At Empire Polo Club
November 17th -20th, 2012
by Connie Atkinston
Photos by Samantha Van Duinhoven
By popular demand, Empire Polo Club hosted another polo camp over Thanksgiving vacation. This time the weather was sunny and warm, but pleasant as the desert polo circuit begins a new season. With a new twist, Connie Atkinson, who orchestrated the camp program, invited parents to join in to get the same learning experience as their children, making the camp a real family affair. With the exception of a few players, most all our riders, including their parents are novices. Its a great way for parents to learn polo with no pressure.
A grand total of 16 to 18 young players and their parents participated in our 3 ½ day polo camp program, from 9 am until 5 pm. Through the use of chalk talk lectures, foot mallet playing, horse games and polo scrimmages, riders were presented polo playing rules, strategy and hitting techniques, . What made our camp exceptional was having Wilbur O’Farrell from the USPA, as our main instructional speaker. He had his job cut out for him as he turned these young players’ polo game from a “Free For All”, just go for the ball game, to one where polo rules and strategy of the game now, became essential.
This may sound simple for people who already know how to play polo, but for kids just starting, its a lot of information to picture in one’s mind. Therefore, with foot mallets in hand, dressed in a team colored scrimmage shirt, each player was positioned accordingly and in slow motion, Wilbur proceeded to show our kids, the fundamentals of “Get Your Man“, the idea of the line of the ball and who has the right of way. Now, they can go for the ball. Then there was hitting techniques one needed to apply, such as the near side shot, a back shot, not to mention how to properly hit a penalty shot and the meaning of a dead ball when playing arena polo. So much to learn, so little time.
From an observers perspective, Wilbur did a fabulous job, considering the number of participants. When the players were mounted on their horses and put these lessons to task, it was obvious they had a great deal more confidence. They could identify fouls made and understood why whistles were blown. They were able to use their team more effectively. They learned to circle around and position themselves for either a pass, or to ride behind to back up other players.
Most of all, those kids who were very timid about riding off other players, were able to practice this skill in our horse games and apply it to their polo game. “Look them straight in the face when you get side by side and Growl!” I told Elise Pardue, 7 years old, and Elle Horton, 8 years old, and growl they did. Finally, Elise tells me, “I think polo is kind of fun.” This is coming from a little girl who announced the last time she rode with us, “The best thing about riding a horse, is getting off the horse.” PROGRESS!
We culminated our polo camp with the Great Pumpkin Polo Tournament.
Winners and non winners all were awarded handsome trophies with their choice of stepping up to umpire status for future polo matches with their own red umpire whistles and Empire landyards, or a beautiful Indian head bolo tie furnished by Nancy Louie, Horse Jewelry; plus a huge pumpkin to haul away for their efforts.
Thank you again, Wilbur and all our participants for making Empire’s Youth Polo Camp the best time ever! See you again in February, when Empire will host the USPA Junior Polo Clinic & Tournament Presidents’ Day Weekend, Feb. 16-18.