Over the past two months we have consumed copious amounts of Argentine beef and uncorked a plethora of malbecs and other regional varietals of vino tinto. Now, on to master the next Argentine cultural challenge: polo. One might think this challenge would be a cinch considering how fine I look in anything by Ralph Lauren and that I was known to wear Polo cologne in my early 20s. (stop judging)
Sure, sure, we could have opted to take in a local match – after all, the season finals were being held just down the road from us. But watching is for chumps, so we decided to go all-in and spend a day at a nearby estancia and take a polo lesson – oh yeah, and play a match.
The XpatLifeBA social club put the bug in our ear about this opportunity a few weeks back. We followed that up by reading the TripAdvisor reviews (5 stars). Rather than jump right at it, we waited until our friends Karyn and Dave arrived from Halifax – after all, there’s strength (and courage) in numbers.
Frank and I are polo veterans of sorts. We signed up for a similar polo day activity several years ago on a trip to Buenos Aires with our friend Dean. It was offered through a different outfit and, although it was a fun outing, it was pretty rustic and a tad meagre. It was a one-person operation and lunch consisted of a sleeve of cookies and some Orange Crush. And while some of the “ponies” looked like actual horses, others looked suspiciously like mules.
Our recent trip to Puesto Viejo Estancia & Polo Club couldn’t have been a more different adventure than our first.
The weather was a perfect 28C and sunny. The club arranged a driver to pick the four of us up in the morning. We spent about an hour and 20 minutes driving to the countryside. With the driver’s love of vintage 80s music, even the commute was great. When he saw us grooving along in the backseat he cranked it even louder – it was awesome!
When we arrived at the club, the hotel manager greeted us with tea, coffee and snacks. From there we were taken to one of their four polo fields to watch Julio, our day’s instructor, finish his morning match. Standing on the sidelines you can’t help but get a sense of the enormity of the field – slightly more area than four soccer fields.
Following his game, Julio drove us to the stables for a quick tour then a stop at the equipment room for helmets, leg guards and mallets.Next stop was the practice ring. We each jump on top of plastic stools so we could practice hitting the small white ball with the various swings we would try once we got our horses. We all did a pretty good job of making contact with the ball. All that’s missing now was to replicate all of what we learned on the back of a horse.
Cue next lesson: how to “tell” the horse what you want to do. Now sitting on our stools with arms out front holding invisible reins we leaned left, we leaned right and we pulled back to stop. We’ve got this! How different could it be on a horse? Really?!The staff from the stable brought out a variety of horses – all seemingly very calm. With relative ease (and a large platform) we clambered atop our trusty steeds and began to plod our way to the practice field.
The TripAdvisor reviews are true, you don’t need any riding experience to do this activity. The horses were very predictable, no unexpected bolting or bucking. As long as you gave them some loose reins they would move forward.
They do have a group of feisty fillies for more experienced riders, but nothing short of an electric cattle prod would get ours to break into a trot – we weren’t complaining.
Once we were at the field, Julio gave each of us our own ball. He continued to give us tips as we practiced our swings and shuffled and plunked the ball from one end of the field to the other. It went something like this: lead horse to ball – stop horse – whack ball – lead horse to ball – stop horse – whack ball. See, you too can “play” polo.
As repetitive as it sounds it was still very satisfying to see the ball move down the field. It was also reassuring to see the relief on the horse’s face that we didn’t hit their legs or head with the mallet – although I came close several times.
With a good practice under our belts, we went back to the lodge for lunch. We had a warm meal of pot roast with potatoes and, of course, wine and dessert. We also had great conversations with Julio about how he got into polo, where he played professionally and details about the club. He loves the game and loves sharing his passion for it with others.
After lunch we had a chance to dip our feet in the pool and relax before round two – a polo game, you know, where theory says we are to put all we’ve learned into action. Julio, always the joker, thought it would be fun to have us play against the young kids who where staying at the club with their parents.
We had been assured they only had an extra day of lessons over us. Be that as it may, those young whippersnappers had no fear as they nimbly maneuvered their horses around us swinging mallets and scoring goals – it’s as though we weren’t moving.
All joking aside, the game against the kids was a blast as each of us tried valiantly to score a goal. Julio did a fantastic job of making sure each of us felt like we were getting a chance to play; hitting the ball to us and helping us advance the ball down the field. After a very close match (not really) we called it a day on the horses and spent the final hour watching a professional match. It’s amazing to watch the players (four per side) stick so closely together at breakneck speed without running into each other. Not to mention how impressive it is to see them supremely wallop the ball at a full gallop.
By the end of the day we were thrilled to see our Spandau Ballet-loving driver waiting to return us to the city. Between singing along to songs that represented memories of long ago, we recounted new great memories made of masterful shots and our extraordinary equestrian prowess.