For years we’ve heard him on the radio, touting the joys and benefits of home ownership and exhorting us to visit The Mortgage Store for the best deal possible to realize that dream.
A true self-starter, Rauschelbach studied business at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Fontbonne College. He found work as a broker at Stifel Nicolaus, but he moved from stocks to lending, leaving the brokerage in 1999 and joining American Equity Mortgage. After a stint working under mortgage mogul Ray Vinson, he was recruited to join a modest lending company in his home town of Wentzville.
The Mortgage Store grew from a mom-and-pop operation into an INC 500 company and regional market leader. During the mortgage meltdown, The Mortgage Store Inc. discontinued operations. Rauschelbach has re-launched his practice as The Mortgage Store-USA, based in Chesterfield.
Away from the suit-and-tie world of mortgage banking, Jason Rauschelbach has a not-so-secret passion: polo.
Formerly a Western rider, Rauschelbach caught the polo “bug” while taking a clinic on vacation in Mexico. Since then, he has taken to the game quickly, winning the USPA Governor’s Cup in 2006 at Sarasota Polo Club in Florida and becoming co-captain of the St. Louis Polo Club with Billy Busch.
Open-to-the-public games are held each Saturday from mid-May to early October at the Blue Heron Polo Club in New Melle at the Blue Heron Polo Field off Benne Road a few miles south of the WingHaven Exit. For more information go to www.stlpolo.com.Â Â Â
Polo has been called the Sport of Kings, which could be taken as “Only the wealthy need apply.” In other words, how exclusive a club is it?
“Well, the club is not about exclusivity. If you go through our roster, it’s not necessarily a Who’s Who of blue blood names. The club was very welcoming to me when I started playing, which was only five years ago.”
What’s the name of your horse?
“I have six horses, and it takes that many to play the game. Polo is six periods of seven-and-a-half minutes-they’re called chukkers-and, at the end of every period, players break to change horses. That’s for the safety of the horse. If you think about the Kentucky Derby or just a typicalÂ race over at Fairmount, it’s one horse running full-out for two minutes. In polo, it’s like they’re doing wind sprints for seven-and-a-half minutes.”Â Â Â Â Â
All right, then what are the names of your horses?
“Palomo, Dora, Rio, Ladybug, Tormenta and King Kong.”
Are the games BYOH or may a horse be borrowed at the polo grounds?
“Through our training program and lesson program we provide the horses. When you start playing on your own, you’ll have to have your own horses.”
These horses, are they specially trained to play polo or do they learn along with the rider?
“They’re specially-trained. It takes two to three years after taking a horse off the race track to train a horse for polo. He’s already somewhat trained, that is, he knows he’s going to have a bit in his mouth and a rider on his back, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
So some of these horses may have been running at Fairmount Park.
“Especially at St. Louis Polo Club, many of our horses are former Fairmount Park horses.”
Do you think they like playing polo more than having to race around that track?
“Absolutely. I think the sport exercises the horse’s mind, too, and for the polo horse it’s no longer an act of repetition. It’s not running around one left-handed circle. The horse is being asked to do a lot.”
Oh yeah, zig and zag, change course suddenly, and more.
“That’s right. Polo fields are big. It’s a 10-acre rectangle. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and they have to be able to stop on a dime and then reverse direction when asked.”Â Â
Then again, as race track thoroughbreds they were used to having 110-pound riders on their back, but now they may have lugs like me, big 230-pounders, riding them.
“If you started riding you would drop a lot of weight fast, believe me. But yes, it takes a special horse. They won’t all make it, that’s for sure.”
Has anyone ever shown up with a real nag that made you shake your head and say, “Sorry Charlie, not today”?
“No, we’ve never had to, and that speaks a lot about the level of our players and their concern for the well-being of their mounts.”
Have the PETA people ever showed up at one of your games?
“No, you’re talking about a group of horse lovers – we’ve rescued this horse from the race track, essentially. The love of the horse is one thing that all the players have in common. It’s probably the main reason why we come together.”
Now, what are the responsibilities of a polo team co-captain?
“For the most part I’m involved in the general management of the club, seeing that the trains run on time, so to speak. Making sure the leagues run on schedule, making sure we have flaggers, time-keepers, and announcers. There’s also recruitment and training efforts, and getting the word out about polo in St. Louis.”Â Â
How are you promoting the games locally?
“That’s a big mission for us right now. In the local newspapers out there around New Melle, we publicize our regular games held on Saturdays at 3 p.m. And we’ll always have signs posted in the vicinity of the game as we want to encourage tailgating. Last year was the first year that we invited the public out. We’ve been working actively to raise the profile and understanding of the sport, hoping to grow the club and bring in new dues-paying members.”Â
That would be something different to do on a Saturday afternoon.Â
“Yeah, bring the family and the neighbors. Tailgating is $10 a carload at the non-benefit games, which are every Saturday from the week after Mother’s Day to the first Saturday in October. Bring your own cooler with whatever you want, plus there’s a church group that sells burgers, hot dogs and soft drinks. There’s an announcer at these games and that just makes all the difference in the world to the spectators trying to get an understanding of the game. If there’s a foul and the play stops, they’ll explain why and they’ll explain what the penalty is. So we’re kicking up the experience.”
Please clarify “non-benefit games.”
“We have four benefit games throughout the season, and those get some good coverage. The charities that St. Louis Polo Club actively supports are Therapeutic Horsemanship, Edgewood Children’s Home, Friends of Immigrants, and Epworth Children and Family Services.”
How many teams are in the area? Do you play teams from other cities?
“Yes, teams come in from all over the country, mostly regionally-Memphis, Springfield, Missouri, and Nashville. They’ll get a caravan going with the horse trailers and all, drive to St. Louis and stay for a week at a time.”
How would you rate your co-captain?
“Billy is a tremendous booster of the sport of polo, not just in St. Louis but across the country. He is also the last of a group to win the U.S. Open with a team that consisted of three amateurs. Usually the U.S. Open, which is 26 goals, is [a team of] three pros and one amateur. See, polo is a handicapped sport, like golf, and Billy is a three-goal handicapped player, a ranking that’s usually only seen in professional players. Billy has a good time on the field, but he’s very competitive.”
Are there women on the team?
“There are women players. Everybody competes equally based on their handicap.”
What special equipment is needed to play?
“Sturdy boots, helmet and knee pads. It’s an English saddle, so there’s some tack specific to the horse. And you’ll need some mallets.”
There must be some mishaps. What’s one of the things that could happen?
“There could be a collision as a result of the most popular foul, which is crossing the line. Think of the playing field on the perspective of a highway. Players try to approach the ball as we’re merging and going forward, but occasionally you’ll get the T-bone effect and you’ll see a collision. That’s really dangerous, for the players and the horses. Another rule regards the mallet, and that is every player must swing the mallet right-handed. It’s a common-sense rule so that you don’t have two people approaching each other swinging sticks to where they can connect.”Â Â
How do you get ready for a game?
“Make sure you have plenty of ice, cold beer, water. Prep your tack. Go to the field about an hour before the game. Tend to the horses, which consists of wrapping their legs with athletic bandages and wrapping their tails so that you don’t have mallets getting caught in the tails.”
It sounds like a big commitment, becoming a polo player.
“Yes, it takes some time but again, it comes down to the love of both the horse and polo. I know a lot of people who used to ride Western or another equine discipline who went on to play polo. That’s usually how we get them. They’ve already made the biggest investments – the horses, trailer and tack – and, for the most part, as long as they’re physically capable of playing they’ll never go back to their previous horse hobby. And make no mistake: The game is fast, it is very physical, it is a very competitive team sport. There’s a score, your team either wins or loses.”
You have both amateurs and pros on the team?
“That’s right. Polo is unique in the way that amateurs and professionals regularly play together.
There’s usually at least one professional, sometimes two. St. Louis has a deep history of polo that makes it easy to run a solid, competitive club. We have lots of very talented amateur member players. We’re not starting from scratch here.”
When you’re blazing back and forth across the polo field on a sweaty horse, do your thoughts ever turn to mortgage banking?
So where do you see this going? A polo player at 60?
“As long as I can get on the horse’s back and keep myself mounted I’ll be in the game. It’s definitely my top hobby. I don’t do anything else.”