BIG HORN — A successful day for Eden Gonzalez means a good polo match or practice for his boss. Gonzalez is a groom and is in charge of managing all aspects of a horse’s life, from feeding to exercising to cleaning. The most important aspect of his job is getting the animals as prepared as possible for competition.
That is exactly what happened Friday evening, as Gonzalez had Hutch Radcliff’s horses ready to go. Radcliff scored eight of nine goals for Wyo Ag in its 9-7 victory over Rancho Mucho Dinero in the first Friday Night Lights matchup of the year at the Big Horn Equestrian Center. The series will continue every Friday in July and most of August.
The match was a competitive seesaw affair. The teams traded goals throughout the evening until Wyo Ag scored the final four goals, holding Rancho Mucho Dinero scoreless for about the final 15 minutes.
Radcliff had at least one goal in the first five chukkas and recorded the team’s first seven scores. On the Rancho Mucho Dinero side, Will Johnston tallied four scores and Megan Flynn had two goals.
Juan Martin Baez had several long passes to set up some of Radcliff’s goals. Bill Mackey also provided quality defense and was the only other Wyo Ag player to score. His goal turned out to be the difference, as it gave Wyo Ag an 8-7 lead in the fifth chukka.
“He’s the guy that kind of opened it up for me, keeping people off of me so I could score,” Radcliff said of Mackey.
Man and beast seemed to working in perfect tandem Friday for Radcliff, who said 70 to 80 percent of polo depends on the quality of the horse, proving the importance of a groom’s job.
“[Gonzalez] takes care of the horses and I just show up and play them,” Radcliff said.
Gonzalez grew up on a farm and has been around horses his entire life, resulting in an intimate familiarity with the animals.
The most challenging part of his job is figuring out why a horse isn’t performing well and working with them to improve.
“There’s not one key,” Gonzalez said. “Every horse is different … You have to be with them every day, watching the good and bad, trying to make them perfect.”
Gonzalez has been a groom for 13 years and has worked for Radcliff for the past four years. Gonzales oversees 10 horses, six of which competed Friday evening.
With the mercury rising above 90 degrees for the match, hydration and stamina were critical for humans and horses alike. On a hot day like Friday, Gonzalez gives the horses extra electrolytes and water throughout the day. Gonzalez and Radcliff were both used to the heat, however, as they live in Alabama for most of the year.
Gonzalez has played polo in the past but now spends most of his time taking care of the horses. He said horses between ages 8 and 12 are best for polo. After 12, they lose the ability to run at top speed.
Radcliff credited his experienced horses for helping him put the ball through the uprights over and over.
“It’s very unusual for me,” Radcliff said of his offensive outburst. “I don’t have any young horses … That gave me a little bit of an advantage today.”
The best part of Gonzalez’s job is seeing his work result in Radcliff having a standout performance like he did Friday.
“That’s what counts,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what you always worry about … I’m going home tonight very happy.”
There weren’t any official awards given out Friday night, but Radcliff surely would have won MVP if there were, marking an excellent day for player and trainer alike.
The polo season continues Sunday with two matches beginning at 1 p.m.