We were more than just spectators; we became part of the ground crew, Sunday, at the Brandywine Polo Club in Toughkenamon.
At halftime, on the grass field, I stomped the divots in the grass created by fast moving polo ponies. I used my big ole hiking boots. With my stomping, I became more than just a spectator and I felt so close to the action. This was my very first time at a polo match.
Oh my, what a party! And sport, too!
Hundreds of spectators set up folding chairs at the games, which are open to the public, and they enjoy five-star picnic lunches on Fridays and Sundays during the summer.
Sarah Doheny invited me to sit with her group known as “Soho.”
Doheny has been tailgating at Brandywine Polo Club for more than a decade.
“We’ve been going to BPC for many, many years and not only do we enjoy the sport, we enjoy the camaraderie with our friends, especially this year,” she said. “It is a time for all of us to gather, celebrate milestones with each other, eat, laugh and dance, while catching up, and while enjoying match play.
“Then to be able to sit under the Brandywine Skies until the sun goes down. Believe me, those sunsets are magnificent.”
Former polo player, founder of the Willowdale Steeplechase and longtime club president, Dixon Stroud, wandered through the crowd catching up with old friends.
Stroud said that attending polo is “a good, relaxing day in the country.” He said the horses are tough, and with two equal riders, the better horse will win.
“Horses are a big part the game,” Stroud said. “Better horses win.”
The horses motor at full speed, stop on a dime, and quickly move laterally, or spin around, for the rider to whack the ball with a mallet. It all happens in a flurry of movement.
These horses have to learn to not be scared of swinging mallets and all that bumping.
“You swing the mallet like a pendulum and the ball goes,” Stroud said. “The weight of the horse adds some distance.”
Directional pressure is put on the horses with the legs and with the reins in a horse’s mouth.
The game takes place on a 300 by 160 yard grass field which is big enough to play eight NFL football games at once.
A hard fiberglass ball about the size of a baseball gets dented during play. The goal posts are 24-feet wide and a flag is rapidly waved when a horse and rider score.
The action is very fast paced, with some regular lulls. When all riders and ponies set off in one direction at the same time the sight and sound is breathtaking.
On Sunday, four person teams played six chukkers, or periods, of seven and a half minutes each. It’s a little confusing. Teams switch goals after every score and uniforms are not worn.
The clock rarely stops ticking, even after a goal. Lefties have to learn how to swing the mallet with their right hand since only right-handed strikes are allowed.
Announcer and Voice of Polo Bradley Hendrix explained the game for newcomers like me.
He noted that polo is the only sport that professionals and amateurs face off against each other at the same time, along with both the young and old, and men and women.
“Everything is about safety—it’s paramount for the players and horses,” Hendrix said.
I’m looking forward to attending again and stomping those divots. Such a nice way to spend a Sunday!
The 71st Brandywine Polo season runs through Sept. 26. The ponies gallop Fridays at 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are available online for $15, or at Landhope Farms in Unionville, or at the gate for $20. The polo club is located at 232 Polo Rd., Toughkenamon. For more information go to brandywinepolo.com
Bill Rettew is a weekly columnist and Chester County native. He knows well to stay away from those steaming divots. You may contact him at email@example.com.