The first professional polo player and coach, Domingo Questel, showed me how to ride a horse. Then he taught me how to hold and swing a polo mallet.
Now is the time to try hitting the ball. I half-swing like he taught me, and “click”! The sound of a mallet hitting the ball. OK!
“Not too shabby Shad. You did it! It’s your first polo lesson and you hit the ball on the first try,” I thought to myself as the hard plastic ball came off my club. After my triumphant “click”, I was immersed in the glow of my innate polo greatness for about a second and a half, and then I heard another sound I didn’t expect, a muffled “Arf!”
Although this is my first time riding a horse, I know enough to know that horses don’t traditionally “Arf!”
As it turned out, my shot didn’t go in front of me as expected, but hit a beautiful large dog on the left diagonally, enjoying an early morning nap on the heated El Sarandi polo field.
Yes, my mistake thumped into old Luke’s belly as the assembled onlookers let out a surprised laugh and a gasp of concern. Luke, who was a cavalryman though, just gave me a disappointed look, then jogged, and went back to sleep.
That’s how my 15-minute polo lesson started as part of a media event promoting the Agua Caliente Casinos Polo & Balloon Classic on March 19th.
Despite its dubious start, it was an informative and fun morning that wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. My theory is that big guys – I’m 6’7″ – are naturally more nervous than their larger animals because that’s not what we’re used to seeing. So never riding a horse, I just envisioned some kind of “urban slicker” type of accident, I did something stupid to scare the horse, causing it to take off and drag me with one of my feet and it still got stuck in the horse … tripod stuff.
But I had nothing to worry about because legendary polo player and trainer Mariano Carbon and Questel showed me the ropes, and in some cases it did.
Questel taught me how to ride properly, a beautiful chocolate brown steed named Bugatti. I don’t know if Bugatti has had any riders my age before, but the horse didn’t seem to suffer, and honestly a little disinterest in my presence calmed me down.
Holding the reins of the Bugatti, Carbone led me up and down the 40-yard grass.
Questel would throw polo balls on the ground in front of us, and I would hit them with varying degrees of success. Domingo said “Try lowering your left shoulder when I was swinging with my right arm and got a little foul.” Seems like a weird note since I didn’t do anything with my left half, but I guess I Will humor him and give it a try. “Pin in!” My best contact of the day. Damn if every shot I hit after that didn’t connect directly.
Suddenly, I’m in my element. I didn’t mention that instead of my unapproved Detroit Tigers polo baseball cap, they outfitted me with a crisp white polo shirt with number 1 printed on it and a cool helmet. At the end of the tutorial, I hit the ball backwards on purpose.
With my gear and the way I hit the ball, I can only assume that any onlooker would mistake me for a qualified polo player. You know, the kind of real polo player who has a completely different person who slowly circles the horse for him.
Eventually, my time came and I had to leave the Bugatti, or get off the horse as our equestrians say.
Thanks to Carbone and Questel for helping me look and feel like a real polo player, even if it’s just for a few minutes. In addition to being polo legends, this versatile duo is also an excellent actor. Afterwards they both politely said I was good enough to join them and play their weekly games.
About 15 yards away, Luke the dog just rolled his eyes.
While I have to pretend to be a polo player for a day, the folks at Polo America and Agua Caliente Casinos have teamed up so you can see what it’s like to play Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman for a day, or a week to be more accurate.
The experience will begin on March 14th at the “The Show” fashion show at the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage. Models will showcase what Grace, Trina Turk and Kyle x Shahida might wear for a polo match. The night includes a preview cocktail.
Then, on March 18th, we head to the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal for the Desert Jet Hangar Party. There you can sip cocktails with polo players, explore (or even buy) a private jet, or whatever Mercedes-Benz you’ve got your eyes on. You can also find the perfect piece of jewelry from Todd and Company of El Paseo, or a hat from Del Mar Hats to accentuate your attire for the main event.
The main event is the Polo and Balloon Classic at Thermal on March 19th. The day includes a late afternoon polo game, hat game, half-time money, vendors, wine, gourmet cheese, a deli platter and a tethered balloon ride.
“We’re committed to creating a unique experience for our customers and our community, and that’s what we want to do,” said Darrell Kammeyer, VP of Marketing at Agua Caliente Casinos. “And we think it’s going to be fun for people to not only watch the polo game, but to enjoy all the pomp and circumstance and crazy hats and really have fun and be part of it.”
All-inclusive tickets for all three events are $150 or $1,500 (“Millionaires Row”) or $200 or $2,000 (“Billionaires Row”) for a table of 10. There are also ticket options for polo games only.
For tickets and information, visit www.poloamerica.com or call 760-668-6093.
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.