Wednesday, June 30, 2010


The sport of Polo has never really struck me as something I would one day take a liking to, but Sunday certainly proved me wrong.

Let me start out by saying the past two weeks have been excruciating on every level (except riding, but that's another post all together) and I am definitely spearheading into this week with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism. That being said, it isn't hard to imagine my state of mind Friday was little more than completely annihilated. It was definitely an opportunity for my husband, the lovely man that he is (sometimes), to score some major points in the event of actually raising my spirits. Really, it was either: make an attempt at making the irritable wife happy or suffer through what could be a very painful weekend. Lucky for him he saw an article about a polo match on Governors Island scheduled for Sunday afternoon. The fact that Nacho Figueras and Prince Harry were playing against each other had no affect on my decision to go whatsoever, I can assure you.

The weekend was really action-packed but that polo game was something else. Tom and I had never been to Governors Island and had no idea what a treat we were in for. We took a free ferry from Brooklyn to the island, which only took a little over 10 minutes, and found ourselves on a little wonderland of sorts. It reminds me a little of the place they filmed "Somewhere In Time". There was green grass (!) cut through by meandering paths leading to unknown places. We walked through the pier and chose a path we hoped would lead us to the polo match but we became distracted from finding our destination due to the unusual wonders around us.

We were told to either go to the right or up a hill so we chose the hill. We passed a bike rental stand and several icecream despensing machines before we found ourselves in a very large field facing a giant fort with a mote! We walked through without a sound, entranced by the strangeness of it all, to the field on the other side, hoping to see polo ponies warming up before the match.

We didn't see any ponies, or the aristocrats who were allegedly paying more than $500 a ticket to schmooze with the prince himself, but we did see some very interesting horticultural oddities. I assume these structures were made for visiting children, but they were so interesting I couldn't help but wish I was a kid again so I could play with them. There were tunnels with plants growing upside-down, benches and beds covered entirely of sod, strange little planters at the child-point-of-view level and very intricately designed structural puzzles. It was like I was transported back in time to a little world I had made up in my head as a little girl. I finally found it. It was really inspirational.

We walked through with a greater sense of haste as the gates to the public had been open for over an hour already and we were beginning to worry we wouldn't find a good seat to watch the match. With Prince Harry and Nacho playing, we had no idea what the crowds would be like, so we arrived 3 hours early. I'll touch on that later. So, we walked through the field and entered another kid's area, but this time there were actually kids playing and running around. We found a park official and asked him to point us in the direction of the game and he allowed us to hop in his little golf cart and dropped us off near the gates. He was so nice. I got the impression through him that the island puts out some kind of strange smell or atmosphere that makes everyone on it genuinely happy. That's a rare gift in NYC, in my opinion, and it was most welcome in my heart.

Walking through the gates to the polo grounds was pretty cool. There were no horses in sight, but the tents, champagne, elaborate hats and well-to-do's were certainly enough eye candy to keep me interested for a little while. Thomas and I found a spot on the boarder lines at the west goal to set up our blanket and really get a great view of the coming action. It wasn't until we actually sat down that we realized we had committed a grave farce. We didn't bring an umbrella.

It was not raining, but if the sun could be considered rain, then it was a monsoon. It was probably around 95 degrees without a could in sight. Thankfully, I had packed 50 spf sunblock and was applying it almost every 15 minutes. I could feel any area of my skin burning if I hadn't covered it generously enough with the lotion. Let's just say I have a very painful line of sunburn along my scalp.

While we waited for the match to begin, Tom suggested I take out an ad on Craigslist for a "horse friend" (translated from husband speak to mean, "Make some friends in the city who actually like going to things like this so I don't have to.") I made some smart comment back insinuating that maybe the horsey "friend" I make could be his replacement and he quickly returned to reading a newspaper from 4 days ago. 

I pulled out my pony club manual to advanced horsemanship and a girl on the blanket next to us asked if I am a rider. We quickly became fast friends, much to Tom's surprise. We both work in Manhattan and by the end of the day we decided we were going to find a polo training camp and go together. Her name is Sue (not really, but for the purposes of the blog it is :) )

After two agonizing hours baking in the sun the match finally started. Nacho and Harry took the field and I had a tiny little fantasy that the match was more like a flight between two gladiators. Both teams, Black Rock and Blackwatch looked so regal on those beautiful polo ponies. I can only imagine how much each horse is worth, but I'm sure they aren't in my price range.

It took me a few minutes to adjust to what was happening in front of me. It was a lot of running back an forth, clustering horses, balls and sticks flying through the air with such purpose. The match was only 4 7-minute Chukkas, so it was short, but extremely intense. They had to change horses after each chukka as the heat was really taking a toll on them.

If you've read anything about the match online, you'll see the most written about event of the day was how Prince Harry fell off his horse. I think he did this quite gracefully. I didn't see it entirely, as it happened at the other end of the field, but I thought it was nice how humble he was about the whole thing. The announcer made some light humor of it by saying, "and Prince Harry has just made a flying dismount, but looks like he's alright!" and Harry smiled and started right away. He was all smiles for the rest of the match. At one point, a man in our section of the crowd shouted to him saying he was robbed of a shot or something or other and Harry actually turned around, smiled and thanked him! Let me tell you. That is one beautiful smile, ladies.

We couldn't have asked for a better match. By the end of the final chukka, the teams were tied with 5 points each. They had a 3 minute overtime and Nacho's team was able to make a last second goal to win it. Nacho then made a victory lap around the field and held out his hand for the fans to congratulate him. It was a great example of how to be a good sport, which I feel some of the more privileged (rich) athletes forget sometimes.

After a 2 hour wait in line for the ferry, an hour on the train in brooklyn and and very cold shower, I was hitting up my computer for more info on our local polo teams in Long Island. I hope to see at least one more match before the season is over and, who knows, maybe I'll get to see Nacho play again. He really was a sight :) It's kind of cool that the first match I've ever attended was a match between two really great world-recognized polo players (celebrity status aside).

Now, Eclipse and I need to get to training camp so maybe one day we can play with them too! (or against them!)

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