Sunday, July 6, 2014

Polo in Pine Plains

Polo in Pine Plains
            Have you ever stood a few feet away from 10 horses running full speed directly at you? It’s a rush that brings out something primal in a person–or at least in this particular horse-crazy girl.  Add mallets, a tiny white ball, a huge flat field of pristine grass and the bluest sky Columbia County has to offer and you have my idea of the best thing to do on a weekend.  Welcome to Mashomack Polo—coming to you in thunderous 3D every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day in Pine Plains, NY.
            And it’s free. You don’t even have to dress up or wear a fancy hat.
            All that’s required of you is good manners and a willingness to replace divots.
            Held at the 1900 acre Mashomack Preserve just a few miles south of Pine Plains on Route 82, the Mashomack Polo Club has renovated an old dairy farm and turned it into an international polo venue.  Unlike most clubs, spectators are welcome to drive right up to the field where you can pull out a chair, a cooler and a picnic basket to watch the games.  They encourage questions and there are always several knowledgeable people to help you sort out what’s going on.  And there is an awful lot going on.  I’ve been going for a few years now and will do my best to explain it, but I’ve a long ways to go before I’d consider myself truly knowledgeable.
 Do, however, believe me when I say that it is a really fun thing to do and essential if you have even the slightest horsey/sporty bent.  It is probably the closest you will ever come to experiencing a fraction of what it must have been like to face down a cavalry charge.
Essentially the game is like most ball sports: the ball must go through the goal at either end of the field. There are 4 riders a side (men and women can compete on the same team) with two umpires in striped jerseys who are also mounted. There are flagmen at each goal.  Using a long, fairly flexible mallet, riders wallop or dribble a hard plastic ball about the size of a baseball from the back of ponies (they are actually horse-sized but are referred to as ponies) often at full gallop. There are many rules, most of which are designed for the safety of the horse, that determine who has the right of way over the approach to the ball or how a ball may be hit.  This is where talking to experienced players comes in handy as it is often hard to tell exactly which rule has been broken. But given time it starts to make sense.
Each rider has a number.  Generally number 3 is the best player and is responsible for setting up the offensive riders (1 and 2) with number 4 acting as defense. Unlike other sports, sides of goal are switched after every goal in order to give each side a chance to play with or against the sun. There are penalty shots as well.  Think hockey and soccer and you’ll get the idea.  For more information, I’ve found this site most helpful:
The best way to learn the game is to attend one of the many championship matches they hold.  There you will see some of the top international players ride.  To watch someone dribble a tiny ball at the end of a six foot stick through 7 other horses at a gallop is like watching Mikhail Baryshinkov dance from the theater’s wings. 
I recommend subscribing to their email as game times vary and weather can be a factor.   You can find out more at
            And if you are interested, they give polo lessons using trained polo ponies.  So get your game on and come play! I’ll see you there.

Mashomack Polo Club 7435 Route 82, Pine Plains NY 

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