Plain Bay Polo Centre brings ‘hockey on horseback’ to south Niagara

Some people might try to tell nine-year-old Kairi Davies that she should stick to “girl” sports. That polo is a “boy” sport. She doesn’t care.

“For a long time, girls were told we weren’t welcome to do some things, so I’m happy to see us getting more into the boys sports,” she said while strapping on a helmet and riding boots. She was getting ready to play polo at a new club in Wainfleet, whose very existence is founded on that idea.

“There are two ways to be a member of the Toronto Polo Club: You can be the wife of a member, or the daughter of a member,” said Hailey Van Der Burgt, captain of Canada’s national women’s polo team. “I think that’s part of the reason my dad built this place. He wanted it to be different.”

In July 2018, the Van Der Burgt family broke ground at what would eventually become the sprawling and beautiful Plain Bay Polo Centre.

“I just think, polo should be for everyone, because it’s a great sport,” said Phil Van Der Burgt, a longtime polo player and coach, originally from Newmarket in the GTA.

He acknowledged that convincing people to try polo can be a tough sell, especially in Canada. But he has a pitch for that.

“When I want to sell people on the idea of polo, I tell them it’s basically hockey on horseback,” he said with a laugh.

The club hasn’t been open for too long, but it already has a strong following of would-be polo players. Most of them, girls.

“My friend’s sister started playing polo here, and her mom told my grandma about it, and she told my mom, and then she brought me here,” said Kairi.

Six-year-old Paige Zayac from Wainfleet has been riding at the club for two months. Her mom said she found the Plain Bay Polo Centre by accident (she saw the club driving past it one day and was curious) and brought her daughter to check it out.

“She loves it,” said Bree Proulx. “We were coming once a week before, but Paige is already asking to come for more lessons, so we’re switching to twice a week.”

Paige not only gets lessons from an experienced coach like Phil, she also gets to play and learn alongside a Team Canada captain, Hailey, and other like-minded local lady polo players like Maddie Haggerty and Kairi.

The Plain Bay Polo Centre is located at 52052 Regional Road 24 and it is currently offering lessons, for girls and boys.

“Back in Toronto, no one really cared about supporting women’s polo because the clubs are almost entirely all men. But not here, it’s pretty much the opposite, right girls?” said Hailey, to a chorus of high-pitched cheers from Paige, Kairi, and Maddie.

James Culic

by James Culic

James Culic is an Ottawa-expat, reporting the news around Niagara’s southern tier. He also writes a weekly opinion column which people seem to love to hate-read. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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