One sunny Saturday in July, I succumbed to an invitation to the Milwaukee Polo Club. It came from a friend, Courtenay Rohs, a nurse who plays polo. I had resisted visiting the club in Merton for years, afraid I’d want to play. My parents had indulged my teenage obsession with polo for four years as I played to national championship level and a scratch handicap in Delhi till I came to Marquette University as a graduate student. Today, even in India, the game is known as a pastime for the champagne and caviar set.
Avoiding construction on the expressways, I took Lisbon Avenue and headed North. I passed express cash, loan and beauty signs. Then signs for African hairbraiding. Past the cemetery where my Irish-American in-laws lie, I realized I’d never seen that bunting-decorated Chinese restaurant, that Christian bookstore, or all these storefront churches.
Marking the end of the blue collar area, a drugstore appeared, then a bank. Soon I spied the mansions of Merton through screens of evergreens, and a massive First Baptist Church in a town of only 3413. All down Main Street to the polo club, powerlines restrained American flags and leafy boughs.
I parked at one end of the 300-yard field. Players weren’t riding each other off the line of the ball or galloping — it was a practice chukker — seven and a half minutes of play wafting up seductive scents of grass, sweat-lather, and leather. I walked over to the horses and trailers, remembering my mare Quibalah, who lived up to the meaning of her name What Horror!
Courtenay was braiding the tail of her Kentucky-bred exracer Soco. Her second horse, Hottie, rolled a gelid black eye at me and snorted gently when I kissed her nose. At 15 hands, these American Thoroughbreds were taller than the Kathiawari mare I rode in India, but — as they were showing in play that day — they can turn on a dime. Courtenay buckled her kneeguards, swung into the saddle and cantered off, mallet in hand.
I could not watch – I itched to play.
“In this country, there’s a US Women’s Championship Polo Tournament League,” said a player Ukrainian-American Natasha Stevens, hosing her spirited bay’s flanks with water from her trailer. “We didn’t have such gender segregation in India,” I said. “Maybe because I was the only woman playing back then.” Her husband Jim Stevens, a four-goal player who has played international tournaments, assured me you don’t lose your polo instincts as you get older, just your flexibility. “You can play year-round in Wisconsin,” he said, “Polo goes indoors in winter.”
Jim Huber walked over to chat. This seventy-six year old retired lawyer is legendary in Milwaukee for booking and organizing Milwaukee’s polo games, teams, and sponsors. Milwaukee polo is growing, he said, since announcer Danny Dance began teaching spectators the fine points of strategy. “We play blue collar polo,” he said, invitingly.
I yearned for that centaurian oneness with an animal again, a breeze on my cheeks, the visceral crash of the ride-off, the delight of knocking that white ball clear of a mellee of furry legs. But I thanked Jim Huber, and stood firm.
Then I felt a soft weight on my shoulder – Hottie’s soft muzzle. Her breath warmed my ear. Courtenay encouraged me to come watch the tournament tomorrow.
Polo trains your courage, focuses hand and eye, and teaches the resilience to remount after every fall. Other sports offer these, but only in polo will a horse like Hottie honor you with her cooperation and protection.
We brought ham and cheese on hoagies, Miller Light, Zinfandel. From our picnic table, we watched a “blue collar” polo game thunder back and forth between goals.
Next season, maybe I will sign up for just one polo class.
Wish me a horse like Hottie.