Wood showcasing NZ thoroughbreds’ versatility to the world
Polo has been a key part of Charlie Wood’s life, taking the Cantabrian all around the globe to compete at the highest level, and the thoroughbred has been an integral part of that journey.
Being the son of well-known New Zealand polo player Roddy Wood, a career in polo was always on the cards for Charlie, who was around horses from a young age at Waireka Polo, an equine property founded by his father in 1991.
“I got into polo through my Dad, who played polo professionally as well. It wasn’t something that I got into at a very young age, but I had ridden since I was four,” Charlie Wood said.
“The appeal grew and that passion with the horses came in. It started with playing here (New Zealand) and learning at a lower level. Through university I got a little bit better and I never used my degree after that because I have been spending time overseas for half of the year (playing polo professionally) and then back here for summers.
“I am still based in Sefton for over half of the year and then in different countries depending on the year and contracts.
“I spent a long time in England. I was there right throughout my twenties playing in London. I had my own horses over there and in 2016 they changed the visa laws, which made it a lot more difficult to get a playing visa. I took that as an opportunity to go and see different places in the world.”
Wood has enjoyed his globetrotting life and said the thoroughbred has been a key part, both in his business at Waireka Polo, and in a playing capacity.
“The thoroughbred has been something that has become synonymous with polo for myself,” he said.
“When Dad started playing polo he couldn’t afford to buy his own ones so he trained them from scratch and the availability of thoroughbreds in Canterbury has been good my whole life. I have grown up around them and it has been normal for me playing polo on thoroughbreds.
“We have ended up breeding our own, which a lot of them have been thoroughbreds, but have not ended up being registered.”
Waireka Polo is a truly family affair. As well as fostering the Wood's family’s talent, it has helped introduce the sport to a number of schools in Christchurch, with thoroughbreds being the perfect breed to learn on.
“Roddy, my father, is the one who started Waireka Polo. I am the oldest, and my two younger brothers, Jimmy and Henry, have both spent a lot of time playing polo professionally as well,” Wood said.
“Jimmy is based quite a lot in England and Australia, but still has horses being trained in Christchurch as well. Henry is not playing professionally anymore, he is now a pilot, but he did play professionally for quite a while.
“Waireka is a horse training facility and is also a place for kids to learn how to play polo.”
While the Wood family get great satisfaction out of passing on their polo knowledge to the next generation, the core part of Waireka Polo has always been educating and trading off the track thoroughbreds, which have become quite popular in the New Zealand polo scene.
“Part of my business, as well as playing, is taking horses between the ages of three and five off the track and retraining them and exporting them or selling them locally,” Wood said.
“I love working with the thoroughbred because they are easily trainable and once they do get there then they have more power and determination than a lot of the other breeds you end up playing in the sport.
“Most people that are playing, and have good number of horses, tend to have off the track thoroughbreds.
“If you go to other countries you can get them, but it is very hard to get them the same shape that we have them here. We tend to get them a bit more nuggety, which suits polo.
Wood said he has formed good associations with a number of trainers and stud farms, but now mostly deals with thoroughbred rehoming businesses to source his thoroughbreds.
“Trainers will give them to rehoming businesses and we now have good relationships with a few rehomers,” he said. “As soon as they see a horse that is going to suit us, which is under 15.3 hands and normally mares, they call us and I tend to buy them over the phone.”
Wood has had plenty of success retraining and selling thoroughbreds, particularly offshore.
“The most successful horses I have played and sold have been by Raise the Flag from White Robe Lodge in Mosgiel,” he said.
“Alzar, Prim and Cuauh all played in the NZ Savile Cup, with Alzar and Prim exported to Australia and the UK respectively, while Cuauh was sold locally.
Charlie and Cuauh. Photo: Geoff Soper Photography.
“Another successful thoroughbred was Zinny, who was by Zacinto. She had a long racing career and came to me through Sophie Sinclair from Winton, in Southland, at six-years-old, which was a bit of a risk (because of her age) but she was so easy, started playing practices within the first few weeks and now belongs to one of my clients who loves her and plays her every week.
“Vein, who is by No Excuse Needed, is probably the best horse I exported to Australia, and they now play all the High Goal there.”
Wood said he couldn’t be a bigger advocate for the thoroughbred and praised the versatility of the breed.
“Anybody looking to get into riding should be looking at the thoroughbreds that we have in New Zealand, if they have the right skills to look after them, because they can literally do anything,” he said.
“Every one we get, if they don’t work out for polo, we can find them a home to do something else.
“I think they are great and versatile animals.”