‘If you can’t ride you can’t maneuver your horse’: Sutter Buttes Polo Club hosts college tournaments

Yuba City has many hidden treasures well off the beaten path.

The Sutter Buttes Polo Club is one such example where a party travels miles along Garden Highway past city limits before reaching Shannon Road.

That’s where you would turn left and immediately see open acres of dirt on one side and Bonnie and Jeff Magill’s five-acre property on the other. 

Welcome to Sutter Buttes Polo Club. 

The Magills purchased the property at 373 Shannon Road in 1988. Two years later, Bonnie Magill, a college polo player herself, had the brainstorm of a local polo club where individuals as young as 5-years-old could learn how to ride a horse and play polo – a game where you ride a horse with a mallet in your hand. 

Today, Sutter Buttes Polo Club has grown into quite a venture where Magill can introduce her high school and middle school-aged polo players to the world of college polo tournaments hosted at the Magill property. 

“We are the host site for the UC Davis intercollegiate team,” Magill said. “They practice here throughout the season.” 

On the weekend of Nov. 11-12, Bonnie Magill organized a college-level polo tournament that included UC Davis, Stanford, Montana State and Sutter Buttes.

Magill said while Sutter Buttes is a high school program, the experience playing exhibitions against college clubs cannot be underestimated. 

UC Davis, Stanford and Montana State are a part of the West Region, Magill said. The teams travel across multiple states to compete in college varsity and junior varsity contests.  

The game of polo is divided into four quarters called “chukkers,” where individuals follow in a railroad train format looking to strike a small soccer ball into a goal that is 12 feet long and six inches wide, Magill said. 

Players use a wood mallet on each side of the horse to strike the ball. 

Magill said it’s crucial that anyone looking into polo learn how to ride a horse first. 

“Basic riding (skills) are necessary,” Magill said. “If you can’t ride you can’t maneuver your horse.” 

Polo horses can be as young as 4-years-old to as old as 10, Magill said. 

Most of the horses that Sutter Buttes players use are borrowed or donated from private players, Magill said.

Polo is an expensive sport and requires equipment to be purchased just to get inside the arena. 

Eva Scott, a Sutter Union High student and avid polo player, said each player needs to wear a helmet, goggles or a face mask, knee pads and boots with heels. 

The knee pads, Scott said, are used primarily so players can “get a leg up on the competition,” a phrase familiar to many in polo when fighting for the ball in a scrum. 

Scott said the most difficult part of the game is learning the different swings. 

There are offside swings – similar to a forehand – and near side, which can equate to a backhand groundstroke in sports like tennis and pickleball. 

Scott said nearside is where a player reaches across the horse’s body with the mallet.

“(Nearside) is a struggle for the littler kids,” Scott said. 

Polo scoring, horse wellness

Marisa Carelli, president of the UC Davis polo club, called polo “hockey on horseback,” and said players can score in a variety of ways. 

Most of the goals are worth one point, but any shot outside the 25-yard marker of the arena is worth two points, Carelli said. 

The railroad train format used by polo players is to assure the safety of the horses.

“You can’t cut in front of people,” Carelli said. 

Horse wellness is a term that most players are familiar with because it directly relates to keeping the horse in tiptop shape. 

Ryann Ray, a varsity player out of Stanford, said each player trains, feeds and houses their horses at Stanford.

Ray said Stanford travels with their own horses throughout the state. The times when the club uses borrowed horses are when it travels by plane to tournaments and contests. 

Ray said Stanford does take players who have never ridden before, so long as the individual is able to meet polo’s criteria.

“It’s doable if you’re willing to put the work in,” Ray said. 

Locally, Magill gives lessons at 373 Shannon Road, Yuba City for a fee of $60. For more information, contact Magill at 530-306-1058 or through email at bonniemagill57@gmail.com

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