They say polo is the sport of Kings. I disagree with this statement. In my experience, It seems more like the sport of very rich men with big egos, who are willing to spend a fortune to chase a ball around on horseback for an hour.
And I’ve tried – oh, how I’ve tried – but for the life of me, I just don’t get it.
BR: Blondie, did you see how many goals I scored today?
Me: Umm… two?
BR: Blondie! Were you even watching my game?
Me: Oh yes, I was watching. I was totally watching.
I wasn’t watching. I was taking a nap in the car, reading a trashy gossip magazine, playing Word Warp on my phone… all to try and pass the time because somehow I got suckered into watching yet another of BR’s polo matches.
Now please understand, I have tried to like polo. I’ve been to a countless number of BR’s matches, fancy professional tournaments with world-class players, polo parties, polo functions, polo fundraisers… but I just don’t like it.
BR even talked me into taking horseback riding lessons for a while, in the hopes that I would gain a little appreciation for his favourite past-time. Unfortunately I didn’t learn anything about polo, but I did learn that I am definitely afraid of horses. And you know what? Horses can sense that. And then they screw with you.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret about polo: you don’t actually have to be any good at it to win tournaments and trophies. In fact, you could be slumped over the saddle, dragging your mallet through the perfectly manicured grass while your horse is running around in circles the entire game – and you could still win. How is this possible, you ask? Because polo isn’t so much a game of skill for the super rich – it’s a game of wealth. In other words, the more money you’re able to spend on well-bred horses and professional players from Argentina who make up the rest of your team, the more you’ll win.
Therefore winning a big tournament isn’t necessarily a show of your athletic prowess – it’s a show of how much your wallet is able to crush your opponents.
And because of this, you are guaranteed to meet some very “interesting characters” who are dedicated to the sport.
I remember the first year BR played polo in Florida – I came out to watch a few of his games. Nobody knew who we were, which was fine with me. One day after the game, an older gentleman approached me on horseback and introduced himself. He asked me where I was from. So I told him.
Polo player: Oh really. Where’s that, exactly.
It’s not like BR and I are from the boonies. We’re from a well-known, very cosmopolitan city. So I couldn’t tell if he was joking or being slightly rude.
Me: Oh, I’m not really sure, haha. Where are you from?
Polo player: Isn’t is obvious? I’m from New York. More specifically, DUMBO.
Me: Oh… where’s that?
He scoffed a little.
Polo player: What, you’ve never heard of it? Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass.
Me: Oh… that’s nice. Do you like it?
Polo player: Like it? Sweetheart, I developed it!
And then he literally turned around and rode away. Towards… well nothing really. Towards the end of the field. And I was left standing there, dumbfounded (no pun intended).
Later that afternoon we were invited to watch one of the professional tournaments at the fancy International Polo Club of Palm Beach. BR and I are not members of said club (BR refuses to join anything) but a few of our friends are. It was my first time going to one of these tournaments, so I was a little nervous to say the least. Because let me be blunt: it’s not just a game. It’s a scene.
Now these professional tournaments can be somewhat entertaining – or at the very least they’re a good excuse to get drunk during the day – but they’re part of a pretty bizarre world. They’re basically very glitzy, booze-fuelled events where wealth and drunken debauchery and an abnormal number of straight men sporting pink pants collide.
Side note: If you’re interested, Laurence Leamer’s book, “Madness Under the Royal Palms” is all about Palm Beach society and he gives a very accurate description of what the polo scene is really like. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, that day, this particular friend (we’ll call him “Fred”) gave us tickets to sit in his box. He wouldn’t be there, but he told us to go ahead and have a good time. So we arrived a few minutes late (in our inappropriately casual jeans and t-shirts) and guess who was in the box? The gentleman from DUMBO and his wife, as well as a few of their friends. Mr. DUMBO gave a slight nod in our direction, but didn’t acknowledge that we’d previously met, or that he had just played a match against BR a few hours earlier. His wife, on the other hand, looked at us like we were a couple of interlopers who had somehow managed sneak into the game. She was frowning.
We sat directly behind them. His wife turned around not once, not twice, but a few times and – still frowning – very blatantly looked us up and down. Finally she spoke.
Mrs. DUMBO: Um, excuse me, but are you friends of Fred’s?
Mrs. DUMBO: Oh. Oh, I see.
She was still frowning when she turned around and very loudly said to her friends, “I don’t know who these people are and I don’t know what they’re doing here.”
So that was awkward. Not only because we were sitting directly behind her and could hear everything she said, but also because all her friends turned around and disapprovingly looked us up and down as well. And did her husband care to mention that he had met us earlier and that BR was a fellow polo player? No. He did not.
Ugh. I wanted to crawl into a hole. But then I thought, seriously lady? I know your husband’s a “big deal” and everything, but do you have to be so mean? This isn’t even your box.
Needless to say I drank my way though the rest of that game.
We’ve been back to the International Polo Club several times since then, and over the years it’s become a little more enjoyable. I’m still not even remotely interested in the actual polo, but I do enjoy all the vodka that’s being passed around. And the people watching. That never gets boring.
BR and I have also been to our share of polo functions. The last one we attended was a black tie affair, where a friend of ours – a genuinely lovely man – was getting inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame. Now it’s no secret that I find these events more stressful than enjoyable, but I really like “Tom” and his wife, and was happy to attend.
Lance (BR’s business partner and BFF) and his lovely wife Charlotte were also going be there and I was glad they were sitting at our table.
So I made an immediate b-line for the open bar and I have to admit, the party was pretty fun. Eventually we were all seated for dinner. Shortly after, the speeches began. Now I was a little “tipsy” at this point so I don’t quite remember all the details, but one gentleman got up and began to give a speech about… um… polo. I think his family had been playing for a few generations… or something. This went on for a while (I wasn’t really listening) and then he began talking about a beloved family horse. Who was dead. The next thing I knew, everyone was standing up and applauding this horse. I thought this was a little weird but, you know, when in Rome…
So we all stood up and then Charlotte, who had maybe one-too-many glasses of chardonnay blurted out, “I can’t believe we’re giving a standing ovation to a horse! A dead horse!” Then Lance glanced around the room and very loudly announced, “wow, not a lot of Jews here! Not a lot of Jews.”
But they were right. There were not a lot of Jews there. I think I counted maybe five. And why were we giving a standing ovation to a dead horse. Did the horse find a cure for cancer? No. It was a horse.
But that’s polo. And try as I might, I still don’t get it. Even though BR has invested years of his life, not to mention a small fortune on horses, horse trailers, grooms, pros, a farm and his own private practice field… as well as a few disastrous riding lessons for me. It’s a huge commitment and his polo schedule literally dictates our lives.
But I’m just not that interested.
BR, however, loves it and I’m glad he has an activity that keeps him so busy. Otherwise he’d just be at home torturing me.
And I would never have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. and Mrs. DUMBO.