Each morning, 85-year-old Ed Robbins, the world’s oldest active polo player, continues a lifelong love of horses as he watches thoroughbreds complete workouts on his Lauderdale County polo and racehorse farm.
“Polo is such a small sport, a lot of people call it a cult,” said Robbins, who lives in Rogersville. “There are only three to 4,000 polo players in the United States.”
A polo match on May 21, 2016, when he was 84 years and 326 days old, cemented his Guinness World Record as the oldest active polo player. Robbins was raised around ponies and walking horses but didn’t become interested in polo until 1980 when he converted a cornfield and gravel pit into Peytona Farms, home of Blue Water Creek Polo Club and Centaur Racing.
Alabama doesn’t have a “horse culture” like Kentucky, Robbins said, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his polo passion.
With four horseback players on a team, the objective is to move the polo ball downfield, hitting it through a goal to score. Polo fields are the largest field of any organized sport, measuring 300 yards by 160 yards. Games are generally six chukkers (or time periods) long. Each chukker lasts 7 1/2 minutes, and Blue Water Creek Polo occasionally hosts 4-chukker polo games.
Robbins said he received his indoctrination into the polo world at a polo clinic in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where movie star Tommy Lee Jones shared a nugget of wisdom.
“He told me, ‘If you don’t get out of my way, I’m going to run over you,’” Robbins remembered. “When I first started playing, my mallet felt like a log in my hand. I had to adjust pretty fast.”
A member of the United States Polo Association since December 1981, Robbins is now an accomplished player and formed Blue Water Creek Polo Club to foster his hobby. The club’s 19 members practice Thursday afternoons on Robbins’ fields and have matches in May, June, September and October.
Robbins said polo players have good hand-eye coordination and are confident, skilled riders. To keep his polo game sharp, Robbins takes daily walks with Tootsie, his Jack Russell terrier, and rides horses three times a week.
Thoroughbreds hold a special place in Robbins’ heart. If he has a racehorse that isn’t good enough to pursue a career on the track, he switches them to polo.
“Thoroughbreds are versatile horses and can be used in many sports,” he said.
Centaur Racing produces stakes-winning horses and Kentucky Derby contenders, including Colonel John and Pioneer of the Nile, sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
“Racing is fun, especially when the horses win something for you,” Robbins said.
Robbins’ winning drive transcends to his professional career. He patented the first plastic water system for poultry houses and founded E.S. Robbins Corp., the world’s largest chair mat manufacturer.
The Muscle Shoals-based business produces another of Robbins’ patents, a polymer horse-rail fence specifically built to keep horses safe. Centaur Fencing’s Cenflex product looks like wood and is sold worldwide. But Robbins admits his success wasn’t easy.
“No one ever gave me anything,” Robbins said. But that doesn’t hamper his philanthropy. He hosts fundraisers for local charities at his farm, including one for rescued horses.
Robbins’ love for horse sports is shared by his daughter, Teena Robbins Tucker, and grandson Juddy Carlton.
“My father has more stamina than any other 85-year-old I know,” said Tucker, Blue Water Creek Polo’s event planner. “We all try to keep up with him.”
These days, Robbins is the only family member routinely playing polo. An injury has kept Tucker off horseback, and Carlton, 21, is in school at the University of Alabama.
Tucker worked tirelessly to prove to Guinness World Records officials her father was the oldest active polo player. The application process required his birth certificate, letters from witnesses who played polo with him last summer plus videos and photographs of Robbins in action on the field.
After years on horseback and playing polo, Robbins said he loves the sport as much as when he picked up his first mallet at age 48.
“I don’t know why certain people are fascinated by horses,” Robbins said. “I can’t remember a time I didn’t love them. I’d rather be known as the world’s youngest polo player, but it’s too late for that.”
Visit PeytonaFarms.com for more information.