What do you think about when you hear the word “polo?” Until I saw a photo of the sport— aka glorified hockey on horses— I hadn’t a clue. And even after I saw the photo, I formed my own uneducated judgement. That polo is a sport for snooty, elitist Argentinian men with nothing to do in the countryside. While I still feel that this is partially true, it’s funny how hard you get bitch slapped with humble pie when you actually learn about the sport. Or when you play polo yourself…
As with researching anything on our trip, we didn’t research until the prospect of Buenos Aires was upon us. I knew I desired tango but had no intention of cashing in on the slew of glitzy performances that showcased some generic aspect of it. So, TripAdvisor. And there at the top, with luminous five-star ratings was Argentina Polo Day. What the f*&$? The description was clear: shuttle out to a polo ranch (these exist) and dine on wine and empanadas as you learn the rules of polo. Then, watch an actual game played by semi-professionals. Followed by yet another Argentinian parrilla (bbq of sorts) and free-flowing wine. To finish the day, we then play polo. That’s right. Play polo. As in, on top of horses. AFTER UNLIMITED WINE. We signed up immediately.
“We all stuffed ourselves on more cow than I’ve eaten in five years and I seriously questioned my future horse’s ability to carry my fat ass…”
Our mini group consisting of two Canadians, one Kiwi, and two silly Americans joined a larger group of mostly Argentinians once at the heavenly green ranch of La Carona. As to be expected these days, the food and wine part of the day was naturally on par. We all stuffed ourselves on more cow than I’ve eaten in five years. I seriously questioned my heart health, as well as my future horse’s ability to carry my fat ass.
But before all that would go down, a preview into polo from the perspective of slightly inebriated. There are two opposing teams, each with four mounted players. They have seven minutes per chukker (periods) to score more goals than the other team, striking the ball with a mallet so that it passes between the goal posts (in our case, a gate). Each time they score, the teams change sides. There are four to eight chukkers per game… and a whole slew of rules that I will never grasp. Fair enough.
We watched the games in earnest, knowing it would soon be our turn. A few things were evident. Actually hitting the ball was tough, even for the professionals. There was a lot of swings and misses. No amount of mallet training, as we did between chukkers, was going to help. Second, there was a lot of horse collisions. No one fell off and no horses were harmed in the making of this game, but still. Knotted up horses galore. Lastly, the game of polo is a lot more intense than one would suspect. I found myself channeling my inner cheerleader, enthralled by the men, I mean game. Who would have thunk it?
“Just like an 8th grade dance, we all got over our awkward stage and grew more confident with time and failures…”
We donned stylish hats, chaps, and team jerseys… laughing as we approached the pony line, still on that wine high. Yet propped up on my black stallion— seemingly taller than the others— I immediately sobered-up. Thought process: I’m on a horse about to play a game which involves whacking a ball as other human-horse combinations attempt to do the same. Lovely. One of the ranch hands waltzes over, corrects my grasp of the reins, and ceremoniously hands me my polo mallet. That was it. I suppose that waiver we signed post-lunch was enough of a safety warning. “Go on,” he inwardly quipped. “Try not to die, you small FEMALE.”
And so the game. Just like an 8th grade dance, we all got over our awkward stage and grew more confident with time and failures. I never quite figured out how to hit the ball without either sort of falling off my stallion or breaking my wrist, but I managed to “assist” the natural talents with a few “goals.” Robbie, on the other hand, proved to have latent skill and soon the actual Argentinian polo players knew him on a first name basis. Fawning over him. Calling their scouts.
Above all, I found it incredibly interesting how easily everyone forgot that they were on moving death machines. Maybe the horses are used to all the bumping and turning and accidental stick hacking via their clumsy passengers. But damn, were these horses on tranquilizers or something? (Turns out, no, they definitely were not. Stay tuned…)
“My stallion— once too stubborn to move its ass a little quicker to the ball— suddenly remembered that it was indeed a horse…”
Post-win, the ranchers decided we all should go on a ride around the ranch. You know, to let the horses really strut their stuff sans polo field. Or to emphasize that most normal countries would never, ever let untrained equestrian riders bolt off into the sun. But that’s what happened. My stallion— once too stubborn to move its ass a little quicker to the ball— suddenly remembered that it was indeed a horse. And decided to match speed with the gauchos who were born half horse. Thankfully, I survived at full gallop, even with one foot out of the stirrup thanks to a faulty leg chap. But the dude behind me was thrown of his horse when it puttered in some mud— snooty, indeed.
Weirdly turned out to be one of the best things we’ve done on this trip. But I don’t foresee adding another expensive hobby to my plate. Robbie on the other hand…
Check out The Bubble’s blog for her very awesome account on Polo Day.