The desert is known for many things — sun bathing, little water, golf…but polo? Yes, it is! There is a beautiful and robust polo scene going on just outside Palm Springs in Indio, CA, at the Empire Polo Club.
Not being one to like to sit and bake in the sun hoping for my fair-skin to glaze into a tan (which always ends in a burn), I jumped at the invitation for Spaceman and me to join my brother and sister-in-law for an afternoon picnic at the polo fields.
I have no knowledge of the rules of polo other than you need to ride a horse and hit a ball with a mallet (preferably without hitting your horse along the way) which made my first experience watching the sport extra fun.
The Empire Polo Fields have 12 fields for play and matches are held Sundays at 12 noon and 2:00pm. General admission is free (except for the $10 parking fee) and VIP seats are $25 with reservations recommended. In the general admission area, tailgating is allowed and encouraged. Because I had only been to tailgate parties for football games, I was confused as to whether I should paint my face with the local teams mascot — or if they even had a mascot (the answer to both is “no”).
Entering the grounds with all the horses brought back happy memories of where I grew up. A riding trail backed up (still does) to my parent’s home and I used to volunteer during “Cowboy Days” for our neighborhood horse club.
My brother backed us into our spot, flipped open the “tailgate” and we claimed our space along the field with chairs and a blanket (next time I will bring extra chairs and an umbrella for shade as the sun gets hot and hats aren’t cooling). There was a pretty good crowd to watch the polo game, but what amazed me were the horses.
They are beautiful athletes! The way they raced across the field, turned on a dime, stopped on point all while having a large stick and flying ball swirling around and past their heads was incredibly impressive. The riders are very talented too, but the horses are what mesmerized me.
At “halftime” (there are six chukkers to a polo match which each last seven and a half minutes), the horses head back to their “locker room” and the crowd is invited to come onto the field and stomp the divots thrown up from the horse hooves. It was great fun, but luckily my brother quickly warned me (actually it was after he encouraged me to stomp on a particular “divot”) that not all divots are grass — some are “presents” left by the horses.