Back in the 1980s, while on a travel-writing assignment for Ultra magazine, I attended an elephant polo match near Tiger Tops in Nepal. The so-called “biggest sport in the world” has two men on each lumbering beast – the mahout (or elephant driver) and the player, who leans wa-a-ay out to strike the ball with a mallet up to 10 feet long. It was kind of cartoonish, to be honest.
It wasn’t until several years later here in Houston that I attended my first real polo match, played on horseback at terrifying speed. All it took was one match, and I was hooked.
I love everything about it: the cocky athleticism of the players, the sleek horses with their plaited tails and crewcut manes, the luxury of concluding the weekend while watching a match played on a Sunday afternoon, cocktail in hand, at the Houston Polo Club. I like it so much that I jumped at the chance to attend a polo clinic and learn to actually play.
Although the word “club” is in its name, the Houston Polo Club is open to the public for Sunday matches during the spring and fall seasons. The fall season continues this Sunday, October 22, and runs through November 12.
Interested in attending? Here’s a quick polo primer:
- Polo’s playing field is huge – about the size of nine football fields. Bring binoculars, if you have them.
- The game consists of four to six seven-minute chukkers – the English pronounce it chukkas. The number of chukkers depends on the level of play. The players change mounts between each chukker.
- The four-person teams are assembled based on their skill level, and a team may have both men and women. The idea is for the teams to be as equally matched as possible.
- Polo must be played right-handed.
- The mallets are 49 to 53 inches and made of a flexible bamboo or plastic pole and hardwood crosspiece. The ball is whacked with the side of the crosspiece, not the tip as you might expect.
- Polo ponies are technically horses, usually Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred/quarter horse crosses. There is no height limitation, but most are 15 to 15.3 hands.
- The horses’ hooves tend to tear up the grass during play. A fun tradition at half-time is for spectators to walk onto the field to participate in “divot stomping” to help replace the clods (or divots) and smooth out the field. For that reason, ladies should leave their high heels at home and wear wedges or flats. Bonus: Houston Polo Club sponsors often pour complimentary Champagne during the divot stomp.
Tickets to matches at the Houston Polo Club are $30 general admission, and kids get in for half price. The club often runs two-for-one specials, too.
Season ticket holders usually have boxes, which seat six people. But there are a couple of over-sized boxes that can accommodate up to 20. Regular and large boxes can be reserved for a single use, making them ideal for entertaining.
For tickets and more information – the club also offers polo lessons and riding lessons – visit thehoustonpoloclub.com.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in My Table magazine in 2015.