SHERIDAN — Turning toward the polo goal in the first chukker of play, Steerhead Ranch player Paul Scherf suddenly tumbled to the ground. His ranch horse tossed his head then dutifully stood over Scherf, as if confused as to why his rider was suddenly on the polo field.
Scherf leapt to his feet, threw the reins back over his horse’s neck and pulled himself back onto his mount. He adjusted his navy “Steerhead” baseball cap and his padded polo mallet in his right hand. Fans laughed, cheered and took pictures on their cellphones some 50 feet away.
Over the years, Big Horn Polo Club fans have been treated to Cowboy Polo between polo matches on Sunday afternoons. Teams of three cowboys trailer in horses from local ranches to compete in matches with padded mallets and oversized polo balls on a modified field.
Scherf began his 10th season of play last Sunday afternoon and not much has changed over the years.
Polo player, Big Horn Polo Club board member and self-described “facilitator” of Cowboy Polo Robert Beckman explained how players don’t take themselves too seriously and there are, essentially, no rules to the game.
But Beckman corrected himself, saying players have to start by chugging an “adult beverage” and then, “We have had one rule change: You have to stay on your horse.”
In the past, Cowboy Polo players like Scherf have fallen off and continued to play on foot. So, as fans tried to figure out how Scherf landed on the ground in the first place, he made sure to mount back up and rejoin his team.
Even an hour before the ceremonial beverage chugging and throw-in, the excitement surrounding the competing Steerhead Ranch and HF Ranch teams was palpable — players mingled with friends and fans, taking photos with pregame drinks in hand.
“I think it’s important for the community,” Scherf said. “I think everybody’s ready to get out from the lockdown and do stuff and be outside and see events.”
The line of cars with their trunks open facing the polo field affirmed Scherf’s speculation that fans are excited to return to watch Big Horn Polo Club’s summer matches.
Not only were fans excited to return to the polo fields, but the HF Bar Ranch competitors were thankful Cowboy Polo’s several matches were scheduled to be played as normal.
“We don’t get to come into town a lot and we don’t get to take part in a lot of the stuff because we’re working all the time,” Peyton Brandt from HF Bar Ranch said. “So it’s really fun to come out here and see everybody and be a part of the local community.”
Scherf convinced Brandt to start playing Cowboy Polo four years ago, but any semblance of loyalty Brandt might feel is forgotten on the field.
Brandt loses her cowboy hat early in the game and when she comes off the field after the first chukker, she vows revenge against Steerhead players and the wild play that gave Steerhead the lead.
Scherf grinned, and his team chatted about their performance with each other and Big Horn Polo Club regulars.
The season-opener Cowboy Polo match is typically played on the Sunday before Rodeo Week officially starts. This year, the outdoor nature of polo matches, coupled with encouraged social distancing, allowed Cowboy Polo’s schedule to remain unaffected and for Scherf’s fall to become a highlight of the afternoon.
“We’re glad to still be able to do this,” Beckman said. “The rodeo being cancelled hasn’t affected Cowboy Polo, but it has affected the morale of Sheridan County. … [Cowboy Polo] might put a grin back on people’s faces. You can’t watch rodeo, so you might as well watch people get out there and have some fun on horseback doing something.”
This article originally ran on trib.com.