No longer just the sport of kings, polo is saddling up people of all ages and backgrounds.
When most people think of polo, they probably envision a la-de-da country club where uniformed professional riders perform on perfectly lush green grass for beautiful people sipping cool drinks.
Margie Paur would like you to know that’s not her kind of polo.
She believes riders of all backgrounds should enjoy the sport, not just a privileged few. As owner of Hillside Farm in Richfield, Paur offers average Joes the chance to learn to ride, jump – and play polo.
“People are busy with careers and families, and we make polo accessible to individuals who don’t have the time or money to buy and care for their own horse,” she says.
Paur levels the playing field with two-hour lessons that include equipment and a polo-trained mount for $45, a steal when compared to the cost of horse ownership. Hillside also offers Groupons, a word seldom mentioned in the same breath as polo.
“It’s a different approach, and a lot of fun for people without making it exclusive and limited,” says Paur, who left a 25-year career in investment banking in 2009 to run Hillside.
The sound of mallets striking polo balls is audible year-round in the farm’s sandy indoor and outdoor arenas, and Paur estimates more than 100 riders – toddlers to septuagenarians – have learned the game at Hillside, a member of the U.S. Polo Association.
“People think they have to have good eye-hand coordination or be really fit, but about 80 percent of the game is the horse, and all our horses have played professional polo in the East, California or Florida,” Paur says.
Hillside boasts a string of 20 polo horses (American and Argentine thoroughbreds, and American quarter horses), and 30 lesson horses in all. Many stables offer only a handful of “school” horses, preferring to cater to horse owners who pay for lessons and boarding.
Linda Randall is an accountant and lifelong equestrian who’s never owned a horse. “I always wanted to play polo,” says Randall, 53. “But the investment in time, money and space made it impossible. So when I found a Groupon for this program, I said, ‘Sure!’” She’s stuck with it ever since.
Cedarburg High student Sydney Weise, 14, started riding at age 5, playing polo at 9, and is a member of the Hillside Girls Interscholastic Polo Team. “I love challenges,” she says. “Polo gives me so much adrenaline and it’s so much fun, it’s awesome.”
Steve Branca, 59, an urban planner who now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, hadn’t been on a horse for 30 years, but became a Hillside regular, riding two or three times a week for 2 1/2 years. The fact that polo lessons included the horse and equipment made for a bargain – and a thrill – he couldn’t pass up.
“It’s exhilarating, takes both strength and agility,” he says. “The speed is intoxicating and scary, and it’s a team sport, so the interaction on the field is like a very fast-paced chess game. It has a large mental element, too, from the strategy and the very obscure rules.”
Having an animal as a teammate is also appealing. “Getting to know a horse is a unique experience,” says Branca. “It’s a relationship as real as any human one.”