A pack of eight horses, guided by helmeted riders carrying wooden mallets, thunders down a field.
Thwack. An incongruously small (given the size of the equine athletes and the rate of speed at which they are travelling) white ball sails down the field toward two goal posts. The pack of players and mounts, as a closely united collective, changes directions and races toward the ball, each rider intent on guiding the white orb through the posts to score a goal.
This is polo. The sport, which is said to be the world’s oldest equestrian game with ties dating back to Persia more than 2,500 years ago, has enjoyed a surprisingly lengthy history in Vancouver.
The city’s love for this resource-intensive pastime—a regulation polo field eats up nearly 10 acres of land, while a single game requires 32 horses for eight players—is partially credited to the creation of the Southlands Riding Club in 1943. The equestrian club became a hub for affluent Vancouverites who were looking to partake in or watch a horseback endeavour.
About 25 years ago, though, the so-called Sport of Kings all but vanished from the area. Whether the cause was a lack of interest, or simply logistics as Vancouver’s real estate and development opportunities gained momentum and vast tracts of land came at a premium, the polo community quietly disbanded (though the Southlands Riding Club lives on through community riding lessons, private horse boarding, and competitions). Thanks to the Vancouver Polo Club, however, the sport is making a comeback.
Club founders Paul Sullivan, Jay Garnett, Claudia Tornquist, and Tony Tornquist formally reintroduced polo to Vancouverites in 2014 with their Pacific Polo Cup fundraiser, which is played at the Southlands Riding Club facilities; all of the money raised from the event is donated to Southlands in order to help fund its horse rescue program and its initiative that provides therapeutic riding for children with disabilities. Along with formal games watched by smartly-dressed locals sipping Champagne, part of the tournament, now in its fifth year, involves clinics for prospective players. The aim of these educational experiences is to promote an understanding of polo, as well as garner increased interest in order to further explore and revitalize the activity beyond the one-day summer event.
The Vancouver Polo Club also holds lessons throughout the sport’s season, which runs from June to October. All levels are welcome, and each person is afforded the opportunity to learn from one of the club’s resident professionals.
Safe to say, the introduction to “hockey on horseback,” as Sullivan jokingly refers to it, has been a good one for many; the Vancouver Polo Club has grown to include 12 members and a string of almost 40 horses. This year is the first one for the fledgling troupe to play at its new field at its facility in Delta, where the horses are now permanently kept during the season (though the Pacific Polo Cup will continue to take place at Southlands due to its prime location). It’s here that the club has created its very own polo Field of Dreams.
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