As long as he’s able, veteran player will continue to ride

Al Gillen, left, leads the charge in a recent polo matchup at the Tinicum Polo Club in Upper Black Eddy. (John Gleeson – 21st-Century Media)

UPPER BLACK EDDY – Though often called the sport of kings, polo is a game which carries a universal appeal. Members of the Tinicum Park Polo Club greatly adhere to that philosophy as they gather for their weekly games in Tinicum Park.

Dr. Anders Hedberg, veteran player and board member, loves every aspect of his sport. “Polo is an addictive sport. Of the many things I’ve tried in my life sports-wise, polo is the one thing that has really hooked me completely.”

Anders’ involvement in equine sports started when he was a young child. “I have been riding all my life. My dad was in the cavalry in Sweden and he decided, maybe not so wisely, to put me on horseback when I was very little. I’ve been riding since I was six or seven (years old). Many years, I rode dressage which, as my wife says, is as much fun as watching paint dry.”

Anders found a more exciting outlet when visiting in the Dominican Republic. “I got into polo 20 years ago. I started to play in the Dominican Republic with Dennis Santana, one of the players who comes up to play at Tinicum. He was really my first teacher.”

Polo’s biggest appeal for Anders was melding his own athleticism with that of his horses “It combines two minds, a horse and a rider. We both have an interest in staying balanced. It’s all about collaboration and cooperation. There has to be a joint movement. You’re really dealing with another mind.”

Presently, Anders stables five of his own horses on his Ottsville farm just north of Doylestown, a situation facilitating his sporting love. “This makes it relatively easy for me to stay in the game because it’s all nearby. I can ride every day. I don’t play every day but the club offers four opportunities every week to either ride or play.”

Come Saturday, it’s match day at Tinicum, an event that goes way beyond the usual two hours of exciting polo. “All of us who play the sport will say it’s one of the most maintenance intense things you can do. If you play a game of six chuckers, each one being seven minutes, the whole game fits into a couple of hours. But it takes three or four hours before and after the match to get all the stuff done.”

A great deal of the time involves the care and grooming of the special polo ponies. “It’s a lot of stuff to take care of but since we love our animals, it’s just great fun to be with them all the time.”

The ponies are specially bred and trained to not only survive the demands of polo but to actually come to relish game day. “Most of them are thoroughbreds or thoroughbred mixes. The horses we get here are typically from Argentina, genetically. They come up here with the pros or we go down and purchase them. These horses are destination bred, meaning they are bred to be polo horses. They develop a ball sense. They enjoy the game and they follow the ball. Often they turn as quickly as you can make them turn.”

Anders realizes that the cost of such purebred hoses can be restrictive. “Not all of us have the highest level of playing horse. There’s no real limitation of the type of horse you use. You can take a horse on the field as long as he or she is safe. They can’t kick and they must tolerate contact with other horses. We have had players on Arabians and quarter horses.”

Safety becomes a key factor for both man and beast in this challenging sport. The horses’ legs must be padded. “They can get hurt by being hit by the balls or mallets. We have been fortunate to have had few accidents.”

The riders are equally protected. “We’ve all fallen at some time or another, whether the horse trips or something else goes wrong. That’s why the rules of the game are actually for the safety of the players and the horses.”

On Aug. 20, fans and players got to enjoy a doubleheader at Tinicum. The ever increasing popularity of the Tinicum Club demanded more available playing time. “That is a new thing we’ve started to do because we have so many players now, which is great for the club. When we have our bigger events, we can easily have 1,200 people here. We are the largest club on the eastern seaboard.”

Club members cherish the spectators’ enthusiasm and will mingle with the crowd, sharing their experiences and explaining their sport. “We like to see as many people as we can at the matches. The club is all about spectatorship. Players assume an ambassadorial role. There are always several players who go around and talk to the fans.”

When considering the camaraderie, the sporting challenge and the love of horses, it’s little wonder Anders wants to play forever. “I’m a pretty old guy now. I may be the oldest player in the club. I’m 67. I will probably continue to play as long as I can get on a horse and be relatively safe.”

Polo may have started as the sport of kings but as the Tinicum Park Polo Club has proven, it can be enjoyed by all.

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