey, I have actually reached my goals.
The mission statement I wrote all those years ago reads: “To play polo, to travel the world, to meet and become friends with the people who live and know the life of horses, to share my passion in life, to accomplish something I dreamed of in high school (believe it or not – to start a newspaper) and, most importantly, to create communication that brings some of the horse disciplines I love together.”
A Passion for Polo
My first trip to Wellington, Florida was in 1979, before Forest Hill Boulevard was paved. During my first year in Wellington there was a high goal tournament held at the incredible new Palm Beach Polo and Country Club, built by the dynamic entrepreneur and once seven-goal player, Bill Ylvisaker. It was the year The World Cup was moved from Oakbrook in Chicago and it was also my first year of learning polo in Vermont at the Sugarbush Polo Club.
At the time, Wellington only consisted of a few homes, one row of condos in the Palm Beach Polo Club, the Players Club and a huge stadium. I was sufficiently star struck as I watched the polo cowboys from Texas play the hot shot Argies.
During that game, there was a moment I will never forget when one of Tommy Wayman’s horses went down and we all thought she was dead. My eyes were already tearing from the pure excitement of this incredible game, which was all new to me. In the end, the mare miraculously got up to live on. I was, as they say in polo, “hooked”…and that was the beginning of 25 years of playing polo. I never did play high goal like I fantasized that first game when I vowed to become the “best woman player in the world.” However, I have played everywhere from Chili, Hawaii, New Zealand, Africa to the farthest reaches of this country as well as Victoria and Vancouver. Along the way, I have met lifelong friends and I now feel like the luckiest woman in the world.
The Creation of Sidelines
When it comes to Sidelines, I owe my beginning to C. Maybe Runberg (Ortiz now) who had started a newspaper called The Polo Posts. When I arrived in Wellington in 1980, for my second winter, I had the grand aspiration to start a polo newspaper. I knew nothing about publishing, writing, business or polo, but I had a credit card and the will to succeed. But when I walked into The Tackeria, I discovered “Volume One, Issue One” of a little polo newspaper called The Polo Posts.
I asked Tony Coppola, who still owns The Tackeria, who published the paper and he pointed to barn one and said to speak with C. Maybe Runberg. I walked up to her, grabbed the pony she was bathing and said, “Hey, let me hold that pony for you. I’m Sam and you are doing what I wanted to do. Can I help you do your newspaper? I will work for free just to learn.” It was a done deal that day. After three years of working for Maybe, we finally partnered and, after some trials, tribulations and good and bad experiences, Maybe retired. In 1988, I started a new newspaper called Sidelines – 25 years ago in September.
From Newspaper To Magazine
Sidelines was my passport to this exiting new world of polo but it wasn’t long before I recognized a much bigger industry. Gene Misch was holding horse shows on the other side of the polo stadium and soon half of the newspaper was dedicated to polo and the other half to hunter/jumper news. Dressage coverage was to follow about seven years later and, eventually, the Rolex Three-Day Event turned us on to eventing.
We published several renditions of Sidelines over the years until we settled on today’s slick monthly magazine. The first edition of hunter/jumper coverage was added as a separate section and it took some years before all the polo sections weren’t thrown away on the show grounds and the hunter/jumper sections weren’t thrown away in the polo stadium.
Finally, we tried a tabloid with the first half covering polo and the other half covering hunter/jumper and running upside down. When we printed our first edition of an upside down/right side up tabloid, I received panicked calls from readers exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, the printer has screwed up and printed you upside down.” Well, the plan worked! We had their attention!!
Years later, it was a leap of faith to jump from a biweekly newsprint publication where our lead time was only three days to a monthly magazine where our lead time was a whole three months.
The Adventure Begins
The first year I moved from The Polo Posts to start Sidelines I hit the road in my new Honda CRX and traveled 15,000 miles to visit 30 polo clubs from April till September. I drove from Florida to Montreal. I hit New Jersey and Detroit along the way to sell my first big ad contracts so I would have the funds to begin in September. Thankfully, Bill Ylvisaker introduced me to two of the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club sponsors that winter, Leica Camera and Cadillac, and they both invited to me their offices while I was in town. Armed with two contracts, a credit card, a poorly written story and some good candid phototography of my travels that summer, I started Sidelines!
I also have to thank my four-legged animal family for their companionship throughout my 15 years of traveling the country. Foto, my five-pound party mix poodle, started Sidelines with me and accompanied me through 10 years of traveling the country playing polo and gathering Sidelines news. Foto was welcomed into hundreds of homes and earned her own column, Foto’s Corner. She also earned her place on the masthead as public relations director the day Mrs. C.V. Whitney stood up in the stadium at the U.S. Open in Lexington, Kentucky, holding little Foto in the air, exclaiming, “Who belongs to this adorable little dog?”
Cassiopeia was a white spotted half pygmy goat I adopted from a rescue farm on a polo trip to Huntsville, Alabama. Though she was meant to keep my horse Kody calm in the trailer, she ended up riding in the car and accompanying me across the country attending everything from horse shows to polo games to art openings. Cassiopeia was even invited to stay in the beautiful antique clad home of Deborah and Glen Vermoch in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she slept on a bed with a white linen duvet.
Kody, my beautiful homebred bay mare, carried me around the mountains in Sun Valley and foxhunting in Wellington, Florida. She traveled the country in a two-horse trailer topped by my kayaks and even got to herd cattle at Nina Evan’s family ranch in West Texas. India, my Argentine Paint mare, came from the Casa Manila team at 17 years of age. She was certainly the best-trained polo pony I ever sat on and we traveled the country playing low goal for 12 years together.
Buddy was named in our first “name that puppy contest.” The Busch’s suggested the name “Budweiser” (for obvious reasons) and that is how Buddy got his name. I adopted Mojo, a daschund, while visiting Nana Lampton and playing polo in Louisville, Kentucky in 1998. Another beautiful paint mare, Katchina, turned me on to GaWaNi Pony Boy at Equitana in Lexington, Kentucky. I had just purchased her from my favorite polo pony dealer and lifelong friend, BJ Buck, when I met GaWaNi Pony Boy. He encouraged me to take Katchina, who was at the bottom of the pecking order, and travel alone with her to get to know her. I did, and that advice began a whole new understanding of partnership with my animals. So you see, the animals got me there and the animals keep me here as they do for so many of us.
A Ride Down Memory Lane
Sorting through old issues was a blast and it was rewarding to see the progression of quality in our paper and our product. There was a long time when our inner-office joke when we discovered yet another typo, was “Hey, it’s just Sidelines!” But all that has changed and now we pride ourselves on a slick magazine that belongs on coffee tables and in tack rooms all across the country.
I can’t celebrate 25 years without thanking some very important horsemen who helped build this magazine along the way. How about Mr. Blue Book, Bill Matheson? For those who know Billy, he is brilliant – like a walking encyclopedia for polo facts. There wouldn’t have been a Sidelines without his help. My very first issue I rang his doorbell and begged him to edit my first story! Not only did he do that immediately, but he also managed to keep my voice and make me sound like a writer. Amazing! He was hired. He will probably tell you at slave wages, but it started a long partnership and lifelong friendship.
My best friend in Florida, David Lominska, was breaking into the world of photography in polo at that time. He is now the premiere polo photographer in the country. He not only helped me pick the name Sidelines, but he was also “the” photographer for all things polo in Sidelines for many years.
Next comes Cornelia Bernard Henderson. I had known Neil and played polo with her dad, Ed, for many years and I knew that Neil knew everything I didn’t know about editing. Neil stayed with Sidelines for 15 years until she retired just about one year ago. We are still fast friends and foxhunt and trail blaze to this day.
I probably run a risk by only mentioning a few of my past Sideliners, because there really have been so many. Honestly, until we finally stabilized the business there was a revolving door of help. Funny how no one wanted to work 24/7 like me just for passion and no pay!
The Journey Continues
Now, 25 years into this love affair, Sidelines is much more than just Sam and her four-legged family traveling the country. Today, we are an accomplished team, one I never really dreamed I would be blessed enough to gather.
Sidelines has not only been my passport to the world of horses and its lifestyle, but it has also been a team – even a family.
That being said, I want to thank everyone, from all of my loved ones who have moved on before me to my present Sidelines team and, most importantly, all of our new and longtime loyal readers. You are what keep us going and I hope you will be with us for another 25 years!
About the writer: Samantha Charles is the owner and publisher of Sidelines Magazine, the South Florida Social Handbook and The Barn Book. The daughter of a crop duster who moved her all over the country, Sam didn’t get to fulfill her lifelong desire to ride until she left home and bought her first horse. She learned to ride, self-taught, on the racetrack by borrowing lead ponies and getting run away with before the track opened. She found polo in 1979 and played until she moved to Aiken, South Carolina in 2005. She is now staff with Whiskey Road Fox Hounds in Aiken and active in community trail riding.
“My Story” is a first person account of life in the equestrian world. Would you like to write your story for Sidelines Magazine? To be considered, send a brief description of your story to firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of Samantha Charles