By Carrie Wirth
On any given Sunday during the season at International Polo Club Palm Beach, the recognizable, booming voice heard calling the game belongs to Tony Coppola. He’s been announcing the action on the Sunday field for countless years. His voice has become part of the fabric of the rich experience at the country’s most important clubs. Tony has announced the Argentine Open, broadcasted on ESPN and given voice to top matches around the globe.
Tony’s love for polo began when he was a child in Long Island, hot walking horses. He was introduced to the game by the late Joe Rizzo and started playing at the age of 12. Tony became a solid player and a respected horseman before moving on to manage some of the country’s top polo clubs including Burnt Mills, Gilbertsville and Saratoga.
“He’s probably the most knowledgeable horse person I’ve ever met in my whole life,” said Jesse Coppola, Tony’s ex-wife, who says she considers him one of her closest friends. “He’s taught me everything I know about horses.”
With his firsthand knowledge of polo tack and equipment and understanding of what players need, Tony launched his iconic Wellington tack store, The Tackeria, out of the back of his car in 1975. He was inspired by the injury of a fellow player and employer to create a business to fall back on. Tony wanted to be sure he would have a source of income to ensure his livelihood if he were injured or couldn’t work in the sport for any reason. While he started small, selling just a few items like bits, he has shaped The Tackeria over the years into a Wellington landmark.
The Tackeria moved from a mobile trailer at the polo fields to a small store in the polo barns to various locations around Wellington before settling in its current, extremely popular location on the corner of Pierson Road and South Shore Boulevard. The new setting for the store is at the apex of the Wellington winter equestrian season at the intersection where the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center and the Global Dressage Village meet, adjacent to many area polo fields.
This year, The Tackeria family celebrates its 40th anniversary. And it’s truly a family.
“My nephew Lou is the general manager, my ex-wife Jesse is in the business, and my son Matt is learning — so that’s real family,” Tony said. “We have employees that have been with us 20-plus years. We don’t have turnover in staff. People come and work and stay.”
In 2006, Tony was awarded the Polo Museum and Hall of Fame’s Philip Iglehart Award for Lifetime Contributions to the Sport of Polo for his contributions and for his support of area charitable organizations. In 2010, he was named Wellington Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
“He’s a kind man,” confided Jesse. “If anyone ever needed help, he’d be the first one to help them.”
Tony is very supportive of his son, Matt, who’s now playing professionally and represents the next generation of polo-playing Coppolas. Tony tries to be there for his games as much as possible. Between the store, announcing and polo matches, and trips to Argentina, it’s a wonder that he’s able to keep up the pace.
“Matt is starting to get involved in the business,” added Tony. “Now that he’s playing polo, he knows the new trends and what people are using, and we let him try a lot of new products. He spends his free time learning the business.”
“He sees the bigger picture,” said Lou Cuthbertson, Tony’s nephew.
Lou first worked for Tony at The Tackeria as a marketing student. Coppola needed a catalog, so Lou came down to Wellington from Boston on a college internship basis to accomplish that project. Lou returned to work for his uncle and stayed from 1988 through 1994, left for 10 years, then returned in 2004 and has stayed since then.
“Before the whole world went to stores that are open seven days a week, Tony felt that the barn store should be open on Sunday in case a horse had an injury,” Lou said. “Tony thought that, if a horse needed a jar of furacin, we should be here for them. It wasn’t about the money; it was about serving the clients.”
Over the years, the store expanded and now does a brisk business with hunter/jumper customers, which has actually exceeded the polo business. Currently the retailer is seeing an increase in dressage clients. As the business has grown, Tony says that the motivation of satisfying the needs of the customers is what makes him tick.
“I think what I’m most proud of is the fact that here we are going into our 40th year, and we’ve grown from very little to where we are now,” Tony said. “We have good relationships with our employees and the community. This is what keeps me going.”