Players ride horses, compete as teams at first-ever Nebraska State Fair polo match

Pedro Lara and David Sommers rode their horses into the Sports Field near the East Entertainment Area at the Nebraska State Fair to begin the Nature Hill polo match Sunday afternoon. As announcer Michael Carney called their names over the intercom, each of the polo players entered the field before umpire Josh Sheldon threw the ball in to begin the game.

Each team consisted of three players divided into either Team Anderson or Team Nature Hill to note the polo match’s two sponsors: Anderson Auto Group and Nature Hill. Sunday was the first time the State Fair has ever hosted a polo match.

Ike Sankey, equine event coordinator, said there had never been a polo match at the State Fair before, so organizers wanted to host one to provide new entertainment to fair attendees.

As they worked their way across the field, the polo players, including Lara and Sommers, hit a softball-sized ball with a 52-inch wooden stick called a mallet. The goal was to score by hitting the ball between the goal posts, either on the ground or above them, using their mallets. The game was divided into six periods, or chukkers, lasting seven and a half minutes.

“Every time a player hits the ball, the way that ball travels is called the ‘line of the ball,’” Carney said. “If I am coming down and keep hitting the ball, the opposing player cannot cross that line. I can come to you and hit your mallet if you are swinging at the ball. I can literally hook your mallet and prevent you from hitting the ball. If you are not swinging at the ball, I can come in and bump you off the ball to take the ball myself. Or, I can come in on the ‘near side’ to take a shot without crossing that line.”

Carney said during the polo match itself, he tries to educate the crowd who may be new to polo as he announces the match.

“The majority of people have probably never seen polo,” Sommer said. “So what he (Carney) is doing is continually educating them throughout the game in a fun way.”

The polo match Sunday featured a bit of horse-to-horse contact as players pushed each other to get to the ball to score. Because of this, Sommers said, the players wear a helmet, knee-high boots and knee pads during the match.

“We wear knee pads because the ride-offs can be really brutal,” he said. “I can hit you at 30 mph this way, so we wear them. Guys who need it will wear spurs for horses who need a little reminder of what is going on. Some of the guys also wear elbow pads.”

Lara said the polo players switch horses after every chukker. He said each player had six horses they use throughout the match and may “have a spare” to use as well.

Sommers said he and his fellow teammates have a specific horse in mind to use for a certain chukker.

To prepare for a polo match, such as the one Sunday, Lara said polo players need to make sure their horses are conditioned and in good shape. He added players must also make sure that they are mentally prepared for the match.

“To me, mentally, you just have to be cool, calm and collected,” he said. “Others like to be a little more riled up. I like to almost put my mind at a blank before I go in there instead of winding myself up too much.”

Sommers, who has been involved with polo for more than 30 years, said out of everything he does in his life, the sport is “the only thing I do in my life that is on the edge.”

Lara said he had never been to Nebraska prior to Sunday’s polo match. He said enjoys competing in new places and meeting new people.

Lara said the best part about polo is just being out on the field playing a match.

“Once I am out on the field, that hour and a half to two hours is the best part,” he said. “Sometimes you get lazy and think, ‘Do I really have to ride all those horses?’ But then it is worth it once you are out there.”

Team Nature Hill won the polo match 7-6 over Team Anderson.

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