Polo on the Prairie
Writer / JJ Kaplan
Looking for an affordable family activity that also benefits a charity? For the usual fee of just $20 per carload, you can enjoy an evening on the prairie watching an exhilarating polo match. Hickory Hall Polo Club (HHPC) in Whitestown is open to the public for matches. This is home to Indiana’s only polo club, which embraces giving back to the community by playing for charities, ranging from Sullivan Munce Museum to Every Dog Counts Rescue to Witham Hospital Foundation, to name a few. For most weekends this summer, you can bring your own food and beverage of choice, enjoy being out in the country, support a local charity, and feel the earth move as horses race and pivot before your very eyes. Club founder Greg Chandler explains, “Your heart is pounding and every muscle is worked. It is an extremely demanding sport that is exhilarating to watch.” If you like fast horses, I promise you will love it!
Each summer, HHPC schedules matches with a designated charity recipient. Donation funds are raised from several resources, including admission fees, corporate sponsorships, silent auctions, and purchasing private, sideline viewing boxes. Matches begin June 20 and end September 27, 2014. You are welcome to bring a soccer ball or football, a friendly dog on a leash, etc., to enjoy the polo field between chukkas (a quarter of play time) and at halftime. Halftime also brings entertainment or participating patron games. The event announcers, including college students looking for a career in sports broadcasting, will guide viewers through the evening, with pop music playing. There is something for everyone.
While many of us have the impression that polo is a sport only for royalty, it is actually a sport that is more affordable than you may realize. You don’t have to have millions to get into this sport. In many ways, it is comparable to a country club membership. One does not even need to own a horse to get involved. HHPC offers lessons with the horse and all the tack provided and a few other options.
Greg recommends riding for six months regularly to build up muscles to ensure that you are a solid rider. If you want to try your hand at playing, there are horses available for lease. And if you decide to join the club, there are plenty of helping hands along the way.
From there, you build your own team of polo ponies, which are actually in the 15- to 16-hand range for size. Approximately 95 percent of the horses are Thoroughbreds taken off the racetrack. At roughly 6 or 7 years old, they can play into their early 20s. These elite athletes have a life of playing hard in June through September. During the off months, they enjoy mild exercise and just being a horse. They need stamina and mental ability to stay in the game. A good polo pony will learn to anticipate a burst into speed, turn on a dime, or stop in midstream. Many polo ponies know more about the game than the rider—they teach the rider how to play. Participants can play with one horse in the first and last chukkas. As players get more involved, they usually own four or more horses, at least one for each of the four chukkas. In this strenuous game, a fresh pony must always be on hand, tacked up and ready to go.
A horseman with time and experience can retrain a Thoroughbred right off the track. But for others, buying a pony already trained may be more practical. Our club members journey to Palm Beach or Wellington, Florida to purchase ponies from some of the best polo facilities in the country, where elite polo clubs are common.
Most players enjoy the camaraderie and friendships formed by playing polo. “Addiction to the game is frequent after one gives it a try,” Greg adds. While some of the players have been riding most of their lives, there are also many who enter the sport in midlife when they finally have the time and means to enjoy this group sport. And there are many riders who enjoy polo well into their 70s. “Age is not an issue,” according to Greg.
What do you wear to a polo match? It depends on the day or evening’s marquis charity. There are some gala events where formal sun attire would be appropriate, and ticket prices vary per event. All events have general admission and whether you go formal or general admission, you must bring your own picnic. Casual attire is worn for most games, which includes jeans and shorts. No derby hats required here.
When you are looking for a fun, family activity, plan to attend “Polo & Sunset,” “Polo on the Prairie,” “Boone County Polo Charity,” “Bally Foundation Polo Charity,” or the HHPC’s signature event “Polo & Pearls.” Visit indypolo.com for more information, including a detailed schedule of games and the designated charity. You may just find your favorite cause listed! Call 317-223-4281 for more information.