Smith's preparation for polo consisted of riding every day over some portion of Moss' 25,000 acres. The range extended from a looming ridge, known as Yearling Head, near the town of Llano, to a massive square mile of bare stone 20 miles distant, a landmark rising some 500 feet straight up and known as Enchanted Rock because of the bell-like sounds caused by expansion and contraction from changes in the temperature. "If we were working cattle near Enchanted Rock, we'd leave about three o'clock in the morning to get there before daylight," Smith says. "We'd spend the day there and ride back that night. I was on a horse every day from the time I was three or four years old."
By the time he was 16 he was a good all-round ranch hand, and at 18 his reputation as a trainer reached beyond Llano County. He did some calf roping, but his main interest was in training horses. He was breaking horses for the Moss ranch in 1924 when George Miller, a horse dealer from Austin, came by with two that he had bought as prospective polo ponies. With Miller was Rube Williams, a ranch hand eight years older than Smith. Williams later became a famous polo player in his own right, as well as a thoroughbred trainer. He was always called Rube, because he disliked the name Hubert Windshield Williams given him at birth. "I asked Rube what polo was like," Smith says, "and Rube said, 'The first time you hit that white ball and see it rolling, you'll want to play polo.' "
With a mallet and balls provided by Miller, Cecil began practicing in private, riding skittish cow horses on rocky hillsides. According to Miller, "It was about like learning to play baseball in a railroad switchyard. Cecil hit that ball a wallop, and it went about a mile. I didn't say anything, but I thought about it when I got back to my place."
"Cecil was good with all kinds of animals," says his sister Macy, who still lives in Llano. "Horses most of all, but all animals; he seemed to understand them." Experts were just as impressed. "There has never been a player who trains horses the way Cecil does," says John Armstrong, whose family owns the great Armstrong ranch in South Texas, which is linked to the adjoining King Ranch by ties of family, property and cattle. He knew Cecil in his early days as a polo player; the three Armstrong brothers and their father sometimes played together as a low-goal polo team. "Cecil is gifted with more patience than most people," Armstrong says. "He would bring his horses along slowly and keep them getting better and faster so their performance peaked just when they had to be at their best."
John Armstrong's brother Tobin, the husband of Anne, formerly the Ambassador to Great Britain, says, "Cecil and Rube Williams were magnificent horsemen to begin with, and Cecil trained and rode tremendously good horses. I thought I had been well mounted when I played polo at Meadow Brook. But when I got back to Texas and went out on the field riding one of Cecil's horses I realized I might as well have been afoot on Long Island. I'd never been on such an animal in my life."
Cecil was hired by Miller to clear a field on the Moss ranch. "They started stick-and-balling some horses, and they asked me to stick-and-ball some, which I did," Smith says, "and that's how I got started. It was a lot of fun. I had roped calves quite a bit before I ever swung a mallet, and roping calves and hitting a polo ball are quite a bit alike; it's a matter of timing. Miller's place was in Austin, and he hired me to work there. I played a game before I went there. A fellow in Llano picked two teams, and they wanted me to come over and play with them. I rode one horse and led the other one 10 miles to Llano, played eight straight periods and rode back to the ranch that night."
"I didn't know that," says Mary Smith.
"Yes. The first real game on a regulation field that I played was at Austin. It was against an Army team from Fort Sam Houston. Miller, Rube Williams, myself and Earl Shaw. We won. I always liked to play with Rube. We could just about read each other's minds. I could just about tell where he was going to be, and he'd be there.
"Miller was buying a lot of horses, in the neighborhood of a hundred a year. In the summer he sent a load with Rube Williams up to New Jersey, and I took another load to Detroit. The Freebooters were a 12-goal team there. They had a grass field, and I'd go there and hit the ball off the back line and try to make a goal in two shots. That's 300 yards. A lot of times I wouldn't make the goal, but I'd nearly always hit it over the back line."
While he was playing with the Freebooters, Smith attracted the attention of Sam Marshall, who was writing editorials, running a humor column and covering polo for the Detroit News. Marshall measured one of Smith's long drives in a game and found that it had traveled 460 feet. He noted in one of his newspaper articles that Smith had accomplished this by swinging a mallet that weighed more than a pound while riding at full speed, timing the speed of his swing with the speed of his horse and smacking a three-inch, four-ounce wooden ball more than half again the length of a football field toward an eight-yard-wide goal. And he did not miss.