Patricia Nell Warren

First Tournament Win for Gay Polo League

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | June 18, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: California Polo Club, gay-friendly, LGBT equestrian sports, polo

As the same-sex wedding frenzy dominates headlines from California, it's important to note that Saturday, June 14, 2008, was another date to remember in LGBT history. The Gay Polo League, first of its kind in the U.S., played in its first real tournament. I lucked into attending because GPL'S moving spirit, Chip McKenney, gave me a heads-up on the event. Place: the California Polo Club, a handsome tree-shaded facility with an arena, barns and corrals, located in a rural stretch of northern L.A. County so crammed with equestrian facilities that it's known as "Horse Town." Opposing team: the California Polo Club.

Many people think of polo as elitist, expensive and inaccessible for the average person. Not necessarily so.

With some gay-friendly support from the Santa Barbara Polo Club and the California Polo Club, our lavender league got started on a shoestring. Some of the players had never ridden a horse till a year ago. Others had background in other horse sports but were new to polo. Members showed me the mechanical horse with a polo saddle on it, where a rookie can learn how to handle the mallet while being galloped and jolted this way and that. Owning your own polo ponies can run into big bucks, but at the learning level, horse ownership isn't required. Students learn on ponies provided by the Club.

For the tournament, a string of experienced ponies was shipped in by a supportive owner in San Luis Obispo. This was arena polo, with three players on a team instead of four as in field polo. The GPL fielded two teams - the Hollywood Hookers and the Killers (the latter included Chip). (A little double-entendre here -- a hook is also a type of shot with the ball.) The two GPL teams played round robin against the California Polo Club.

The Club's announcer, who was as good as any color announcer I've heard on TV, kept everybody entertained with a blow-by-blow. "Ball bounces off the pony's leg - ball goes to the wall - big scramble by the wall - McKenney scores!" A few players made those hook shots under their horse's necks. The loaner horses were working hard, stopping, starting, spinning, sprinting, going after the ball with gusto.

Meanwhile we spectators watched from a shaded deck by the arena, with dogs and kids underfoot. We all got a laugh when the announcer designated the change in direction of hitting goals and said, "Now it's California Polo Club to the barn, Hollywood Hookers to the street."

After four matches, the Killers won. Trophies were presented, horses were led off to cool out, and everybody settled down to a terrific barbecue put on by the GPL. It was grassroots polo at its best. Last but not least, it was another example of how the wide, wide world of sports is getting wide enough for us.

An experienced polo player and former show-jumper rider, Chip McKinney reported on organizing and helping to launch the pioneering GPL in an article some months ago.

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Many people think of polo as elitist, expensive and inaccessible for the average person. Not necessarily so.
...Owning your own polo ponies can run into big bucks, but at the learning level, horse ownership isn't required. Students learn on ponies provided by the Club.

But what happens when you're not "learning" anymore. Is that when you need the big bucks to play the sport? There's no way I could go out and buy a horse and pay for it's needs. That alone would cost quite a bit of money!

Yes, a single good horse costs money, plus all the costs of keep...but equestrian sports have always found a way to get around that. It's called patronage. There is a big in-between layer in horse sport, where talented people often have the good fortune to get mounted on horses they don't own...even after they're not learning.

For example, few of the riders on the U.S. Equestrian Team own the horses that they will be competing on in Beijing. The horses -- for jumping, dressage, eventing -- are often owned by wealthy patrons who make the horses available.

If you google under "polo clubs" you will find thousands of polo clubs all over the U.S., and thousands more all over the world. Some teams are very gilt-edge and operate in the rarefied realms of world-class competition and titled society. You and I don't even want to know how much it costs Prince Harry to play polo for .

But many clubs are more local, and don't operate at that level. Many of them have a small pool of horses provided for non-owning members.

A number of U.S. universities have polo teams, from UC Davis in California to Cornell. Here, too, players get to ride well-schooled horses that they don't own...and these college players are usually not rookies.

It's kinda like that in motor sports too. The driver doesn't own the car. You don't want to know what one of those NASCAR Cup cars or Indy cars costs. The team owns the car. The driver just has to buckle in, and drive like a kamikaze pilot.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 19, 2008 11:53 AM

I am reminded of my grandfather's farm and mucking out stalls! My grandfather preferred currying a horse to talking with a Republican. His were farm animals, but he kept horses long after they were obsolete for modern farming. He would nurse them for his Amish neighbors when they did not have the time. A great Gay uncle of mine was "Chauncey Thomas" who was a blacksmith in Indiana and whose whole shop now resides at "Amish Acres" outside of Nappanee Indiana. Great uncle Chauncey lived with his sister and his interests were common knowledge in the county.

Nothing to do with polo, but horses are cool!