The Super-Fabulous Polo Club

Folks, I recently found this ad for a new polo club. Here is the full text:

Super-Fabulous Polo Club -- On the cutting edge of polo

Super-Fabulous Polo Club, which opened its polo fields on April 1st, 2014, is the ONLY polo club in the world to offer its patrons and club members the opportunity to play in 40-goal polo. The opportunity is so rare, so very exceptional, that we choose to call it 41-goal polo.

First, a few words about the unique aspects of our club. SFPC caters only to the most discerning polo players. We offer unsurpassed service. In fact, the level of service is such that we do not have a club manager; we have a concierge.

All of our paid members are automatically assigned a handicap of one (note: higher handicaps can also be arranged; please contact the concierge). This will save members the hassle of having to call the polo association to have their handicaps raised.

Leagues: We've taken a page out of the playbook of the most successful polo clubs out there and offer both high-goal, super-high goal and out-of-this-world-high-goal polo to our members.

High-Goal and Super-High Goal: Our league for the less experienced players calls for teams with a 16-goal handicap, and our experienced players can join the 31-goal league, which, as the level implies, requires the patron to hire three 10-goal players. As a cost-saving measure given the current economy, only a minimum professional handicap of 5-goal is required, as the handicap of professional players can be temporarily increased to 10 for purposes of the league (note: professional temporary handicaps are not recognized by the sport's governing body, but are officially recognized by all of our professional spectators). As with many other clubs, we do not allow professionals to ride off, hook or otherwise disturb the patrons in their efforts to hit, tap, swing at, or otherwise be in the vicinity of the ball. Our professionally trained umpires have been instructed not to call fouls on patrons. Finally, we guarantee that the words "fabulous", "marvelous", "magnificent", "super-terrific" or words of each patron's choosing will be used to describe the patron's prowess in at least two online and one paper polo-news site. The whole world will know that our patrons play 16- and 31-goal polo.

Out-Of-This-World-High Goal Polo: Only available to our Prestige Members, this is a unique opportunity for our patrons to experience 40-goal polo. For this league, patrons are required to each hire four actual 10-goal professional players, one of whom will act as the patron's double. The games are scheduled on our main field, and we guarantee a crowd of at least 5,000. Champagne and a light lunch are served field side, so that 3 of the professionals from each team and the two patrons can mingle with the crowd while wearing their polo outfits. When it is finally time for the game, the players mount up and ride their horses through a cordoned off aisle that goes right through the crowd, while grooms carry their helmets – the patron's faces will be fully visible to all. As soon as they reach the field, they put the helmets back on, and canter (or walk/trot if cantering is not an option for the patron), to the other side of the field and behind the large scoreboard. Once there and hidden from view, the patrons dismount and allow their 10-goal doubles to mount their horses. The players then go on the field and give the spectators an incredible polo experience. The patrons get to vicariously experience the thrill of playing 40-goal polo, the wind against their double's face, the exhilaration felt by the double as he gallops down the field amid so many other 10-goalers, and, most importantly, the complete and sincere admiration of the crowd, all from the relative safety of the lounge area that has been set up for them behind the scoreboard. This is truly more than 40-goal polo; this is 41-goal polo! After the game, the patrons and three professional players from each team are allowed to go back and mingle with the crowd. The doubles are kindly asked to remain behind the scoreboard to avoid confusion among the spectators.

At Super Fabulous Polo Club, we've taken the age-old polo question: "If a polo player plays a game but nobody is there to watch, did he really play polo?" and turned it into: "If a polo player did not play polo, but everyone saw him play polo, isn't that just a lot easier?"

We must never tolerate horse neglect!

The issue of neglected (i.e., underfed) horses exists in all disciplines. As polo players, we must do our best to insure that our equines, who do so much for us, are well cared for. Here's one way we could deal with the issue of neglected/abused horses in the polo community. The way I see it, people who do not take care of their horses have no business owning them in the first place. The problem is that the horses have to be so emaciated as to be close to death for the law to allow for their confiscation. Often, the situation is bad, but is not dire enough to support legal intervention. Sometimes, the horse owners know about an impending visit from officials and move the most emaciated horses to another farm. Alternatively, the horse owners might start feeding their horses days before a scheduled visit. The horses might still be in pitiful shape, but, once again, not pitiful enough to warrant intervention.

The threshold for legal intervention is very high, but the threshold for USPA intervention could be much lower. I think that there is a lot that the USPA can do.

• The USPA should establish new rules as soon as possible. All USPA members will have to agree to be subject to these rules as of the new year. Consequently, no one will be in a position to sue the USPA for loss of business resulting from USPA intervention in cases of horse abuse or horse neglect.

• I am sure there are already standards for rating the level of neglect. I don't know what they are exactly, so for purposes of this discussion, let's say that horses are rated from 1 to 10. The worst case of neglect would be a 1. A healthy horse might be anywhere from 8 to 10. Let us also assume that it takes a 1 or a 2 for the law to allow confiscation of the horses. The USPA would establish rules that no horse can be below, say, a 5.

• If an investigation following a report of horse neglect establishes that there are horses rated 5 or below at a facility, the horses' owners would have to remedy the situation immediately. Not doing so would result in the owners losing their USPA membership. Furthermore, (perhaps following an official USPA investigation and a hearing at which the horse owners will be present) the owners would be put on probation for a period of time and would be listed on the USPA web site. This would not only publicly shame the offenders, but it would put all potential clients on notice that the horses at this particular facility are neglected. (Note: publicizing the abuse online is not a new idea. For instance, some counties in NY publicize the names, addresses, and photographs of convicted animal abusers online. It's a powerful weapon.)

• Any owner on probation would be subject to surprise visits. If the investigator finds that there are still cases of neglect, the owners would lose their UPSA membership for a minimum number of years. This would also be publicized on the USPA website.

• I think this type of approach would be especially helpful in controlling facilities that cater to polo players. Some inexperienced patrons/students might not notice that the horses they are renting are in terrible condition. However, the same students could rely on the "do not patronize" list on the USPA website to avoid the offending facilities. Similarly, polo clubs could refuse membership to players whose names appear on the list.

• Once this type of system is in place, the USPA should publicize its efforts to the general equine community.

• In the meantime, be vigilant! Report cases of animal abuse (to the local authorities and to your Circuit Governor). Don't assume that someone else will do it...

A Sport That Won't Love Them Back

On the "Arena Polo" page of this website, I lament the wrong turn that polo has taken in the last twenty or thirty years. Polo has become an extremely expensive sport for the very wealthy. Polo schools have become triage centers where wealthy patrons are identified and encouraged to enter teams in advanced leagues. The less affluent, or those not interested in playing with professionals, are often relegated to group lessons run by grooms. There, they are milked for all the lesson money they can spare, but are not developed into polo players – no one bothers to teach them the sport. And so they are often frustrated because they are stagnating.

In my opinion, in terms of growing polo, the second biggest issue that the USPA should confront (after the issue of how to keep I/I alumni in polo) is how to make sure that polo players or aspiring polo players who are not big time sponsors are given value (i.e., actually taught polo) by polo schools. The USPA needs to make sure that such players are treated with respect and are given the attention they deserve.

We need to develop our base and understand that amateurs who play low-goal polo are part of the structure that will keep this sport alive. If polo schools just milk non-sponsors without giving them any value, they will (and do) quit. The few who stay do so because they love the sport despite the fact that the sport has not loved them back.

Let's Do a Better Job of Training Umpires

Umpiring a polo game well is more difficult that playing polo. There, I said it! Maybe I should say it again: umpiring a polo game well is more difficult than playing polo.

Here is another point (also my opinion, of course): playing a polo game or match (as opposed to a practice game) without a good umpire is not very much fun.

Put these two things together, and you could be tempted to conclude that playing a fun polo game can be a rare thing indeed. Maybe that's not completely true – other factors are so often involved (such as the size of the crowd watching, maybe?) The bottom line, however, is that umpiring has a huge impact on one's enjoyment of the game.

With the stakes so high, you would think that polo clubs make a very big effort to provide good umpires at their games. You'd be wrong. You'd also think that there exists a very sophisticated program to help interested players learn umpiring skills. You'd be wrong again. (Not a good day for you!)

No one has come up with a systematic way to produce good umpires. You are told to learn the rules, and then to go umpire games until you get good at it. Not the most efficient way to proceed. Also, not much fun for the players or the would-be umpires.

Learning the rules, we can all do. You have to read them, for sure, but that is not enough. Many important things are left unsaid, or are unclear. But you can attend umpire clinics and have those in-the-know explain the rules. Then, one day, they all start to make sense. You now know the rules of polo – well done! You're thinking you might want to umpire a game now. Good luck with that. There is a huge gap between knowing the rules and actually making that split-second decision in a fast game and blowing the whistle. Frankly, there is also a precipice between understanding lines drawn on an erasable white board and live horses moving about without leaving a trail drawn in magic marker behind them.

The thought processes of experienced and inexperienced umpires are very different. They can be compared to the difference between a kid who has memorized his multiplication table and one who has not. When asked to multiply two numbers, the first kid will immediately give out the answer from memory, without having to think. The other will have to actually do some math to figure out the answer -- a process that will take considerably longer. The experienced umpire blows the whistle based on memorized (and easily recognized) patterns he has seen many times before. The inexperienced umpire has to actually analyze the situation he sees, but unfortunately he only has a split second to do it. Not an easy proposition.

So, how can you get any good at this? Well, if you are fortunate, you will find a knowledgeable player/umpire who will take you under his wing and teach you by having you umpire with him. He will explain to you why he blew the whistle, or why you should not have blown the whistle on a particular play (this would be done after each play and not at the end of the chukker, when everything in your mind has become a blur). He will help you develop your field judgment. But you are not quite that fortunate, are you? If you are like the vast majority of players/umpires out there, you do not have such a mentor. You have to go out there by yourself (or someone else who is as incompetent as you) and take it on the chin until you get better, somehow, by magic.

There currently is a pretty good program to train umpires improve their field judgment, but this program does little for those who are still in the process of making the transition from understanding the rules as written to applying them in practice.

So here is a request to the USPA, followed by a proposal. First, the request : Please find a way to help those interested in developing the field judgment necessary to become competent umpires! It will make polo across the country so much more enjoyable. My proposal : Why not use technology to help students develop field judgment without ruining the games for actual players? I can imagine a classroom filled with students who have already passed a written test establishing their knowledge of the rules. They are all watching a game of polo on a large screen. All of the actions of the actual game umpires have been edited out from the video – this is a game in which the whistle is never blown. Each student can punch a button when he or she sees a foul. The software keeps track of each instance in which a student records a foul and prepares a cumulative report for the instructor. For each play, the instructor gets a list of the students who "blew the whistle" and those who did not. The instructor has many games to chose from – beginner level games all the way to high goal games. Students can learn by "umpiring" dozens of games – and getting the instructor's comments and explanations – before ever putting on a striped shirt.

Fantasy? Maybe I am hoping for too much. This is just a proposal, and there are many more ways to proceed. What I do know is that we have a big issue here, and no one seems to be proposing a solution.

The Polo Model, Applied to Other Sports.

I recently watched a very interesting doubles tennis match: Bill Gates had partnered with Roger Federer to challenge Warren Buffett and his pro, Rafa Nadal. Federer played almost the entire court, with his sponsor, Gates, given the job of trying to take a swing at the ball on the extreme left side of the court. On the other side of the net, Nadal played his entire side except that Buffett took a swing at any ball bouncing at the extreme right side. By and large, the pros avoided the extreme angled shots that would give the patrons a swing at the ball. They just played the game as if it were a singles match.

Gates and Buffett were beaming. They felt they looked really sexy, standing in their Nike Swoosh outfits in front of the crowd, their pale, wiry legs sticking out of their baggy shorts. They have each been playing tennis for ten to fifteen years. They started in a nice tennis school, but as soon as they figured out how to hold a racket (three months for Gates and two months for the more athletic Buffett), they joined the FDL (Fabulous Doubles League, with a total membership of 224 players in the US), hired pros and started playing in front of very small but adoring crowds. Pros like Federer and Nadal command huge fees, of course, but who worries about money when you can feel so sexy? Of course, Gates and Buffett never really get to hit the ball, but they do take a few swings at the ball over the course of a match. The way they play today is pretty much how they played when they first joined the FDL.

The cocktail party after the match was very interesting. The Federer/Gates team had won the match and so, the microphone was given to Gates. He graciously thanked Buffett for entering such a formidable team and then went on to say that he was pleased with how his own team performed that day. He explained how he sat down with his pro before the match to decide on strategy (have Federer hit winners from the baseline and at the net) and how pleased he was that the two of them were able to stick to their plan. "I love to win", he concluded.

The crowd loved it too. After the speech, with champagne flutes in every hand, the spectators discussed how wonderful it is to have players like Gates and Buffett who "really" support tennis. They all wished that all of those "low-level" players who don't do anything to really support tennis would simply get out of the sport. They were referring to those players who don't play in the FDL, but play in crummy leagues in their little clubs, among themselves, without pros.

I can tell you, as one of the delighted spectators, that both the game and the party afterward were intoxicating.

p.s.: I made up this little story to see what other sports would look like if we were to apply the polo model. My sincere apologies to both Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett if they actually know how to play tennis or if they don't have pale, wiry legs.

p.p.s: Once, at a meeting in which people were discussing how to grow polo, I interrupted the discussion to ask that participants first define the business of polo. Various people said the sports business. Someone said the entertainment business. I told them that, in my opinion, the way polo is currently run, we are in the fantasy business. To grow polo according to the same business plan, we need more people who want to spend a fortune to have a fantasy fulfilled. Alternatively, we could change our business plan and actually grow a sport...

Let's ban the use of spurs!!!

Should we ban the use of spurs in polo games? I say yes!

In my opinion, there is simply no excuse for the use of spurs in polo. Spurs should be used in some cases by knowledgeable riders who need to bend horses in training around their legs, or to teach their horses to bring their hinds under them.

Spurs should not be used as a "go-forward cue" in polo games. Spurs are often used as a short-cut, a way to avoid spending the time to train the horse or keep it trained.

It is hard to watch a game in which a rider uses great force to slam his spurred heal into the horse's flank, either to get the horse to go faster or in the vain hope of winning a ride-off. Every once in a while, a light colored horse gets a cut from the spur, and there is an uproar among spectators. But in many cases, the blood is not seen on a dark-colored horse or the horse's skin is not cut. It will be just a bruise, painful to the touch, unnoticed by the rider or the spectators.

I care about the welfare of the horse. I also care about the image of our sport. I think the misuse of spurs is one of the main reasons why polo has a bad reputation in some circles.

Recently, Prince Harry was criticized for injuring his gray horse with his spurs. Do you think this is the first time this has happened? How many times has it happened on a bay but gone unnoticed? How many times did the horse suffer from painful bruising but was not cut – and so the bruising remained undetected?

Here are some of the details of the article on the prince: "Animal welfare groups are accusing Britain's Prince Harry of animal cruelty after he continued to play in a polo game after his horse was allegedly wounded by spikes on the royal's riding spurs. The director of Britain's Animal Aid charity told the paper he believes it was a "heartless and utterly selfish thing to do," for the prince to continue playing in a polo match after his horse was injured. "Polo is a very rough activity that causes stress and injuries to horses," Andrew Tyler said. "Spurs are unnecessary for a competent rider and should not be used to punish a horse for the rider's failure to gain an advantage."

Of course, the royal family has come to the prince's defense. A vet has declared that the prince was not at fault. Whatever. The point is that many polo players who do not know how to use spurs use them every time they ride to get that slow horse going. They use them roughly, without any compassion or empathy for the horse.

So, let's ban them. Let's start with interscholastic/intercollegiate polo. At almost every single I/I game that I have watched, I have seen at least one player misuse his or her spurs, heartlessly stabbing the side of the horse. It is both cruel and stupid.

Let's not take shortcuts anymore. Let's teach our young players some basic horsemanship principles. Let's make sure our horses are properly trained. Let's make sure the sport is beautiful.

How can we help our I/I alumns play after graduation?

Every year, polo loses a lot of great polo players. I am referring to kids who graduate from interscholastic and intercollegiate programs and who find that the sport they love is simply too expensive. They are young adults, with new jobs and new families, when the cost of membership and horses becomes simply overwhelming. So polo loses these great players, many of them forever, others for 10 to 15 years. What can we do? Here is a proposal.

The USPA would negotiate with many clubs around the country (with arena clubs such as mine, or with grass polo clubs that have reasonable fees) and agree on discounted membership fees for I/I alumni (to qualify, the alumni would have had to have participated in I/I for a minimum number of years – say two or three years). Any participating polo club would be allowed to use a USPA-granted title (such as "USPA Partner Club" or "I/I Partner Club"). We could add a requirement that the alumni provide some services to the club. I think that a lot of clubs would be willing to offer low membership rates to I/I alumni in exchange for umpiring services, or other type of work.

The difficulty is that the club will not likely to be willing to lease horses at hugely discounted prices. That's just too great a cost to impose on participating clubs.

This is where the USPA gets to spend some of the money it earns from its licensing agreements. The USPA would provide grants to subsidize part of the cost of the horses that are leased by the club to the I/I alumni. This could go on for say 5 (or even 10) years from the time the player graduates from the I/I program. The whole program could be run through reimbursement for eligible costs. (The I/I alumni could also be required to fill some paperwork.)

Through this program, the USPA would take charge of keeping these wonderful players in the sport until they can afford it themselves. The USPA would be saying: "we won't forget about you just because you have graduated". It would also be a good incentive for middle and high school players to join an I/I program in the first place.

After a few years, the USPA could set up a fund-raising vehicle just for this program. I would imagine that many USPA members would make regular contributions. Moreover, the beneficiaries of the program would probably be lifelong donors to the program as soon as they are financially secure (not to mention lifelong fans of the USPA for helping them after graduation!)

Let me know what you think.

Natania Farm & Polo Club8270 March Wales RoadWarrenton, VA 20186P.540.229.5609F.866.430.7101