Less Traveled

Page Ivey

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Head to Aiken and take in a polo match

Posted 5/9/2013 10:24:00 AM

Pacers and Polo is the third leg of the Triple Crown of Aiken, all of which happen in March and which undoubtedly lead to Aiken being the center of what’s called Thoroughbred Country.

We were fortunate to be able to go this year and learn how things are done. We arrived about an hour after the gates had opened and traffic was light, even though there was a good crowd and getting parked was a breeze.

Next time we go, however, I think I want a “front-row” parking spot. Those folks had set up tents like they were tailgating and brought food and beverages and plenty of chairs for a close-up (at times very close-up) view of the match.

I spent the whole first period of the polo match – called a “chukker” – simply marveling at the horsemanship of the players. Each team had four riders, three men and one woman on each team. And while riding they are able to swing these 4-foot mallets and hit an object not much bigger than a baseball down the ginormous (that’s a word) field. The polo field is more than a 100 yards wide and more than 300 yards long.

But the polo ponies really do need the room to run. They can go from a standstill to top speed in seconds and can make quick stops and turns and do it all while in a crowd of other anxious ponies. It is clear why the riders switch horses so frequently.

During the six 7-minute chukkers, time is called only for a foul or when a rider or his mount has an issue. Though most horse changes happen between the periods, a rider can change if his horse is injured or his tack equipment is compromised.

It is clear that the riders have full command of their horses and know what they are capable of, especially when the action spills over the foot-high railing and into the smallish out-of-bounds area between the audience and the field of play.

If you’ve ever stood on the sidelines during a college football game, you understand the feeling, as the players come at you, that you might be just a little too close to the action. But the thrill of seeing them up-close really cannot be beat.

The atmosphere at Aiken’s Pacers and Polo event is very relaxed. Some folks dress up in Easter finery, others are very casual in shorts and flip-flops. There were plenty of activities to keep the kids occupied, including a bouncy-house obstacle course, and a local bank brought out a candy-bearing 6-foot tall Easter bunny named Bugs.

Most folks brought their own food, but there was plenty of food available in tents and food trucks.

At halftime and after the match, folks from the stands were invited to walk the field and help replace divots made by the horses’ hooves. Apparently all spectators, including the queen of England, replace divots. (Step carefully, however, during this part of the program unless you want to spend the second half cleaning your shoes.)

The match was put on by the Aiken Polo Club and proceeds from ticket sales benefit the Pacer Club, the booster organization for athletics at the University of South Carolina Aiken. Several athletes were at the event as volunteers, helping people park and helping the kids enjoy the bouncy house.

Though the 2013 Triple Crown of Aiken is in the record books, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a polo match.

The Aiken Polo Season runs April-June and September-November. Matches are at 3 p.m. Sunday at Whitney Field on Mead Avenue.

Tickets are $5 per person to watch the game or $20 per person for the Social Tent with tables, food and beverages. Call (803) 643-3611 for more information.