Galloping into a new sport, Virginia Tech students take up polo
Polo: For many, the word conjures visions of soaking wet people wearing swim caps and jettisoning themselves out of the water to spike a ball. But at Virginia Tech polo and water polo are two entirely different sports.
Horseback polo is a fledging club sport at the Blacksburg campus with the seed being planted in spring 2011. The first horses came on the scene the following fall. Jenny Schwartz, of Baltimore, a junior with a double major in marketing and management, started the ball rolling and took it to the goal of an actual game-playing team.
Known as the sport of kings, polo is an ancient sport dating possibly to at least 400 B.C. Currently 16 countries have professional teams. However, the Polo Club at Virginia Tech team is showing that anyone can be on board in different ways. Schwartz and the team members are anxious for other students, faculty, and staff to be involved at whatever level is comfortable — playing, learning to ride, watching the games, sponsoring a rider.
Schwartz started lessons as a youngster riding hunters — horses that the rider navigates around a course of jumps in classes in which the horse and/or the rider are judged for how they handle the obstacles.
“Showing hunters started to bore me,” Schwartz said. So, she switched her riding focus at Garrison Forest School, a private school a private school in Baltimore. That’s where she learned to swing a mallet while on horseback and that a chukker is one of six 7.5-minute periods in a polo game.
“I love polo,” she said adding that she receives satisfaction from teaching others about not only polo but also the joy of horses. “Last year, most of the team were beginners. I’m so excited about how far the polo club has come.”
This year about 30 people have joined the club. Some are learning and playing polo. Some just come to watch, or give the horses their feed, or learn to ride. No matter what involvement someone wants to have with the team, polo experience isn’t necessary.
“People don’t have to have played polo to be on the team,” Schwartz said. For people wanting to participate at any level, the club can arrange transportation to where the team horses live and practice is held.
The cost of club membership is $150 a semester and that gains full access to the horses and club activities. Riding lessons for those who have no riding experience is $20. Team members pay $200 per semester and also must raise a minimum of $100 from donors.
The club has four teams — men’s anchored by Kent Firestone of Wellington, Fla., a sophomore majoring in agribusiness; women’s anchored by Schwartz; vet anchored by Elizabeth Rockwell of Owings Mills, Md., a doctor of veterinary medicine student in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine; and junior varsity anchored by Christine Fox of Downingtown, Pa., a sophomore majoring in finance. Fox also is the membership coordinator for the club.
Three horses are on loan from Connor Deal from Culpeper, Va., now a freshman at the University of Connecticut. The other two horses are on loan from Cindy Halle, the polo coach at Schwartz’s alma mater Garrison Forest School. The club now has two more horses that they rescued. Both the rescues will be integrated into the team.
This semester, the team has played games at the University of Virginia and the University of Kentucky. They have one more game this semester on Nov. 24 at Garrison Forest School. Games for spring semester 2014 will be set at the end of Fall semester.
To learn more about the club, the schedule, and how to provide support, go Polo Club at Virginia Tech