San Diego Polo Club Opening Day

I had never been to a polo match. Match? Game? Stampede? Whichever it was, the San Diego Polo Club held their season opener this Sunday, and I felt obligated to show my community support. If people are now going to call me a San Diegan now that school's out, I may as well fit in. Mingle. 5 bucks let you mingle anywhere but the main tent, and 25 lets you in the tent with food. Not bad a for a quite honestly the best Sunday afternoon in San Diego in months. Plus, the crowd was quite mingle-able too.

First, the rules. There are six chukkers, each of which lasts 7 minutes plus stoppage. Goals are akin to rugby where you try to get the ball between two posts. There are fouls: I don't know what they are, but referees did call a few. One given is that polo requires each player to be on a horse. What isn't given is that for each chukker, each of the four polo players on a side rides a fresh horse. For a given match then, 48 horses are required. A shortcut is to put all 24 horses into an engine and mow the competition over.

The field is huge. 300 yards long with 160 yards between side boundaries. Lots of room to run. The pitch was very well maintained too.

Horses were led in by the dozens.

Polo not only demands exquisite breeds of horses, but an exemplary breed of the staunch and prim. Although we may be tempted to conclude a polo rider's soft hands and enabled background, every rider still has to put one boot on at a time like the rest of us. Number 1 did have some of the best manicured fingernail I've seen on a man.

Now that I had a feel for the rules of the game, the next was to discover the rules of the spectators. Clearly, I was under-dressed in shorts and a button-up. Most of the men had jackets and women. The women had nice dresses and beverage. All were happy. Perhaps they just came from church.

Soon, the riders hopped aboard and got a few whacks on the field to warm up. The guy who distributed programs at the front joined me after most everyone had their seats. He explained that his girlfriend normally hands out programs, but she's riding the American flag for the opening ceremonies. He had plays a few times, and had gotten his licks: getting hit by the ball in the shoulder, the head, and a few stray mallets to the back. The real skill though, is in how the rider holds the mallet for contact. The inferiors swing with the mallet square to the ball...hitting it on the side like a golf putter. The skilled ones strikes with the end of the mallet like croquet. Obviously, the latter can generate much more force behind a shot...although they all will use the side when "dribbling" and dragging the ball for short distances. A light trot and a few whacks carried this player cross field.

Number 1 is ready to play.

At least a dozen gentlemen found reasons to bring their pipes.

A forward strike down the field.

Another popular flick behind involves a backhand motion in front of the horse.

The chukker started off with the referee following instructions. The teams, sides,... herds all stand in front of the referee similar to a jump ball in basketball. The difference is that the referee actually chucks the ball into the horses, and the players sort through themselves to find the put between the horse legs.

Usually, when one player is about to flick the ball out of the herd...

...one of the players will try to gain a break away by charging towards the goal. Defense may involve riding next to the line the ball follows and disrupt play. This can be a backhanded strike to the ball, or nudging the attacker's mallet with his own. However, a defender can not cross the line of the ball. Basically, they don't want the horses to collide: leading to a fiery explosion and a spectator chaos that ensues to collect the pinata toys and goodies. In this case, the white defender tried to hook his mallet around the other's to lock up play.

After each goal, the teams switch sides. Right after the red goal, the white team had a breakaway close to the sidelines.

A good first touch to goal. That's quite a lean horse.

Again, defenders cannot cross the ball's path, but number 3 was able to stretch under his horse to disrupt play.

Many of they players were highly educated. The announcer narrated the match like a baseball game. However, every player was referenced by his or her title where appropriate. Dr. Scott something had a glorious hit.

Putting on the breaks, the horses don't really know what's going on.

The outright sprints down field were exciting to feel the ground rumble and beasts gasp for air to fuel the drive.

Another breakaway.

He tipped his horse, just not all of the way over.

Close to the goal...he winds up...

..."...son of a biscuit" the announcer exhales. Just left.

Between goals.

Quiz kid donnie smith, had his parents not spent all of his money.

Fly, you fools!

A close call, the white rider managed to hit the backhand before the red rider could scoop it away. Everyone quietly sighed...waiting for a good old fashioned Nascar crash.

Again, no crash. I did find out though that if you want to actually watch the match, it's better to be away from the tables, alcohol, and umbrellas. Instead, I found a good chunk of fence. Eventually, many other people followed to the decidedly better view.

The referee.

Play between chukkers picks up right where the previous one ended. Cloudless and 72 degrees on this Sunday afternoon. It was better than you can imagine.

Yay! My herd is winning!

At the half, the audience is encouraged to replace divots created during the opening chukkers. It gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs, and more mingling.

He wasn't very mingle-able. I believe he had an entourage of several middle-aged ladies in his company. It was the hat.

Charging out of bounds, luckily, no one ended up with a beast in his or her lap.

The real problem with breakaways is that the horse may outrun the ball, where it isn't yet stationary. Most of those ended with the jockey missing the ball.

Impressive backhand form.

The polo symbiotic relationship.

This was the equivalent of a technical foul. A few times previously in the match, fouls were called and the defending herd would cram their horses between the goal posts to block the shot. The benevolent shooter, though, would often just chip over the wall and accept the polo clap, which is even more gentle than a golf clap (because you're holding wine). Rewinding, the guy in white got hacked by the girl in red's back swing. You can just see his grimace while she howls at the ball just inches from her reach.

An elegant forward strike across the body.

Here are the goal posts mentioned earlier. The ball merely has to cross the plane. The defense managed to muscle out the attacker just a few feet from the ball. No goal.

Not exactly the peanuts and beer of a baseball game.

Sunday driving.

That's a new Bentley.

Fans with character.

The red team was dominating with several takes to the goal. The best white could do was poke the horse while eating dust.

Again, playing the man instead of the ball.

Forward...

...back! back! back!

After the final minutes dwindled, all of the players exchanged the infamous "good-game" "hand-shakes". All of the old school tricks were present: the hand slap, the spitted palm, and the over-squeeze.

Defeated.

Heading off of the field, all of the riders, and the audience, then indulge in the infamous 7th chukker: which involves even more alcohol than the first six but no horses.

Quite a diverse polo crowd. Although they all wear the same hat...

Across the street, the stables for the county fair, where I managed to park for free.

Packing it up, heading home in the buses.

back.