On July 5 & 6, the San Diego Polo Club played host to one of many tournaments organized by the Pacific Coast Arena League. USPA members from all over California traveled to SDPC to compete in the two-day event hosted by both San Diego Polo and Poway Polo clubs. Roughly 40 players and 80 horses gathered at our arena to compete against one another over July 4th weekend. The club was bustling more than usual and playing host to our guests brought a wonderful, different, refreshing air to the club. Many of the competitors over the weekend got their start at our Arena School lessons and now compete regularly all over California at various other clubs. Each day had 6 matches consisting of 4 chukkers of various levels of competition. From our Interscholastic teenaged players to our best A-rated players, the day was action packed with some of the most amazing arena polo you’ll ever see. Some of the other clubs represented were OC Polo, Central Coast Polo, Lakeside Polo and Poway Polo.
Each day consisted of 6 matches, A-Flights, B-Flights and C-Flight Student chukkers. A-Flight is the more advanced and C-Flight is more beginner level, even though there’s still a lot going on in C-Flight, just watch! For each match, 3 Awards were given: Most Valuable Player, Sportsmanship and Best Playing Pony. MVP is usually given to the player who contributed the most to the game, not necessarily who scored the most goals, an all around player acknowledged for their effort and skill, as well as their knowledge and respect for the game and rules. Sportsmanship is given to a stand-out player who perhaps showed a mutual respect for another player, horse, or rule and did not put personal triumph above how the game should be played. Perhaps an overall attitude toward the chukkers and other players. One young man was awarded Sportsmanship for initiating the “great game” handshake exchange to the other team’s players and to thank the umpires at the end of his match. Best Playing Pony is given to the stand-out horse that performed brilliantly in terms of perhaps speed, ride-off, responsiveness to needs of the rider, and overall performance within the game.
Arena polo is often mistaken as less exciting and more condensed than grass polo. If you take just one quick moment to watch some chukkers of some A rated players, you’ll very quickly realize how scrappy, exciting, action packed and different Arena polo is from grass polo. It’s amazing just how different the entire game can be within the 100×50 yard field. You can often use the wall or boards of the arena as a “4th man” in your chukkers, using it for your team, or against the other team. You can smack the ball against the boards at an angle to change the line of the ball to pass to a teammate, something you can’t really do in grass unless you hit it low enough to bounce it off the red boards on the ground. The close contact in the arena is extremely exciting, sometimes looking more like a demolition derby instead of Formula One racing. Most of the same rules still apply in either game – grass or arena – but the strategy tends to be much different.
While hitting and carrying the ball tends to be much easier on the grass, since most people prefer to play golf on the green instead of the sand pits, imagine just how much more skill you might need to “play golf in the sand pits” all the time? The arena ball tends to glance off mounds of sand or mud, or get stuck in hoof holes created by the galloping horses. But to develop enough skill to work around that and STILL be a dynamite polo player, I’d say that’s a mission worth trying, and a feat often underestimated and overlooked. With the deck stacked against you in getting the ball to move anywhere in a straight line, you might argue that arena polo is harder.
New players may rush themselves through Arena as their end game or end goal might be to play on the grass. Take one look at an arena tournament and you are in for one hell of a ride. You can see Everything right up close, you can hear the grunts of the horses, hear the clanking of stirrups during a ride off, see all the action up close from wherever you’re standing – it’s easier to see every detail. Get ready to duck out of the way of a ball flying out of bounds!
The next time you hear about an arena tournament at SDPC, come on down and check it out. It’s really an amazing display of expertise horsemanship, and expert ball-mallet handling, turning in tight circles, dribbling the ball to keep it away from a fast approaching opponent. It has non-stop ride-offs, precision maneuvers within the small space… it is a RUSH!
A very big thank you to SDPC Polo Manager Graham Bray for letting us host the two day tournament, it went off without a hitch, so thank you very much for everything! A very special thank you to Dr. Colleen Wilson of Adeptus Nutrition for donating her equine supplements for the Best Playing Pony awards given to the best horse in each match voted on by the umpires and officials of each game. Thank you so much to Kimo Huddleston who worked tirelessly all weekend umpiring most of the games, fitting in teaching some lessons, and dragging the arena in between chukkers. A monstrous thank you to the Godfather of Southern California Polo – Mr. Russ Sheldon. Most of the organizational details are old hat to him, this ain’t his first rodeo, a valuable resource in the polo community, a hard working man dedicated to keeping polo alive and attainable for everyone in the San Diego area. Thank you to Megan Judge, Heather Perkins, Russ Sheldon, Graham Bray, Heather Chronert, Kimo Huddleston and Gillian Young, for your help in organizing and making it all happen.
And the best thank you of all – to all the competitors for coming down and enjoying the tournament with us! We love hosting visitors and opening our doors to different players of all levels. We hope you enjoyed your time at SDPC, its picturesque setting, and hopefully you made it down to watch our Sunday Matches! I know we’ll see some of you back over Labor Day weekend when we host the National Youth Tournament Series final matches. That’ll draw visitors from all over the country to watch the kids (all under 19) play on the grass.
Thank you again for coming down to celebrate with us.
All photos by Jeffery Trout.