Ride on

    UCSD is known for water polo, and every kid is familiar with Marco Polo — but polo on horses is usually associated more with British royalty and New England debutantes than with Southern California college students.

    Anna MacMurdo

    However, just last quarter UCSD has started to offer students polo classes in hopes of starting a team in the future. Other San Diego colleges, such as San Diego State University and University of San Diego, will begin offering classes next fall with similar goals.

    A very fast-paced game with the usual objective of getting the ball into the goal, polo is played in a huge grassy arena, and all players are atop 1,000-pound, living, breathing animals.

    Polo games have four quarters called “”chukkers.”” Each chukka is seven-and-a-half minutes long, and at each break, players get a new horse to ride. Players hold a long mallet in their right hand and the reins in their left hand.

    Patrick Leung

    Though polo in this country has an image of being for the upper crust, Tom Goodspeed, general manager of the San Diego Polo Club and one of the new class’ teachers, emphasized that polo is for all people, and that it is one of the only sports where both men and women can equally compete and play together.

    He explained that polo dates back to ancient Persia. It was used to develop equestrian skills in the military, where horsemanship was important. Later, polo was used for officer training; an officer’s true personality would be gauged by his ability to play. Polo used to be in the Olympics and is currently in the process of being reinstated, according to Goodspeed.

    Erin Gilmore, a sophomore at Mira Costa College, is the collegiate coordinator here in San Diego. As a polo player, her job is to increase interest among college students to later train and form teams to compete against one another locally, as well as with other universities in annual regional competitions.

    Goodspeed, who has taught children as young as 4 and seniors as old as 65 how to play polo, really enjoys working with college-age students.

    “”At that age, they are like Jello,”” he said. “”They physically adapt coordination, and polo requires good hand-eye coordination.””

    Is a polo national championship in UCSD’s future? Whoa there! Before winning any national championships, UCSD’s objective now is to just “”spark interest,”” as Gilmore said, and simply learn how to play polo.

    Five UCSD women signed up for the class in the beginning of this quarter, all new to the sport except one. Gilmore explained that for six weeks, the young women have had weekly practices every Tuesday night. Practices were held at the San Diego Polo Club and were taught by Goodspeed with Gilmore as his assistant.

    Gilmore said they “”didn’t just teach them how to play polo, but also how to saddle, or ‘tack up,’ a horse, and to groom a horse.””

    She continued to add that she thought they “”liked it a lot.””

    Muir sophomore Carly Ross said that she found out about the class through RIMAC’s recreation class catalog.

    “”I have always wanted to take riding lessons, and it just seemed like a lot of fun,”” Ross said.

    Sonia Davis, an assistant administrator at UCSD who is taking the class, said all of them worked hard and “”learned together.””

    Ross said at first it was very frustrating.

    “”I could hold the mallet, and I could hit the ball, but it was hard getting the horse to do as you want it to,”” Ross said. “”But the classes were good because they just threw us out there, and we just learned.””

    Davis explained that she thought she would be a better polo player then she was.

    “”It was very challenging trying to hit the ball and also maneuver a horse,”” Davis said.

    The challenge, Gilmore explained, comes from the frenetic nature of the game: Not only do you have to watch for the ball, but also watch your horse, keep track of where it is going and watch the other players on the field.

    “”It definitely requires a lot of coordination– and talking!”” Gilmore said. “”Talking is very important. On the field, we are always just talking and yelling at each other, like to see if your teammate is going for the ball or not.””

    She added that polo is very much contact sport and that players can fall off their horses. She also described the act of “”riding off”” in polo, which is where two players are riding side by side; one can push their opponent off his or her horse, or steer a horse into them.

    “”It is a very fast-paced game, and players can ride as fast they want,”” Gilmore said.

    Goodspeed said that the girls rode on “”wonderful horses that are quiet by nature.””

    Polo horses are calm and well-trained because of their many disciplines; for example, they do not mind being hit by the ball.

    On the field, “”players become one with their horse,”” according to Goodspeed. He stressed the importance of being comfortable on a horse and said that it is also relaxing.

    “”It is almost like therapy, wonderful therapy,”” Goodspeed said. “”Being on a horse and playing is such a change of atmosphere, one can just release any stress and frustration.””

    During their classes, Goodspeed said he first went over proper riding skills and made them do drills that would build up their lower leg strength.

    Both Gilmore and Goodspeed are going to have to wait until next fall when the universities start offering classes, and hopefully more students will be interested in playing. It is a demanding sport that requires a lot of strength and coordination that both men and women can enjoy for its intensity, competition and workout.

    “”I can tell from the smiles on [the girls’ faces] faces that they are having a blast,”” Goodspeed proudly said. “”They did real well as novice players.””

    Ross has continued taking classes every week and plans to continue playing polo.

    “”It is so exciting to be out there, I really enjoy it,”” Ross said. She plans to play on UCSD’s future polo team.

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