If you were standing at the intersection of Westheimer and post oak today, you might find it difficult to believe that traveling back in time to a Sunday afternoon in 1928, you would be out in the country watching a polo match. In those days, the site was the home of the Houston riding and polo club, which was destined to become the city’s oldest sports franchise.
Today, the Houston Polo Club remains near the heart of the Bayou City, nestled on 26 wooded acres adjoining Memorial Park at the intersection of I-10 and 610. With two polo fields, stabling for over 100 horses, and a host of riding trails, HPC is a little-known jewel that is unique to Houston.
The roots of polo stretch back much further than 1928. Polo is arguably the oldest recorded team sport known to history, with the first matches being played in Persia over 2,500 years ago. Initially thought to have been created by the horse-centric tribes of Central Asia such as the Mongols, it was quickly taken up as a training method for elite cavalry in the Eastern world.
British officers themselves re-invented the game in 1862, after seeing a horsemanship exhibition in Manipur, India. The sport was introduced into England in 1869, and seven years later, it was imported to the United States.
Polo continues, as it has done for so long, to represent the pinnacle of sport and provides a modern-day demonstration of the age-old bond between horse and man. It has been described by players as “hockey on horseback,” and requires strength, agility, endurance, and, some might say, a not-so-keen sense of self-preservation. The unparalleled thrill of the game, along with the camaraderie and prestige that the sport offers, has attracted many members of Houston’s oil and gas community to its ranks. One of those is Joe Chandler, chief operating officer of ITS Energy Services, who was been playing polo for two years now at HPC.
“The rush of a polo match is very difficult to describe,” says Chandler. “You’re on a thoroughbred racing down the field at over 30 miles an hour, with another player bumping into you and your horse at the same speed, swinging a five-foot mallet and trying to hit a tiny little white ball, without falling off or hurting yourself (or anyone else) in the process. When you score a goal, it’s like no other feeling. But as much as I enjoy the excitement of tournament polo, I also love to watch my kids walking around at our ranch on these same incredible horses and witness the bond forming between them. The horses are the most special part of this sport. Polo ponies are amazing animals with a deep understanding of how the game is played, as well as a lot of patience and love for their riders.”
Chandler became involved in polo after participating in HPC’s Polo School, an eight-week program that takes place each spring and fall at the club. Polo School offers an opportunity for new players to learn the game, without any riding experience or having to own a horse or polo equipment. Graduates from the Polo School can move on to participate in coaching leagues until they are ready for the speed and excitement of tournament polo. Once they reach the level of tournament polo, players have the opportunity to display their skills in front of hundreds of fans each Sunday afternoon in the spring and fall, as HPC opens its gates to fans for the spectacle of Sunday Polo. The usual polo traditions of beautiful hats, champagne, and divot stomping are in full swing during HPC’s Sunday matches, which feature up to 12-goal matches for several months of the year.
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