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No Ascot Required: Why you're exactly classy enough to attend a polo match


Dan Harrison, the president of the Cascade Polo Club, knows what you're thinking when the name of his beloved sport is mentioned. Don't worry. He won't be offended if you, like me, thought polo - the kind played on horses and enormous fields - was a foreign activity reserved for royalty and private jet owners.

"Everyone has seen Prince Charles out there or maybe Pretty Woman, but 90 percent of the polo-playing population are working people who just play on the weekends," says Harrison, an equine veterinarian whose organization is hosting a charity match on Sunday afternoon just east of Bend at Camp Fraley Ranch. The event is part of the ongoing Chukkers for Charity summer series.

The word "polo" likely brings to mind images of flimsy collared shirts and nasal-passage-damaging colognes before it conjures sights of men on horses. After all, polo is likely about as foreign to the general American population as any other sport, so the misconceptions are understandable. But oddly, some of those biases might have a bit of truth to them, even if tickets for Sunday's match will set you back a mere $10.

"There's a stigma that sticks with polo, unfortunately. You don't need a million dollars to play it, but if you have a million dollars you can play very well," jokes Harrison, who began playing polo as a youth in Southern California and continued playing at the University of California at Davis.

Part of the reason that polo has never broken into the American mainstream is that it requires an incredible amount of resources. First off, you need a bunch of horses, which aren't always cheap. The sport also requires a massive playing area that's the equivalent of 12 football fields. That's right, the playing field can be as long as 300 yards and more than 150 yards wide. But given that the players can smack the ball 100 yards with one swing and are riding atop horses capable of galloping at more than 30 mph, this makes sense. Maintaining such a spread of land isn't easy, Harrison says, and the field at Camp Fraley Ranch took four years to complete.

The concept of the game is simple and should be somewhat accessible to fans of soccer, hockey, lacrosse or any other sport that involves balls and goals. The purpose, as in the aforementioned sports, is the hit the ball into your opponent's goal while keeping the ball out of your own goal. Obviously, the team - comprised of four players - with the most goals wins. The sport is fast paced, action packed, and actually somewhat treacherous, says Harrison.

"It's very dangerous. We do have horses colliding with each other. The risk is certainly there. I think people will be impressed by the skill," he says.

Harrison hopes that the Cascade Polo Club won't serve just as a venue for occasional matches to entertain curious Central Oregonians, but rather will become a training organization. Currently, the club holds polo lessons on Wednesdays and is hoping to be sanctioned as a training club by the U.S. Polo Association. The aim here is to help build interest for the sport, something that has waned over the last few years. Of course, such a sport wasn't helped by the down economy, Harrison says.

"About 20 years ago it was hugely popular. You had very wealthy businessmen paying for a team of pros. That went by the wayside and the weekend warrior game came about. Now you have a lot more of a grassroots approach," says Harrison.

That grassroots approach will be on full display come Sunday. The grounds just east of Bend will include a tailgate section where DIY polo fans, or just people who like to eat food while standing behind their automobile, will be judged for best tailgate party. There's also a best hat contest and other fun - you just can't bring your dog. And if you're wondering why, you've never been around horses.

These polo matches are not snooty, there is no dress code and at no point will Julia Roberts, playing a hooker disguised as a rich person, run onto the field and fix divots with her bare feet.

Polo in the Country: Rube W. Evans
Memorial Trophy

Noon gates, 2pm game. Sunday, July 17. Camp Fraley Ranch, 60580 Gosney Road. $10. 12 and under free.

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