Community column: Tech polo club organizers saw ball in their court
Polo is known as the sport of kings and has long been associated with the elite around the world. And while it is still more likely an athletic option for the East Hampton than the Eastern Montgomery set, polo is emerging as a choice for competition and fun among horse-lovers from all backgrounds. The appearance of a polo club at Virginia Tech last year illustrates perfectly the forces driving this movement.
The organization was launched when Andi Evans, who is currently studying at the vet school, officially registered the club. Evans is a former polo groom and played at the interscholastic level in the Charlottesville area.
In the fall of 2011, senior Evans found a willing compatriot in freshman Jenny Schwartz, who arrived looking forward to invigorating the club. Schwartz began playing polo in the sixth grade and was on two national championship teams as a high-schooler. Her plans for college enrollment included places already active in the United States Polo Association’s Intercollegiate League; and since Virginia Tech lagged a bit in that criterion, Schwartz resolved to address the shortcoming.
The first order of business: Find some ponies to ride.
“You need to be able to get on horses every day and play,” Schwartz shares.
The VT club had none, so Schwartz secured four through a connection in Pennsylvania. The horses arrived this September courtesy of Scott Brown, president of the Brandywine Polo Club, and will spend their off-season at the Farmingdale Equestrian Center in Blacksburg, where the club meets daily.
Goldie, Missouri, Kika and Mariachi serve as mounts and teachers for club members who often arrive with little to no knowledge of the game. This can also be overcome quickly as Schwartz explains: “The ponies know what they are doing. These are all seasoned veterans who will follow the ball. They love the sport.”
Polo ponies can spin, stop and start on a dime. They must be agile and quick. A talented horse helps a player reach the ball first every time.
So rookies just need to learn how to hit the ball and stay on — emphasis on the latter. Polo can be dangerous. Outdoor games are played on sport’s largest field (300 yards long by 160 yards wide), and horses can hit speeds of 35 miles per hour. A ball struck by a rider at full bore can fly at 110 miles per hour, and doesn’t know how to avoid contact with human or horse. Basic rules of the game help avoid dangerous collisions, but the sport is extremely physical. Players routinely gallop side-by-side in pursuit of the ball, leaning precariously with mallets ready while the ponies bump and nudge to gain advantage for their riders.
With these factors in the mix, the fearful are unlikely to apply, but Schwartz offers that the club can be for anyone who enjoys a challenge.
“I have players who come out and hit the ball around. That’s fine. Not everyone is going to compete. Some people just love the sport.”
Prospects come from all trots of life. Some played during high school as Schwartz did. Others were born into the sport like Kent Firestone who recently arrived at Virginia Tech and is working on recruiting more men to the organization. All seem to have one thing in common: a love of horses.
Which is why Schwartz believes the polo club is bound to grow in the future. With a regional vet school and Virginia location, the university already draws its fair share of equestrians.
“I’m hoping that by the end of my four years, people will come to Tech for polo,” Schwartz concludes. “This is how college polo usually starts. I hope others will want to keep it going.”
Learn more about the club here. For more photos of a meet and practice courtesy of Schwartz, see the slideshow below.
By Catherine Van Noy
Special to The Burgs | 639-3330
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