The thunderous sound of horse hooves pounding the turf is music to the ears of horse lovers and cheering fans at the Will Rogers Polo Club in Pacific Palisades on a recent Sunday afternoon where the championship match teams—named Pilar and Portugas in homage to famous polo clubs in Argentina—battled to gain control of the elusive ball.
Once an elitist sport confined to the very rich, polo has become more accessible to the merely well-to-do. As the popularity of recreation riding flourished in recent years, equestrian clubs in Southern California such as the Will Rogers Polo Club, just a short 15-minute drive from Beverly Hills, began introducing arena polo as a way to develop equestrian skills and to popularize the sport for everyone.
The fast-paced game is elegantly simple. Two teams of four compete to get a ball through goal posts at the end of a field 300 yards by 160 yards. There are six periods known as chukkers. Players are ranked by handicaps that run from minus 2 goals to 10, the ultimate ranking. Only a handful players in the world has earned this distinction, many of them Argentinians.
As gray skies hovered over the mountains and the air turned cool, the match at Will Rogers turned hot. With only two minutes and forty seconds left in the sixth and final chukker, Marcus Kamura, an investment banker, brought the 4-4 tie by scoring the two final goals. Kamura received the MVP award and Graydon Brittan, who scored three of six winning goals, received honorable mention.
Brittan’s father, Mickey, a longtime Beverly Hills resident who has been playing for 30 years, agrees that polo is a growing sport. “There’s tremendous charisma and romance to the game. It requires strategy, mental and physical strength. It’s like chess on horseback,” says the senior Brittan, who owns a horse farm and polo school called Fair Hills Farms in Topanga.
While polo appears to be attracting more participants, it remains an expensive sport to play. “A good pony can cost a quarter million dollars,” says Ardeshir Radpour, 31, head coach of the University of Southern California Polo Team. A high-goal player brings between eight to 12 ponies to change mounts several times during a match he says.
Due to the nature of polo itself, consequences from physical injury can, at times, be serious. Swinging mallets, speeding horses and raw adrenaline often result in harm to both head and limbs. But for the polo aficionados, it is part of the risk and the thrill of one of the oldest equestrian sports in the world.
For the past 10 years the Will Rogers State Historic Park has hosted the glamorous annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic every October. The exciting afternoon of polo viewing while enjoying champagne has attracted A-list celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Sofia Vergara, Zoe Saldana and more than 500 local fans.
For polo schedules and events, please visit Willrogerspolo.org