Polo Ponies

The sudden warm weather we had the past few days couldn’t have been better for a polo match on the beach. Who doesn’t want to spend their Saturday afternoon in the sun with sand in their toes and the sounds of horses’ hooves and ocean waves?

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The match was set on a public beach in Newport, Rhode Island that was rimmed with pretty, ocean-front houses that make you wish you lived there—between chukkers we commented which houses (or mansions as some of them were) we would pick—and the beach was beautiful.

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The unseasonably warm temperature (60° in the middle of February!) had most of the ponies sweating right away, though a few of them from the Boston Polo Team were partially clipped with “BP” on their hindquarters.

What was supposed to be a cloudy, drizzly day ended up being mostly sunny aside from the fog rolling off the ocean. The occasional cloud passed over, but most of it held off until the match was over and the rows of spectators were gone.

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Even after donning my preppiest attire and attending a few regular season matches last year, I understand nothing about polo other than it kind of looks like soccer with fewer players and more horses (with beach polo, they actually play with a soccer ball). I know there are four players who aim to get the ball between the posts and that they swap out the ponies for fresh ones each chukker.

The equitation princess inside me used to make me question the pulling and tugging on the reins, the high heads, and stress of quick turns and spurts on their legs. But after drawing a few polo ponies during IHSA, it is easy to tell that those ponies love their job and know how to do it well—it wasn’t rare to see someone put just slightly too much outside leg on and the horse would do a 180° turn leaving the rider right where they were on the rail. I definitely have some admiration for the riders’ ability to lean over the side of their horse while cantering and trying to hit a ball and not tumble off.

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Except sometimes they do tumble off. The most excitement happened in the first chukker when one of the riders fell off into the tide after hitting the ball and her horse beelined toward their trailer. Similar to the chaos of a fall at a horse show, the crowd let out a collective gasp, players call “loose horse,” and the horse-savvy spectators ran to try to catch him. The match was put on hold as a stretcher was brought down (thankfully, she was okay), the horse was caught, and the backup rider joined the game.

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While we didn’t keep track of the score or even which team was which, it was easy to spot the standout of the match, the girl in all pink who happens to be the daughter of the Newport Polo captain. She was ruthless through all four chukkers and scored the majority of her team’s points. With her pink set, she was the crowd favorite.

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While I didn’t go home with a desire to play polo, it did have me missing living on an island and wishing I lived closer to the beach. Its been a while since Ax has played in the waves.

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-TC

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