Hold your horses

By on October 10, 2018

The 78th season of the Lancaster Polo Club finished up on Sunday, Oct. 7 at Warwick Township Polo Field off Church Road

The field is also known as Forney Field, as a tribute to Ben Forney, the man who first brought polo to Rothsville back in 1940. Each season, from June through October, polo fans gather to tailgate and watch the sport that is closely identified with British royalty.

“Who would have thought that we would have polo here in Rothsville,” said Sara Brubaker, of Landisville. “We really enjoy it.” There were three generations of the Brubaker family on hand for closing day of the 2018 season. They tried to get out to the matches and tailgating on most Sundays of the season. Rainy weather and a few extremely hot days limited the season. The polo ponies do not do well in the heat and too much rain damages the field. 

“We try to come every weekend, weather permitting. It’s a nice day of fellowship and being outdoors at the polo match,” said Gerry Robinson of the Hiram Rhodes Revels Society. The society is named for Hiram Rhodes Revels, an U.S. Senator, minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a college administrator, who was elected in 1870 to the United States Senate as a Republican to represent Mississippi during the Reconstruction era. The Weaver family from Wyomissing has been coming for years, ever since Ray Weaver wanted to share the experience of his youth, when he and a friend came to watch polo in the 1980s. As he noted, “It’s relaxing and fun.”

There were three reasons to celebrate the day. One was a memorial to remember long-time Lancaster Polo Club member George Pucak, who died 10 years ago in Texas. The second was a Nuptial Cup in honor of Don and Sally Aikens, who marked their 26th wedding anniversary. Don served as umpire.

The third was a bright sunny day with summery temperatures in the 80s and a lively game well-played by the Work To Ride polo players from Philadelphia. They played against Destiny Stable in Carlisle, and at the end of the exciting match, Work to Ride dominated with a final score of 11-2. Work to Ride is an equestrian program that provides activities that promote discipline, self-esteem, motivation, social development, life skills, academic achievement and physical fitness through year round programs that encourage long-term participation.

The stables are in Fairmount Park, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Young people from the city learn to care for horses, play polo and compete in games all over the mid-Atlantic area. There are also educational and cultural resources are provided to participants and the community-at-large, as well as vocational guidance and opportunities for careers in related fields.

“If it wasn’t for the Work to Ride players, we wouldn’t have a season here in Rothsville,” said Ken McSherry, manager of the Lancaster Polo Club. “After the season, the Work to Ride players will be competing indoor tournaments throughout the area.” Over the years, polo players from Work to Ride have discovered that learning to play the sport of kings has opened many doors. Since many Ivy League colleges have polo teams, several Work to

Ride alums have gone on to receive scholarships at prestigious colleges like Harvard University. Malachi Lyles, 18, from Work to Ride, was the high scorer of the match, effortlessly making goals between the guideposts at each end of the field. He has been involved in Work to Ride for seven years, and competing as a player for five years.

Work to Ride players (left to right) Estaban Penados, Mosiah Gravesande, Malachi Lyles traveled from Philadelphia to play Sunday. 

“I like playing. It’s exciting to race across the field and score,” said Lyles. “We also learn responsibility to care for, feed and clean up after the ponies, which isn’t quite as much fun.”

Arne Forney would have been pleased to see the crowds gathered at the field that was once part of his Warwick Township farm. The Lancaster Polo Club was started when several local cattle dealers, including Forney of Rothsville, who were challenged to a polo game by a team from York New Salem. They won the match and the Lancaster Polo Club was born.

They had to learn the rules of the game, which involves two teams of three or four players, playing six chukkers or periods that last seven and a half minutes. The horses and players take a break in between each chukker, changing horses, then take a longer half-time break after the third chukker.

As McSherry explained, polo is similar to soccer, hockey or football, with goal posts on each end. The players ride ponies and try to hit the ball between the posts to score one point. After each goal, the teams switch sides, which can get a little confusing. Mounted umpires accompany the players to make calls.

In between the chukkers, the fans go out on the field and stomp down on any divots that have been caused by the horses. Tradition has it that Queen Elizabeth II has been known to stomp divots when attending British polo matches.

The games are held each Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and members can purchase their designated spot along the rails. Visitors are welcome, at a cost of $5 per person, which helps to fund the club. Throughout the season, there are special events like a chili cookoff, Caribbean Cup tailgate and British car show. Bob LeMin Jr. calls the games and plays a selection of tunes for entertainment between chukkers.

Next Saturday will be the volunteer workday, with the sideboards removed and the polo field shut down for the season. Until next year.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She can be reached at lknowles21@gmail.com. 

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