The Twilight Polo Club kicks off its 128th season at Great Meadows in The Plains
Photos by Tony Gibson
This summer, plan to spend an evening tailgating and watching a fast-paced, exhilarating sport at Twilight Polo in the Greenhill Stadium at Great Meadow in The Plains. Never seen the sport before and not sure about it? Polo has something for everyone and is reasonably priced to attend. Whether you are a seasoned polo spectator, a new spectator without knowledge of the sport, or just want an evening out with friends tailgating, Great Meadow on Saturday evenings during the summer is the place to be! And bring the kids; they have just as much fun as the adults. Not only do they get into watching the sport, there are activities for them like a giant tug of war at halftime in the arena.
Presented by Hotels at Sea® Cruises, the evenings are hosted by the Twilight Polo Club, which is one of the largest United States Polo Association clubs in the country. Based in Middleburg during the summertime, it is under the new management team of John Gobin and Whitney Ross.
To get into the spirit of the evening, be sure to check the website for the theme of the night. This year’s Twilight Polo season will consist of themed nights including Hawaiian Luau, Cars & Cigars, Life’s A Beach, Pretty In Pink, and more. The first Saturday of every month will feature a DJ so you can dance the night away.
Of course, food is paramount to a good time. Put together a fantastic tailgate with linen and china, just bring a picnic, or purchase food and alcohol on site. ”You don’t need to bring anything to enjoy the night. Just show up ready to have a good time,” says Ross.
Gates open at 5: 30 p.m., with games at 6 p.m., 7 p.m., and 8 p.m. General admission tickets can be purchased for $25 at twilightpolo.com or $30 at the gate. Tailgating spots are available.
A little background
If you aren’t familiar with the sport, polo has been around since before recorded history. In Central Asia, nomads played a version that was part sport and part training for war. The modern version of the sport that we see today originated in northeastern India. From there, it quickly spread to Malta, England, Ireland, Argentina, and Australia in the late 1800s. In 1876, a publisher at the New York Herald returned from a trip to Britain with mallets and introduced the sport in Westchester County, and it quickly spread across the U.S.
Twilight Polo School
Watch out, though, polo may become addictive! Want to learn? No worries, head over to the Twilight Polo School, founded by Gobin and Ross. The school was established along with the club to build future generations of players, teaching the importance of riding skills, hitting techniques, horsemanship, and respect for the rules of the game.
Gobin, who has been playing polo for over 30 years, is the former captain of the U.S. Polo Team and has played in prestigious tournaments all over the world. Ross, originally from Charlottesville, has been riding horses since she was young but developed a love for polo while playing during her summers at Virginia Tech.
“We’ve seen kids get into the sport by watching Twilight Polo. They want to play and then the families come out and do lessons together,” says Ross. They have since taught dozens of individuals to play at their school where they offer training for players of any experience, including beginners. “The beauty of the school is that we will meet you at your level,” Ross said. “You can do one-off lessons or you can start playing in tournaments. It’s really whatever you’re looking to do. We have at least 30 playing members that are in our club and they all, for the most part, started in our polo school,” says Ross.
Courtesy of Twilight Polo
Twilight polo at Great Meadow is an exciting outing for all! The game is an exhilarating combination of horsepower, athleticism and control. Competing in a 200 x 300 foot arena, players score by driving a ball similar to a soccer ball into the opposing team’s goal using bamboo mallets with a wooden head while riding polo ponies at high speeds.
Plays are based on the line of the ball, an invisible line created by the ball as it travels down the field. It represents a right-of-way for the last player striking the ball. There are strict rules governing opponents’ entry into the right of way, in the interest of safety. Players may try to “hook” or “ride off” their opponents in an effort to gain control of the ball.
Teams and Handicaps
A team consists of three mounted players. Each player is denoted a handicap based on ability, horsemanship, understanding of the rules, use to the team, and sportsmanship, and the team handicap is the sum of its players’ total handicaps. A player’s jersey number reflects the position they play. Number 1 is the striker, 2 is the center, and 3 is the back.
The equine athletes carry the traditional name of “polo ponies”, although most are not actually as small as a pony. There are no specifications on height, breed, or gender, though most players choose Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses. The polo pony is selected carefully for quick bursts of speed, stamina, agility, and maneuverability. The mane is shaved and the tail wrapped to prevent any entanglement in reins, mallets, and other equipment, which is important especially when the ponies are bumping shoulder to shoulder at 35 mph. The polo ponies wear bandages and hard plastic tendon boots to protect all four legs.
Portrait of a Polo Player
Paul Brinkman of The Plains : Lawyer by day, Twilight Polo Club polo player on weekends
How did you become interested in polo?
My wife and I attended Twilight Polo about 5 years ago. I was interested, so she bought me classes at the Twilight Polo School and I’ve been playing ever since.
Did you know how to ride when you started?
I grew up with horses and did 4-H shows as a kid, but had not been on a horse for 25 years prior to taking classes at the Polo School.
Do you own your own polo ponies?
Yes, I have two. I board them during the polo season, and they are here on my farm in the winter.
What do you like about polo?
It’s very exhilarating when you’re on a pony and galloping out in an arena or on the field.
What do you like about polo at Great Meadow?
There’s a wide range of people out there who are into it and it makes for a fun group of folks to be playing with. People come from all different walks of life — ex-military, people who have been horsemen all their lives, kids who played polo in college and are continuing. The variety of people who play add to the character and joy of the game. Most people don’t take themselves too seriously. Playing at Great Meadows is great because everyone has a good time and everyone cheers no matter what. The kids come around and ask if they can pet the ponies. It’s a pretty laid-back atmosphere.