By Don Rosendale
All Photos Courtesy of Rebecca Barldridge
When John Klopp plays a few chukkers at the Mashomack Polo Club in Pine Plains, New York, he’s carrying more than just a polo mallet on his shoulder. If not for his organizational skills and the checkbooks of friends he enlisted, polo in Millbrook might still be played on a nearby back pasture.
Instead, Mashomack players enjoy a 2,000-acre estate with six polo fields, a regulation arena for winter play, stalls for 250 horses and a clubhouse that looks as if it belongs in Architectural Digest.
Pine Plains sits on the outskirts of what’s known as the “Millbrook Hunt Country,” where there’s a long equestrian tradition. The Millbrook Hunt ran its first fox to ground in 1907, and the area also plays host to the Fitch’s Corner and Millbrook horse trials.
But the first polo matches in the Millbrook area that anyone can remember were played in the 1980s when Eric Rosenfeld, a New York City lawyer, flattened his back pasture and invited a few friends for a match. When Eric gave up polo and sold Chestnut Ridge Farm, the polo action moved 16 miles north to Mashomack and Pine Plains.
And that’s when John’s formidable organizational skills came into play. John explains that the Mashomack “club” was not so much a club in those days as the idiosyncratic empire of one Dan Daly, who had moved his club from Shelter Island to Pine Plains in 1979.
“If Dan Daly liked you,” John remembered, “you could become a member of his ‘club.’ But if Dan Daly didn’t like you … don’t ask.”
Dan died in 2003. “He hadn’t left his affairs in very good order,” said John. Mashomack’s broad plains, not far off the Taconic State Parkway, were a prize for real estate developers. That’s when John stepped up.
A graduate of the Wharton Business School and a long-time serious player in the New York real estate arena, John has been co-CEO of Morgan Stanley’s real estate investment since 2010, a division which has a $185 billion real estate portfolio. With his expertise in real estate, he was able to put together a group of investors, including Oakleigh Thorne and Bruce Colley, to buy Mashomack from the Daly estate. (Note: There are two Thorne family members on the Millbrook equestrian scene. “Big Oakleigh” descended from one of the founders of the Millbrook Hunt and his son, “Little Oakleigh,” who fields his own team. According to John, Big Oakleigh was among the first of those who dug into their own pockets to save Mashomack from the developers).
It took three years, but the group closed the deal on the Mashomack Club in 2006. The biggest challenge was restoring the old cattle barns and making them habitable for polo ponies. “Until the ’50s, when Dan Daley moved in, Mashomack was a large working farm where beef cattle were fattened for the butcher,” John said.
John had his first taste of polo 17 years ago, at the age of 43, and “just fell in love” with the sport. He moved his family to an estate in Amenia, 15 minutes from Mashomack, and established his own polo team, Smithfield Farms.
Juan Olivera, the polo manager at Mashomack, has high praise for John’s skill on the polo field. “He plays back,” said Juan, explaining that this is the Number 4 position and the key player in defending a team’s goal. “He has very soft hands with the horse, sits the canter really well and he has a good eye for horses; he’s very well-mounted.” John (together with Bruce) is rated as a 1-goal player.
But while he fields his own team, John says he doesn’t want to be “just a patron, spending money on the team and riding around watching and letting the other people do the work.”
His Smithfield Farms team has won several Mashomack polo tournaments, and John himself won the Hermes Trophy for Most Valuable Player at this summer’s Mashomack International Challenge.
On the afternoon he was interviewed for this article, he’d just flown back from a 72-hour round trip to inspect Morgan Stanley’s real estate holdings in St. Petersburg, Russia. But despite the potential jet lag from traversing eight time zones, John was fresh enough for a polo match a few hours after landing.
He didn’t need Mashomack to play; Smithfield Farm, with its yellow Dutch Colonial mansion located just across a country lane from where artist Frank Stella breeds Thoroughbreds and raises race horses, has its own polo field.
“But it’s not regulation size,” said John almost apologetically. “So we can only play a three-man team.” (A normal polo team consists of four players.) The polo season finale for local players is a three-on-three tournament, the Smithfield Farms Cup.
The Klopp clan includes wife Karen, a former TV producer who runs the fashion-themed website, What2WearWhere; Jake, 27; Adam, 28; and Kell, 18. Adam and Jake play on the Smithfield team; a recent photo of the Klopp boys in a New York area fashion magazine could have passed for a Ralph Lauren catalogue shot.
The Klopps are part and parcel of just about every aspect of the Millbrook equestrian scene. Karen is co-chairman of the Mashomack International Polo Challenge in June. When the polo season is over, John rides with the Millbrook Hunt. What2WearWhere sponsored a mini-tournament called “The Young Guns” as a preliminary to the main event at this year’s Mashomack Polo Challenge. The match was for the children of Mashomack team players, and Jake rode. For the main match of the day, John donned the livery of the winning What2WearWhere team.
Just a month after the polo challenge, the Klopps and What2WearWhere were one of several sponsors of the show jumping phase at the Fitch’s Corners Horse Trials, and hosted a champagne brunch field side.
What2WearWhere offers women advice on what to wear to a wide variety of events — for example Wimbledon, a hunt ball, a black tie party … and of course a polo match. All of the carefully curated ensembles can be purchased by clicking on a link.
Polo is not the only option at Mashomack, as there are actually two “Mashomack” clubs. The mother ship, called “Big Mashomack,” has 400 members and an elegant clubhouse filled with sporting art and antiques. Members shoot sporting clays and the odd pheasant, cast for fish in its lake and dine on sophisticated cuisine in the club’s dining rooms.
The Mashomack Polo Club is a club-within-a-club, with 40 riding members. John is a director of the main club and carries the title of “El Presidente” of the polo club, and while Bruce has no formal title, he’s the acknowledged locomotive behind the Polo Challenge.
After taking over Mashomack from the Daly estate, the members added a new wing, a few Munnings racing and foxhunting prints and a dining room wing. As John said, the biggest challenge is updating and restoring the old barns. Juan points with pride to what has been restored and built to date, but estimates it will take another six-figure sum to bring the facility up to for the level of a major polo center.
That’s a task for John.
About the writer: Don Rosendale has won ribbons at third level dressage, prelim eventing and A show hunters, but never tried polo. He says that is because he is hopelessly left-handed.