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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Polo in St. Louis

Note: I started this post a couple months ago and set it aside. Time to finish! You will hopefully be hearing a lot from me in the next few weeks as I realized I'd like to hit the 50-post mark for 2012, since that's how many I posted in 2011... We'll see. I'd better leave myself something to write about in 2013!

Last Saturday was a beautiful day for a polo match, sunny, warm and breezy. The crowd was out in full force (over 1,000 spectators!) for the biggest charity event of the season. Admission was by the car load and all the funds generated went to a local and extremely reputable children's organization.

The St. Louis Polo Club is the second-oldest in the nation, having been founded in the late 1800s. My good friend has been involved for the last few years, taking lessons and playing in some lower-level matches. I myself took a lesson two years ago and rediscovered why I abandoned my position as a team alternate during my first year of college: it's REALLY hard! I couldn't lift my right arm for about a week afterwards. The people who get good at polo practice, practice, practice, believe me. It may be an elitist sport but it's also a lot of work!

The Busch family (as in Anheuser-Busch), scions of St. Louis, have long been involved in horse sports and helped found our foxhunting organization, the Bridlespur Hunt Club. They also have owned many top-notch hunters and showjumpers, among them the fabulous Miss Budweiser. Nowadays the Busch family's equestrian focus is on polo. William K. Busch, better known as "Billy," purchased land and barns formerly owned by the hunt club and constructed his own polo grounds, called Blue Heron. This facility is about a quarter mile from my friend's farm which makes it extremely convenient for her (and me).
I have attended a number of matches now and they're really a lot of fun. I always dress up (hanging around with multi-millionaires, one of whom flies his helicopter in for matches, will do that for you) and if my friend is going to be working a goal zone I usually manage to persuade someone else to come with me. On this particular day it was my son:
He was delighted to have an excuse to wear a Polo shirt to polo. ;-) Hunter actually is on the list now to be a "flagger" at matches, i.e. work the goal zone, and he was able to do that on another occasion. Since it was his first time I went with him - I'll tell you about that experience in another post.

For this match we were merely spectators. As always, I was mainly interested in the ponies: their tack, manner, way of going, attitude, etc. Here's a cool shot from the St. Louis Polo Club website:
There was a spirited discussion not long ago about polo over on the Fugly Blog. A lot of people were agitated about the amount of gear the ponies wear, particularly the draw reins; it certainly can look like overkill. However, having played the sport a bit myself, I can attest that every piece of tack truly does have a purpose. I sure appreciated the stopping power of double reins and draw reins, not to mention I would not care to be bashed in the face by an up-flung head in the heat of play.

And those ponies - let me tell you, they LOVE their job. The girls (they're mostly mares) are excited and enthusiastic every time they're ridden out. I've never seen one with ears pinned, with a wringing tail, being balky or exhibiting any other sign other than that they're delighted to be in play. Furthermore, if you've ever read the Rudyard Kipling short story called "The Maltese Cat," you'll suspect that some of these ponies know more about the game than their riders do! I believe it.

Here's the "Winner's Circle" photo from this match:
The players will often invite their kids up on the platform, which is nice, as long as the youngsters are not sprayed with champagne or beer. Those sort of libations are extremely popular with polo players, especially after a hot match!
Son and I again with the winner's podium. Kraftig is the new brewery that Billy B. has founded, following the buyout of the family firm by In-Bev. (In case you're wondering, I stay pretty much the same color year-round - no St. Tropez tan for me. I burn to a crisp without gallons of sunscreen.)

This picture is from another awards presentation after a match. It's of my friend and two of the winning players, with their "trophy" art. I took this and it's now on the STL Polo website. I can assure you that it's probably the ONLY example of my stellar photography on the Internet, other than this blog...
If you live anywhere near where people play polo, I suggest you check it out. Not all polo is played by high-flying types, either; I gather that many clubs are distinctly more rough-hewn and people of all income levels/types of horses get together and play. It's a great spectator sport!

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