It’s early Saturday morning in Chicago, and I am hitting North Avenue Beach. But instead of beach umbrella and flip-flops, I am sporting a dress, heels and makeup. Odd choice of beach wear to say the least, but I am not here for the sun, sand and waves. I am here to watch the ponies! Who is excited?
You might ask: horses on the beach? Yes, recently Chicago played host to Qatar Airways Chicago Beach Polo Cup. Horse polo, the sport of aristocracy, isn’t something I have ever experienced. So, I jumped at the chance to watch a few games.
Let’s state the obvious: I knew nothing about polo outside of one scene in Pretty Woman. So, here are the basics: two teams of three players chase a large ball on horseback and try to whack it in between goal posts with long mallets. Each match consists of three seven minute increments called “chuckers”. This is where it gets curious. While players remain the same, each participating horse only plays seven minutes a day. Fresh horses are brought in for each chucker. Three players = nine horses per game. Also, the mallets are different length, depending on the height of the player and their horse. And finally, did you know that Chicago has a polo team? A co-ed one? Captained by a woman? Yeah, me neither. But how awesome is that?!
Polo and champagne seem like a match made in heaven, so it is no surprise that the event is sponsored by Veuve Clicquot. Clicquot signature yellow has colored the beach the hue of sunshine. Polo match equivalent of a beer tent: pretty girls dressed in white selling bright yellow flutes of chilled Veuve. Sign me up.
I am court side, with champagne, heels sinking in the sand. The fire department is out full force, dousing the field with water from their hoses. It is important for the field to be firmly packed in beach polo, I am told. The horses strut out, regal and graceful, tails braided. These ponies are big, muscular and fast. The players get introduced, and they are off, wielding their mallets above their heads akin to medieval swords. I wonder how they haven’t killed one another with those things, truthfully. It looks like the game requires considerable skill and coordination.
Being a polo spectator needs to come with some words of caution. We get pelted by sand from beneath the horses’ feet. A man next to us gets hit by the ball, spilling his champagne. And having a large quatroped barreling down at you at full speed is quite unsettling. But what fun! Polo matches are also great people watching, particularly for women’s fashion choices. We are surrounded with sun dresses, strappy sandals and fascinator hats.
In the end Chicago team holds its own, but it is Team Wales that takes home the trophy. No surprise there, they are serious about polo in Wales. The game of kings, they call it. Well, royalty or not, Chicago Beach Polo Cup is a great event for even the most uninitiated, like me. Bring on the ponies! Although next time, I am wearing wedges to the beach. Just sayin’.
Qatar Airways Chicago Beach Polo Cup took place on North Avenue Beach, in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast.
All photos by Gourmet Rambler.
VIP access to Chicago Beach Polo Cup courtesy of Statement PR.