It seems like we just arrived and now we already heading out to Mesa Arizona. While it is really only our third week as nomads, road warriors, refugees or what ever term our friends have used to define our adventure, it feels like perhaps it is time to move on.
Our time here in Indio has been occupied with some exploring, mundane chores, lots of reorganizing and purging. We have gotten out to dinner or lunch a few times, visited the Palm Springs Art Museum and made several trips to Home Depot (I thought those days were over).
The one constant thing has been a long bike ride every day and for some reason, we have been drawn to riding by the the Empire Polo Club. Perhaps it is my horsey upbringing and the fact I rode competitively until my 30’s. I do still love the smell of horses, their sheer athletic ability, their big brown eyes and their canny sense of danger. Since my “retirement’ from owning horses, I have still attended Grand Prix Jumping Competitions, enjoyed Olympic Dressage events, been to the home of the Kentucky Derby, ridden in London’s Hyde Park and attended a few Polo matches. All as a spectator, which seriously, it was less expensive than owning a horse or 12 which I have done in the past!
The Empire Polo Club grounds are really beautiful, acres of lush, green grass playing fields and millions of pounds of sleek, muscled horses to admire. We were too early in the season for the matches but practice goes on year round, so we were able to park our bikes and watch the action.
Polo is a team sport played on horseback that originates from ancient Persia (bet you were thinking England). Its invention is dated variously from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD. The objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet. The traditional sport of polo is played on a grass field up to 300 by 160 yards. Each polo team consists of four riders and their mounts. Field polo is played with a solid plastic ball which has replaced the wooden version of the ball in much of the sport. In arena polo, only three players are required per team and the game usually involves more maneuvering and shorter plays at lower speeds due to space limitations of arenas. Arena polo is played with a small air-filled ball, similar to a small football. The modern game lasts roughly two hours and is divided into periods called chukkas. Polo is played professionally in 16 countries and was formerly an Olympic sport.
Polo “ponies” are rugged beasts with endurance and stamina. While they are called “polo ponies”, the term pony is purely traditional and the mount is actually a full-sized horse. They range from 14.2 to 16 hands (58 to 64 inches) high at the withers, and weigh 900–1,100 pounds. The polo pony is selected carefully for quick bursts of speed, stamina, agility and maneuverability. Temperament is critical; the horse must remain responsive under pressure and not become excited or difficult to control. Many are Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses. They are trained to be handled with one hand on the reins, and to respond to the rider’s leg and weight cues for moving forward, turning and stopping. A well trained horse will carry its rider smoothly and swiftly to the ball and can account for 60 to 75 percent of the player’s skill and net worth to his team.
The “ponies” I saw today where fast, sleek and had no problem going shoulder to shoulder with the competition’s pony when the ball was in play. Hearing them thunder down the field was incredible. I really admire the connection between the horse and the rider as it is a bond of trust. Occasionally, I do get wistful about riding again but for now I am content to stay on my trusty two wheeled steed.
The grand finale was our dinner at the Tack Room Tavern at the Polo Club. Definitely, a locals bar with multiple sports game on the big screen but reeking with horsey history. I felt like I was in a English bar with the dark beamed ceilings but the eclectic horsey décor ( imagine saddles instead of bar stools) and the desert setting were all reminders I was definitely not in England.
The place was hopping on a Thursday night, the beer and burgers were 4 star and the people watching was a sport all to itself.