ralph lauren polo sale A Passion for Polo
It was a wonderful sport to watch, but it looked impossible to play.On visits to the Hamptons, we tried to duplicate the Saratoga experience at the Bridgehampton Polo Club. At games where publicity agents reigned and women paraded in tight Prada minis, it seemed that some of the polo players had only recently been introduced to a horse. (Not that this mattered to the cocktailing spectators, who weren’t watching the game.)But that experience gave me pause: if these 40 to 50 year old men, who never knew how to ride a horse until a few years ago but whose success on Wall Street financed a string of ponies, were playing polo, how hard could it be?So I called the Greenwich Polo Club in Connecticut, a place where for $20 a car anyone can watch polo in late summer, and the United States Polo Association in Lexington, Ky. I asked both, ”Where do I sign up for polo lessons?”Both establishments pointed me to the Yale Polo and Equestrian Center in New Haven, which offers indoor polo in winter as well as outdoor polo the rest of the year.”This is the best place to start,” said Tommy Glynn, a 92 year old polo player who runs the Greenwich Polo Club and stopped playing only five years ago.Enter Eileen Bartolini, the manager of the Yale Polo and Equestrian Center, who said polo lessons were held every Saturday morning at 10 and anyone could sign up: just call the center on Thursday or Friday and say you want a lesson. Arrangements can be made for private lessons, too.It costs $60 for an hour’s lesson, be it private or a group session, and the center provides equipment and the horse (a real one). ”I figure people won’t pay $60 to sit on a wooden horse,” said Ms. Bartolini, who is also the coach of the Yale women’s and men’s polo teams.She advised wearing comfortable clothes and any type of boots. If you don’t know how to tack up a horse (that’s putting on all the equipment), pay an additional $10 and the center’s staff will do it for you (just let the center know in advance).On a recent Saturday morning, I was there. Ready to play. I had read up on the rules of polo: four players on a team; a match lasts about one and a half hours, divided into six 7 minute periods, called chukkers; during halftime the spectators fill in the divots; the object of the game is to score as many goals as possible.The Yale center wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned: no glamorous barns, no coddling teachers just a big open field with lots of handsome horses, and heavy duty instruction.”Hey, this is not F. Scott Fitzgerald’s polo,” Ms. Bartolini said. Well, not until you get hooked.After taking enough lessons (a package of 10 costs $500) to persuade Ms. Bartolini or John Cole, another top instructor, that you’re not going to mangle anyone on the field, you can join a polo club. The Yale club costs about $2,000 for the winter season, with extra fees of $10 per chukker; this includes the horse. There’s also the polo equipment; a helmet, for example, costs about $300 at the Tack Room in Westport, Conn.Glamorous or not, my lesson had begun.I was given Valentine, a stunning chestnut mare who was still wet from her bath. They tacked her up: wrapped her legs, put on her saddle and equipment. (The tacking fee is worth paying otherwise, you also have to take off all the equipment after the lesson, clean it and wash down the horse. If you want the experience, however, you can pay $20 and spend an hour being given a lesson in the whole procedure.)Within moments of meeting Valentine, I was ready to gallop with her through the wide open fields, swinging the polo mallet that was now in my hand. But within seconds, I heard, in no uncertain terms, that ”we’re not going to move during this lesson.” That was from Ms. Bartolini, who was giving this lesson from the ground, while I was up on the horse.Newsletter Sign UpContinue reading the main storyMy protestations that I had been riding all my life didn’t matter.”You know what?” she said. ”We don’t believe anyone when they say that. A month at summer camp doesn’t count.” And that’s exactly where I felt I was back at camp.At the center, everyone starts out in polo as beginners. If the riding skill shows up, they advance; if it doesn’t, they are first taught how to ride and then how to play polo.So Ms. Bartolini told me my priority right now was to learn the polo strokes and not fall off the horse. (”If you do fall off, you must buy the barn a case of beer,” she said. ”It’s a camaraderie thing.”)I learned about the reins: how to turn and stop, holding them in one hand, while holding the mallet in the other. Valentine began to move. Ms. Bartolini made her stop. It felt awkward, like playing tennis while sitting on a squirming horse.Then I learned the four basic strokes: nearside forward, nearside back, offside forward, offside back. I practiced swinging without hitting a ball (envision the Ralph Lauren logo). Then I practiced with a ball. Ms. Bartolini’s dog, Chloe, would chase after the ball when I finally hit it (but would never bring it back).This really wasn’t as easy as I had thought, but boy, was it fun! When the mallet connected with that ball, it was just like the first time my tennis ball made it over the net. And what if the horse was moving? Well, maybe not yet.Of course, moving on the horse is key to the game. The horse has to know when to stop to allow a shot and not jump away. At Yale, the horses are very experienced; many are donated by wealthy polo players on the circuit. As Ms. Bartolini says, ”The horses play better polo than most players I know.”At this point, I felt connected to Valentine, who was being such a good sport, just standing still while I was waving this long mallet all over the place.