Local polo team wows crowds at Farm Show

horseHARRISBURG — Polo, nicknamed “The Sport of Kings,” might have seemed like an odd choice for entertainment at the 99th Pennsylvania Farm Show on Thursday.

But why not?

Relatively few people attend polo games and seem to know little about them beyond the famous stomping of the divots scene in “Pretty Woman.”

“This is our third year to play polo at the Farm Show,” Stephanie Lawson, polo game coordinator, said shortly before the West Shore Polo Club of Mechanicsburg played against the Work to Ride Polo Club of Philadelphia.

“The players are all kids who enjoy the game,” she said. “The crowd enjoys it, too.”

That was evident in the stands of the Equine Arena, which this week has hosted beef cattle shows, draft horse cart classes, horseshoe pitching, a dairy oxen demonstration, antique tractors and more.

Polo, a game played on horseback, features two teams using long-handled mallets to hit a ball to the opponent’s goal. Indoor or arena polo features three riders per team, while outdoor polo features four to a team.

The game began with introduction of the teams, with the West Shore Polo Club as the home team. West Shore plays at Hempt Brothers Farms, Silver Spring Township.

The Work to Ride Polo Club is a Philadelphia community-based organization that helps disadvantaged urban youth ages 7 to 19 through constructive activities such as equine sports.

Both teams gave a fast-paced, graceful performance as they played through two seven-minute chukkers, or periods.

The six riders mounted their horses (called ponies in polo terms) then raced around the Equine Arena in pursuit of the small white ball. When members got close enough to it, they leaned over and hit it with their mallets, driving it to the goalpost so that their team would score.

George Hempt, a Cumberland Valley High School senior and a fifth generation polo player, scored six of his team’s seven goals.

“I’ve been playing polo since I was 8,” said Hempt, now 17. “I play about 40 games a year. You’ve got to be a good rider to play polo.”

He proved that he was, even at arena polo, which differs from outside polo because the playing field is smaller and has sidewalls. Indoor polo players use a larger, softer ball, Lawson said, adding that “there is no divot stomping in indoor polo.”

During the game, each team had a player fall off his horse. Seconds later, the players were back on horseback playing.

The chukkers flew by, and the game ended with a 7-4 score in favor of West Shore. The audience cheered for both teams, appreciating the efforts of the young equestrians.

“The crowd really likes polo,” Lawson said.

Ride to Work player Malachi Lyles, who has played polo for three years, said the game still is mysterious to most people.

“It’s harder than it looks, both for the horses and the players,” said West Shore Coach Cindy Halle. “Both the kids and the horses are athletes.”

David and Marian Merithew, of Dallas, Pennsylvania, cheered from the stands as they watched their first polo game.

“I loved it,” David Merithew said. “They had good horse-riding skills, and the horses seem well-trained. It’s a fast-moving game, something different to do at the Farm Show.”

Elizabeth Martin of Fort Loudon agreed.

“I never saw polo before,” she said. “It’s awesome, and it’s so fast. I’d like to see more polo games.”