Two polo teams took the field for the last time Sunday afternoon in Hill City, bringing to an end a tradition that began 30 years ago.
Jazz and blues music filled the air as members of the Rapid City Black Hills Polo Club and Hill City Rushmore Polo and Social Club straddled their horses, while onlookers sipped champagne from the sidelines of the field.
Rapid City emerged victorious in a high-scoring 8-6 match. Hill City had won the previous five years.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Sandy Keating, who spends her summers in the Black Hills and the winters in Las Vegas. “There will be no more, but today we’re putting on the ritz and enjoying the day.”
The two clubs decided to quit playing this year because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to organize matches and train the horses. They began playing in 1985, and Sunday’s Picnic and Polo at Newton Fork Ranch had been held for the last 25 years.
Keating has been to a number of matches through the years and said she enjoys seeing old friends and watching the sport. Her son, Ryan Keating, learned how to play polo in 1996 while attending South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Polo is only played right-handed, and Ryan, who is left-handed, eventually quit because he couldn’t learn how to play with his right hand.
Ryan was taught how to play by Tim Gregson, who was part a class of polo players in the Black Hills that began training together in 1985. “Not everyone responds to this game,” Gregson, 72, said before he took the field. “But it gets in your blood.”
That class of players was taught how to play by Paul Lippman, who lived in Indio, Calif., and announced polo matches there. Lippman was originally from Hill City and when he returned home he would train players at an indoor facility on Hart Ranch in Rapid City.
Current Time 0:00
Duration Time 0:00
Loaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00
They later moved outside and began playing on Lippman Field at Newton Fork Ranch. The field is now owned by Linda Flounders, Lippman’s niece, who began hosting and announcing the matches in 2004 after Lippman died.
Flounders said throughout the years people have been surprised about how seriously the group takes the sport. “It’s a surprisingly simple game,” said Flounders, adding that she wanted to end on a high note. “Some people are intimidated by it because it seems like a rich person’s game, and while it is expensive to play, it’s easy to understand and a lot of fun.”
Sunday’s match was followed by a barbecue, and also included a hat contest and divot stomping at half time. Sometimes referred to as the game of kings, polo players rely heavily on their horses. Most are thoroughbreds, and to succeed they must not be afraid of getting hit by the ball or the mallets.
While Sunday’s match was the last for the two clubs, polo will continue in the Black Hills — Spearfish started a club several years ago.
Duane Lammers, a member of Rapid City’s team, said he hoped the Rapid City and Hill City teams could get back together sometime for another match. “We all said this might be our farewell tour,” he said. “It’s getting harder for us, but it’s the most fun you can have on a horse. It’s been fun.”
Contact Emily Niebrugge at 394-8419 or firstname.lastname@example.org