My first polo clinic

The Pony Club Perspective
by Kate Webb

I am on the right, riding Oakdale Polo Club mare Jojo. On the left is teammate Fiona McBride-Lumen riding gelding Red.

Some people ride pony club; some ride polo.  I do both.  My name is Katie Webb, and I’m a C-1 rated member of Bear Creek Pony Club, from the Middle California region.  I’m 18 years old and I have been riding horses since I was nine.  My favorite pony club disciplines are mounted games, western, polocrosse, and stadium jumping.  I also ride trail, dressage, bareback, gymkhana, and cross-country.  I have even tried a little vaulting, and I plan to try sidesaddle and cattle sorting in the near future.  However, I have already found my one true love: polo.

15 May 2010, my pony club participated in a polo clinic in Oakdale, CA, put on by the Polo Training Foundation’s Wilbur O’Ferral.  Ever since the clinic, I’ve been hooked.  I joined, and was part of the formation of, the Oakdale Polo Club’s interscholastic team.  I ride in Oakdale (1.5 hours away from my house) at least one day out of every weekend, and I take polo lessons from Stanford polo team alumnus Jeff Heeder about once a week at North Gait Equestrian Center in Walnut Creek, CA.  I most certainly plan on playing intercollegiate polo next year; it is too fun not to.

As I ride both for pony club and for polo, I have noticed that the two disciplines complement each other quite well.  The basic balanced position taught by pony club has kept me in the polo saddle on countless occasions.  My rallying experience has helped me to handle the pressure of equestrian competition, although, I do still need to get used to all the shouting from the stands.  I imagine that will take a while.  Perhaps the most important thing I can apply to polo from pony club is horse management: pony club safety procedures, equine first aid, and checklists are all rather helpful when dealing with multiple – sometimes unfamiliar – horses.

Moreover, polo has helped with my pony club riding.  I have always been a rather timid rider. Perhaps it comes with being a naturally quiet person.  In polo, however, one has to be loud and assertive in order to communicate with the team and to deal with potentially difficult horses.  Since I have started playing polo, I have been able to handle much hotter horses than I would have previously felt comfortable working with.  These high-energy horses, in turn, have taught me to be strong and assertive, to be the “boss mare” (no questions asked), and to become more refined in my aids.

This year was my first time playing in interscholastic regionals, and as part of a really new team, I had no idea what to expect.  When I arrived in Indio for the competition, I fell in love with the palm trees and the simple desert landscape.  The arenas were beautiful.  My team did not play until the third game on the first day, so our assigned work duties were scheduled during the first game.  We only had to bring the fresh strings of horses to the arena, hand-walk horses to cool them down between chukkers, and help with the hosing of horses at the end of the game.  Then, we could watch some of the play.  I used this time to study to learn how to better my game.  It was really interesting to learn how different fouls appear to an observer versus a rider.  I also was a bit surprised to see most riders using some combination of whip and spurs; I had not practiced at all with either.

Then it was time for our game.  As we had to drive nine hours to get to the tournament, it was highly impractical to bring our horses.  So, a special thanks goes out to Poway Polo Club, who supplied horses for us to use.  Our first game was actually against Poway, so the entire game consisted of their horses.  They totally creamed us 13 to 3, but it was way fun though: as our team’s third official game ever, I don’t think we did so bad.

After the game, we helped out some other teams some more, got to know some more people, and then sat down to watch the last game of the day.  I really enjoyed listening to the coaches; they each had their own personal insight on the plays, and I wanted to see how each style worked against the others.  As I was listening to Lakeside coach Billy Sheldon and Santa Barbara coach John Westley shouting encouragement and instructions, I was attempting to absorb every word by osmosis.  Then, it started to rain.  Luckily, the game was able to be completed before it was too wet to ride.  However, there was a deluge that night, so the status of all games the next day (especially the consolation games) became questionable.

Early the next morning, my mom received a text message from our coach, Shauna Rico, summoning us to go to a team meeting.  The arena was flooded.  We arrived at the meeting, and the coaches and officials left to discuss what to do: they knew we wanted to play; it was regionals, after all.  My team waited at the table, looking over photos from the previous day.

Suddenly, Shauna returned: “There is an arena we can use; the footing is still good after the rain.  It just hasn’t been used in a few years.”  Next thing we knew, everybody (players, officials, coaches, and parents) was working in an old polo arena, clearing weeds and garbage and scorpions and praying mantises out and installing makeshift gates.  There was a large puddle (perhaps petit pond) in one end of the middle of the ring; people set to work pumping, sweeping, scooping, even raking water out.  Then Mr. Billy Sheldon made an outstanding sacrifice: he hitched his brand new, seven-day-old gorgeous clean car to two wooden railroad ties wrapped up in wire fencing.  Then, he dragged the arena with it.  The rig worked really well; the mud was drying up.  Even the tractor brought in to relieve the car was not as efficient as the hand-made spreader.

By the afternoon, games had begun.  The footing was a bit slushy, but it was decided that it was safe to ride in.  The ball did get stuck in the mud a few times, but it was a fair price to pay to be able to play, and I heard not one complaint.  We played in the fourth and final match of the day against Santa Barbara’s Polo Team.  I certainly felt tiny playing against the boys; they’re so tall, all they had to do to ride me off was to lean down.  (I’m certainly glad college polo isn’t co-ed!)  Anyway, they were all very nice and that game was so much fun, just like the first one.  Only the last chukker of our game had to be canceled due to darkness.

Sunday, the third day, was championship day.  It was time to decide who was going to nationals: El Dorado, the defending national champion team, or Poway Polo Club.  The main arena was still unusable, so the championship game was in the arena we all prepared.  After an intense and exciting game, Poway took the title.  A new team would go to nationals this year.

I feel honored to have been able to ride such wonderful horses and meet such awesome players and riders at this tournament.  It is a memory that will remain with me forever.  That weekend was such an amazing experience; I can’t wait for college polo next year!


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