Ocala, Florida, polo club brings out horse fans and tourists

Greg and Sue Leyzac, part-time Ocala residents from Canada, like to spend Sunday afternoons watching Ocala Polo Club matches at the Florida Agricultural Center and Horse Park in southwest Marion County.

The Leyzacs follow the dozens of riders and horses and the fast action, but they really look forward to Betty White taking the field.

“Betty White” is a 3-year-old Mustang horse, a bit smaller than the average horses on the field, but a real fan favorite at the Ocala Polo Club’s home field at the horse park.

“We cheer her on,” said Sue Leyzac, a barrel racer herself. Both are fans of Canadian rodeo and familiar with the horsemanship skills required to play polo.

Betty White is owned by player Laura Willson, who almost didn’t keep the horse but now feels Betty White has a heart for polo.

The horse’s name, Willson indicated, is based on the Betty Boop character and the white color of the horse, but the moniker is also a nod to the late actress.

Willson has another horse named “Lady Gaga.”

The Leyzacs sat in chairs in the bed of their pickup truck and enjoyed polo with the other spectators who lined the sidelines in lawn chairs or under reserved canopies, some enjoying wine and cheese as they watched.

The Ocala Polo Club’s Winter Season is winding down 

The Ocala Polo Club’s Winter Season started in December and ends on March 27, with play starting at 1 p.m. on Sundays. Summer Season kicks off Saturday, June 4, with play starting at 6 p.m.

Reserved spaces, which include a 10 foot-by-10 foot canopy, are available for $20 and $25, and sideline seating with your own chairs or on a vehicle in designated areas is free.

Stark Industries' Brendan Tetrault close in on the ball during a polo match on March 6 at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala.

Ocala Polo Club Sponsorship Coordinator David Shults said typical turnout recently has been several hundred fans, and possibly higher on special event days like an upcoming car show.

Shults added: “Everybody loves Betty White.”

The Ocala Polo Club has events that spotlight groups and themes. For example, their season has held the “Florida Horse Park Cup,” “Polo for Pooches” day, “Beach Day,” and “Superheroes Day,” according to the Ocala Polo Club Facebook page.

The Florida Thoroughbred Region of the Porsche Club of America and the Porsche Club of America Citrus Region are scheduled to be hosted by the Ocala Polo Club for “Horsepower Day” during the Winter Season, according to the Ocala Polo Club Facebook page.

Virginia “Frenchie” Bisiaux, an Army veteran, serves as head of the Ocala Polo Boosters Club. She said events are being planned for the Summer Season.

Do you know how polo is played?

According to group’s website, OcalaPoloClub.com, four-player teams play each other for four to six periods or “chukkers,” each of which lasts seven and a half minutes, and riders make a horse change for each period.

The Guardians of the Galaxy's Hunter Jelsch, left, and The Justice Leagues's Laura Willson chase down the ball during an Ocala Polo Club match at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala. This was superhero day with teams taking on superhero names. Several hundred people show up for the competition.

The field is 100 yards by 300 yards and covers 10 acres. Riders use a 50-inch or longer mallet to hit a 4-inch round ball while traveling at a gallop of 25 mph or more with fast turns a part of the action.

Ocala.polo.com describes how the direction of travel is set by the line of the ball and players may not cut across.

Hooking of the mallets is allowed under some circumstances.

The safety guidelines and rules and penalties are detailed in the website.

Riders wear helmets and at least two players and horses tails are tied and their legs are wrapped.

When asked, at least two players said they have been injured in their polo playing careers.

‘The love of the game of polo lasts a lifetime’

Dr. Margaux Buchanan, one of the visiting players, is a veterinarian from the Sarasota, area. She said the game of polo is a “partnership” between the rider and a 1,200 pound horse that you “trust completely” with your life at speeds she indicated could reach 35 mph.

Janet O'Hara meets polo player Brendan Tetrault and his horse. Dallas.

Miguel and Irene Lis-Planells of Hudson, Florida, with Team LaIrenita, are also hosted at the local field.

Miguel Lis-Planells is a retired neurosurgeon.

“The love of the game of polo lasts a lifetime. No other sport is as challenging and rewarding. Polo combines the skill of the athlete and horse,” Miguel Lis-Planells said. He tried various other sports but none compares to polo, he said.

Irene Lis-Planells played in the “Horseman’s Mini Tourney” on Superheroes Day, according to the Ocala Polo Club Facebook page.

Spectators Tom and Janet O’Hara and On Top of the World Community resident Bob Crawford were “first timers,” while Schenaque Johnson heard about the Ocala Polo Club about year ago.

The club was revitalized three years ago

A former Cornell University polo coach for over 30 years, David Eldredge, and Dr. Lauren Proctor-Brown, who operates Resolute Equine Sports Medicine, teamed up about three years ago to revitalize the 30-year-old Ocala Polo Club.

Eldredge, 63, learned polo from his dad and has played since age 9.

Proctor-Brown, a Wisconsin native, went to Cornell University and met Eldredge. She moved to what she agrees is the “Horse Capital of the World” in 2019.

Proctor-Brown said players hosted at the Ocala Polo Club range from 11 to around 70 and are from all walks of life and occupations like truck driver, real estate agent and neurosurgeon.

The Ocala Polo Club now hosts about 75 players.

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