Polo is a team sport with the object of hitting a small, white ball down a grassy field through the opposing team’s goal posts using a long wooden mallet. A polo team consists of 4 players, each riding their own pony. The game is broken down into 7-minute time periods called chukkers, and each match has between 4 and 8 chukkers. Aside from this brief foundation, the main rule to remember is that each time one team scores a goal, the play switches directions, and the scoring team aims for the opposite goal from which they just scored.
A polo field is roughly 9 times the size of a football field. Virginia has options all over for public polo-watching, but the one I’m most familiar with is in Crozet at King Family Vineyards. They have matches every Sunday during the summer at 1 p.m. As for Indiana, the place to go is Hickory Hall Polo Club in Whitestown. Hickory Hall has matches all summer and well into fall. At Friday night matches, referred to as Polo at Sunset, spectators pull their cars right up to the sidelines and picnic on blankets and lawn chairs brought from home. For the more formal Saturday matches, known as Polo on the Prairie, you park your cars at the front gate and sit on the sidelines to enjoy the match. Many local organizations have private tents and bring a catered spread; these are typically invite-only and located on the right sideline (facing the barn). The left sideline is more for individuals and families, and there is usually a kids’ area available for any little ones to play. Chairs are provided.
When you think of polo attire, the first thing that typically comes to mind is Julia Roberts in her brown and white polka-dot dress and matching hat. Well, Pretty Woman was spot on, and Polo on the Prairie is the real-life version of this. A light sundress and large sunhat are staples for most women in attendance, and sometimes I like to take it up a notch with crisp white gloves or a lacy parasol. As for the men, you will definitely see a few seersucker suits, but it is equally appropriate for the guys to come in colored or critter pants; a nice, preppy button-down; and a skinny or bow tie. On especially hot days, a nice polo T-shirt can replace the button-down, and a classy pair of madras shorts can replace the pants.
Polo at Sunset doesn't offer much more than the match itself, but there are several additional draws at Polo on the Prairie. One of my favorites is the silent auction, which is located under a tent on the right sideline as you walk in. Additionally, the famous half-time divot stomping is a must. Hickory Hall plays music, and the crowd dances and stomps around the field for a great time. Just be sure to avoid any steaming “divots” – you won’t want to stomp on those!
- A raffle: Many times this is a 50/50, and most recipients end up donating their 50% back to the charity at hand.
- Wine tasting: At almost every match I’ve attended, at least one vineyard had a box on the right sideline near the silent auction that offered free wine tastings to anyone who walked by.
- A Pretty Woman contest: This is just as it sounds: The woman with the prettiest outfit wins. There are judges, prizes, and a plaque. It is quite exhilarating. My second summer attending, Bally Foundation bestowed this fabulous honor upon me, and my life was complete. For any competitors out there, here are a couple pointers:
- Bring at least one stand-out item. For me, it was a parasol. No one else had one. Other ideas might be a horse-critter dress, an extra-large/extra-fancy hat and gloves combo, or a lace fan.
- Spend a LOT of time walking around on the right sideline, in front of the deck, and at the silent auction. This is where the judges sit, and if they don’t see you, they won’t pick you.
- A Best Tent contest: For those with a private tent, there is usually a contest for the best-decorated tent. Some tents even have games and treats for passersby (these tend to win). Note: If you have a large group and want to purchase a private tent, you can contact the hosting charity. Tents cost $200 - $600.
- A candy drop: This is a really cool activity for the kids. During halftime, after divot stomping, sometimes a small plane flies overhead and drop dozens of little bags of candy attached to parachutes on the field. The kids all gather, wait for the drop, and scramble to catch or pick-up as many as possible.
- A charity-specific human-interest story: I've only seen this once, but it was pretty special. The charity hosting was Helping Her Heal, and they brought in a female cancer patient who had lost her hair. The charity performed a make-over on her during the match and showed everyone the transformation. The woman walked out of the make-over trailer with tears in her eyes and a grin on her face.
Aside from the typical Polo at Sunset and Polo on the Prairie matches, there are two special events each year.
- Costume Match: While it appears this event isn't happening this year, in the past, Hickory Hall has held a special family-oriented match in October where the polo players all dress up and play in Halloween costumes. This event always has the candy drop and a special family fun zone on the left sideline. There is no extra charge for this event.
- Polo and Pearls: This is Hickory Hall’s annual fundraiser for their own grounds, upkeep, uniforms, etc., so they can continue hosting charity matches each year. This event is especially fancy and is not one to sub the polo shirt or shorts at. (I actually ended up wearing the new vintage outfit I posted about a few weeks ago, and it was a big hit!) This event offers several additional attractions, including a full buffet dinner, champagne barn tours, cash bar, silent auction, wine pull raffle for a strand of pearls, psychic readings, a special half-time St. Germain cocktail, an after-dinner concert, and a Chinese lantern release. This year, they also added a horse-drawn carriage ride and a fireworks display. The cost is $100 per person, with the option to purchase a 6-person table for slightly less. We have been 2 years in a row and love it.