At this O.C. club, the polo is paired with beer, not bubbly

beerThere is no champagne, no caviar, no bonnets.

What is going on here? This isn’t the polo of prancing ponies, pristine lawns and pith helmets. The Dennis Geiler Arena, a one-acre oval named for the founding father of Orange County polo, is a dusty horse-lover’s heaven without an ounce of pretentiousness.

“People get the wrong idea that polo is a bunch of rich, fat, old guys riding around with Prince Charles,” said Dave Schuberth, 65, a polo player from Huntington Beach.

Welcome to the OC Polo Club, a sweaty, recreational league full of friends where beer and potato chips are part of the lifestyle.

The club, like the 40 or so horses in its stables, is always on the move. Established 30 years ago by Geiler in Anaheim, it moved to Huntington Beach, the El Toro Marine base and even San Diego before it landed in Coto de Caza. Now, it’s on the move again.

The club will play its last exhibition in Coto de Caza in November, then it is scheduled to re-open in Silverado Canyon next spring. The new club will be home to two arenas and 60 stables – significantly larger than its Coto home.

Developers pay more for the land than horses do,” explained Geiler, whose first polo lesson came on his 40th birthday in 1982. He became hooked and has offered financial support for the club ever since. “When we get to Silverado, we’ll own the property. We’ll be able to control our future.”

Finally, a permanent home.

The OC Polo club has games on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. It provides horses, equipment and training (lessons are $125 apiece) so a player doesn’t have to have any experience to participate. Husbands and wives and brothers and sisters play against each other. Players in the club range from 14 to mid-70s.

The polo that has the nose-in-the-air reputation is played on 10-acre, manicured lawns among people who own at least eight horses (it takes about eight horse changes to finish a “high-goal” polo match).

In high-goal polo, the amateur players pay huge fees to compete alongside professionals who make six-figure yearly salaries. The closest high-goal facility to Orange County is in San Diego.

Locally, the driving force behind the club is Heather Perkins, who bought her first pony when she was 14. At 36, she’s now the manager of the OC Polo Club.

Perkins made money taking care of horses as a teenager. She paid half the $2,250 price tag for Buster, her first horse. Her father (Dave Schuberth) made her pay back his half of the investment with 7 percent interest.

“I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a passing thing,” Schuberth said.

It wasn’t.

Perkins has worked for Geiler and the OC Polo Club for 22 years. She owns five horses and is the mother of 3-year-old Tanner.

“There’s not a whole lot I do other than horses,” she said. “My life has worked out pretty good for me. There is nothing else I would rather be doing.”

The attraction for most people, Perkins said, is the horses.

“Polo horses have a different mentality,” she said. “They have to be powerful and athletic, but they also have to be calm.”

In her club, the competitors are her friends. There are fewer than 50 people in the OC Polo Club, including players, people taking lessons and students who participate on junior teams. They hope to build their enrollment when they move to bigger facilities in Silverado Canyon.

“Being in this club is my outlet. It’s my therapy,” said Joanna Faulkner, 34, of Irvine, who is about to start work for a five-star resort in Chile. She’s such a horse person, she said she will take meetings while wearing a Bluetooth and riding her horse, Princesa.

Perkins is looking forward to the new future of the club.

“Coto has been an awesome place for us,” she said. “But every time we’ve moved, we’ve evolved for the better. Where we’re going is a better opportunity and a better fit for the club.”

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