Minutes from downtown Spokane is an expansive grass field bordered by corrals and stables. In the warmer months demigods gather there to play what could be life’s most exhilarating sport, polo. They charge down the field balancing on English saddles, leaning impossibly far over to swing mallets at lumpy hard balls, launching them with fierce determination, and sometimes into other horses and riders. This game is for the brave.
The teams are built on a total of the individual’s handicaps, called “goals.” A beginner starts at -1 goal and the best players in the world are 10 goals. Neophytes can play with pros as long as the opposing team goal totals match up. Unique to polo, women and men and young and old can all play together. It’s a family affair.
My entry into polo came after a few beers at a barn party. Suzy and Catlin Dix, the fiery daughter/granddaughter duo of founder Peter Dix, have been the driving force behind the Spokane Polo Club and decided to run a clinic to increase membership.
“It’s so fun,” Catlin reeled me and my friend Hazen in, “There is no greater feeling than being on a horse in a green field playing polo. The connection when the horse really starts working for you is so incredible.”
“What’s it like for the horses?” I asked.
“It’s basically a wild animal in a partnership. The right horse enjoys the game and it’s our responsibility as trainers and players to make sure they have fun. They are adrenaline junkies, too.”
By the end of the clinic, I had bought a polo horse, inspired by the remarkable equestrian—human language of subtle body inflection and emotion. This is amplified in polo to a magical level where the horse anticipates your movements and falls into alignment with the ball’s trajectory, setting you up for the perfect strike. The sport either sucks you in or spits you out. I got spit out. Though one of the most exciting experiences of my life, it was too scary and required more attention than I could handle. For Lori Rambo, a science teacher at LC who joined that same season, it became her passion, “drawn by tight community and immersion in a challenging team sport.” She’s still playing.
The right horse enjoys the game and it’s our responsibility as trainers and players to make sure they have fun. They are adrenaline junkies, too.
Anna Anderson, who helps run the club, started in 4H and has competed in the gamut: barrel racing, cutting, team roping, reining, dressage, etc. She calls polo “by far the funnest horse event. It’s the adrenaline, and you play for a while, not seconds or minutes. Like basketball or soccer; even if not good as a ball handler, you can still be super valuable in defense.”
Polo is thought of as a sport for the wealthy, but the truth is it’s for the devoted. Younger players can be found sleeping in tack rooms and tending the horses of the more affluent, another currency that affords play. If you know how to work with horses, polo is also a passport to the world. No need to plan a vacation, just go and play and immediately be absorbed into the local scene in France, Germany, Dubai, Argentina, South Africa, China, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, California, Florida, and so on.
Each Spring the Spokane Polo Club brings in a couple pros to assist with the clinic. Gorgeous chiseled Argentinean men, you can see them casually juggling the ball around, often riding shirtless and sometimes in flip flops. The clinic provides a rare opportunity to play the sport. It’s like trying a priceless bottle of wine at a tasting you’d never buy, or driving a Formula 1 car in Las Vegas, a window to the seemingly inaccessible. If taken by the game, the polo community will help you gather the necessary accoutrements and knowledge, including finding a horse that fits your personality.
Ready to play? The clinic runs May through June 2021 on Wednesday evenings from 6-8 p.m. and includes a horse, tack, and BBQs after each session. Contact Anna Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509.598.1106.
Kelly Chadwick wrote the popular Leaf, Root, Fungi, Fruit column for “Out There Outdoors” for several years. He’s an arborist, forager, spiritual explorer, nature lover, and consistently interesting individual who also apparently played polo. His last article for Out There, in the April 2020 print issue, reflected on a 10-day silent mediation retreat in British Columbia, which you can read in our archives.