Polo: 'The most fun I've ever had on a horse'

Vancouver Polo Club hosts exhibition game Aug. 17

Divot stomp, chukkers, mallets and the throw-in. Specific to polo, the few terms many readers will recognize about the equestrian sport are horse, rider and ball. And probably the field, which is the largest in sport at 10 acres and more than eight times the size of a soccer pitch.

Vancouverites curious about the game or long in love with the sport of kings (and princes… hello, Harry) can take in the first one the city has seen in more than 20 years when the nascent Vancouver Polo Club hosts its inaugural event with the Southlands Riding Club on Aug. 17

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“It’s very exciting and very fast plus you never stop learning and can work your entire life on it to keep improving,” said Claudia Tournquist, who has played for six years and missed the sport when she recently moved to Southlands. There is no polo club in the Lower Mainland but Tournquist and her husband Tony changed that in June when they bought a massive field in Surrey to start the Vancouver Polo Club.

Read more: Polo: what you need to know

“To register a polo club with the U.S. Polo Association, you need a field to play on. We’ve got the field now so we’ll register the club in due course,” she said, noting the event at Southlands will be on a smaller field. “There are not many 10-acre fields available in Vancouver.”

Kelowna and Victoria count the only other polo clubs in the province. Players also travel to Washington State to compete.

“It’s a very nice community because it’s a niche,” said Tournquist. “It’s a unique sport, a small sport and because people have to make the effort, everyone who is in it really puts their heart in it.”

Polo is expensive. Public amenities are unheard of and players must have access to some of the priciest equipment of all: horses.

The sport makes for an exciting spectator sport for people without the skills or means to play themselves. The four-on-four games are “fast and furious,” said Tornquist, and offer an exceptional perspective on the power and grace of the animals.

"It's the most fun I've ever had on a horse," said Don McQuaid, who played in Vancouver's last polo match more than 22 years ago. A group of horsemen and women started a polo club in Southlands "in about 1985 or so," said McQuaid, after a few enthusiasts brought in Hawaiian professional Kimo Huddleston to help them learn the game. They hosted a match and langed Jaguar as a sponsor. 

"We were a bunch of guys and gals that were into riding at the time. I was riding Western and was roping," said McQuaid, who was in sports marketing at the time and managed Vancouver's first Molson Indy.

Polo is thrilling to watch but delivers even more thrills for the players. McQuaid said, "It’s being allowed to do everything you're never allowed to do on horses. It's like a giant chess match on a field where sometimes you're at a dead stop and you can snooker somebody and sometimes you're at a full gallop."

Gates open rain or shine at the Southlands Riding Club at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 17. The game starts with the throw-in at 2 p.m. Admission $5 or VIP tickets $50. “Fancy dress” is encouraged and there will be prizes for best-dressed man, woman, child and couple. For details and tickets, call 604-263-4817.

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