|By SUSAN BLOWER
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Most people associate polo with Prince Charles of Wales, but several polo clubs, including the Purdue Polo Club, are in Indiana.
“People are looking for other outlets with horses besides shows and racing,” said Greg Chandler, owner of the only outdoor polo club in Indiana, Hickory Hall Polo Club, located in Zionsville, Ind., north of Indianapolis.
“You can get involved in polo without it costing you millions of dollars,” Chandler said.
Brian Hodson, a polo player from Mays, Ind., said polo is an “addiction” for him, even though no one in his family played before.
“Instead of a basketball, I picked up a polo mallet,” Hodson said.
Although Hodson was able to pick up a mallet and play the game, not every horse is equipped for the game.
“Not every horse can handle having a mallet swung at them and then running into other horses. Polo is the second most-dangerous sport after NASCAR,” he said.
Indiana slow to pick up mallet
That said, most Hoosier human players are not on a competitive level with other parts of the country that play high-stakes polo, such as Florida, New York, and California, Hodson said.
Hoosier polo players also tend to spend less money on the sport, as compared to their elite counterparts, who spend thousands of dollars, Hodson said. In fact, Hoosier hospitality still is strong in polo: players will share trailer rides, buy used equipment and even share horses, he said.
Indiana has been slower to pick up a mallet.
Chandler’s semi-public facility attracted four new members last year, he said, a fact which underscores his belief that an untapped market is here.
His club has about 15 active members and about 50-100 “social” members, who do not play in matches.
Clubs in surrounding states - in Louisville, Lexington, Cincinnati, Columbus and Chicago - tend to have much larger memberships. Chandler said that is because polo has been a “public” sport there much longer than it has in Indiana.
“Because polo was kept privatized in Indiana for 30 years, it about killed the interest because people didn’t know about it,” Chandler said.
Because he wants to make the sport available to newcomers, Chandler regularly leases his horses for a club member’s first year. Other fees, like green fees, apply, but in this way, an amateur can find out whether he likes the sport without investing in a horse and tack.
Chandler said he has been developing his polo club for the past 25 years, but polo does have deeper roots in Indiana.
He said some Hoosiers were playing polo at Fort Benjamin-Harrison after the second World War. Then it went dormant for a period with the exception of Culver Military Academy.
Purdue Polo Club
Polo in Indiana may get stronger as college students get educated on its merits. The Purdue Polo Club, 15 years old, has an average of 25 student members, said J.P. Garcia, a graduate of the program and now its manager.
Students pay $200 in dues, which averages out to $20 per ride, an economical price, Garcia said. They play indoors, with three players on the field from each team.
“Most people have ridden a horse a little, but we’ve also had members who have never ridden a horse before in their lives. They take it slowly, and some now play extremely well,” Garcia said.
The Purdue team plays against such schools as Michigan State, Ohio State, University of Louisville, Yale, Cornell, University of Connecticut, Culver Military Academy and West Virginia.
“This year (the club is) doing extremely well. We have some returning members who are working hard at getting new members. We would like to get more parents involved with donations and support,” Garcia said.
Not funded by Purdue, the club depends on fundraisers and donations to survive, Garcia said. Members also work in the barn. Membership and monies have fluctuated in his five years of involvement, he said.
Chandler and Hodson both have donated horses and tack to the Purdue Polo Club, and Garcia is looking for other donors of any horse and barn equipment, feed and supplements, and other farm-related supplies.
Hodson said he’s trying to develop a network of horse donors among the clientele of his business, which manufactures performance products for horses.
“Most horses that are donated to Purdue are at the end of their careers. I would like to bridge the gap between these older horses and energetic kids, to provide a reservoir of young, healthy mounts,” Hodson said.
To reach Garcia for more information on the Purdue Polo Club, call 765-409-2145. To reach Chandler for more information on playing polo, call 317-223-4281.
Published in the September 28, 2005 issue of Farm World.