By Dave DeLuca
Harry H. Hart III is a lover of the sport of polo, and he has brought his passion and support of the game to Corvallis. That’s right, polo. Not to be mistaken with water polo, or underwater polo, or even bike polo. All of those, by the way, are also practiced in town. I’m referring to the game of polo which involves horses and a massive field surrounded by aristocratically dressed well-to-do spectators. I mean the sport of kings. That polo.
The sport has been played at OSU off and on since 1923. It is the oldest of the rec sports at the school. Practices and events are held in nearby Philomath, at least until the equestrian center on campus can be altered to allow better footing for the high speeds and quick changes of direction performed by the sport’s animals. Some of the horses can travel up to 35 miles per hour while bumping each other, before coming to a sudden stop. The club plays arena polo, which is different from field polo. The former is played in a smaller area with fewer riders, and generally requires more quick maneuverability of the horses as opposed to breakaway speed. OSU polo has around 20 to 30 members made up of men’s varsity, women’s varsity, and co/ed junior varsity. The Ridin’ Beavs’ competes in the Western Region of the USPA Intercollegiate Arena Polo Program against the likes of WSU, USC, Montana State University, Stanford, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Westmont University, and the University of Idaho.
Mariah Mudgett is the president of the OSU Polo Club as well as a player on the women’s varsity team. She pointed out that no riding experience is required to join. However, utmost respect for the animals is expected. There are several equestrian club sports offered at OSU. Most of the sports, however, require participants to provide their own horses. That’s not the case in polo.
“We have nine horses owned by the university and we lease horses from various alumni to make a total of 12 horses. Our horses are the best athletes and it is critical to the game and the horses’ well-being that they are in great shape,” Mudgett explained. “Each horse is an individual with specific needs and those needs are met with tailored diets and exercise schedules. We are very fortunate to have such great horses and will not take that for granted.”
What does all that have to do with Hart? His partner is club VP and student athlete Abel Luis Estraviz. Together, Estraviz and Hart recently co-founded the Northwest Polo Club. The bold mission of the NWPC is to help boost spectator appeal and participation at all of the clubs in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. They hope to give more collegiate students opportunities to play and also offer NWPC internships. They are currently putting together their first team for a tournament or exhibition to be held in Spokane, Washington. After that, events will be held in La Conner, Washington and Bend. The club has no home field, for now. However, Hart and Estraviz live in Corvallis, and have made it their base of operations.
Hart first fell in love with polo as a player in Florida in 1980. He rediscovered the sport in La Conner, Washington some 20 years later while watching the local club practice field polo.
“I stepped onto that field and it just came rushing back. The smells. The horse leavings,” he described with a chuckle. “The leather boots. The white jeans. The tents. Bourbon. All of that sense of the social and the athletic came rushing back. And as I stepped up to the fence, the two teams of four came right on me. There was a thundering sound when the hooves hit. And they were scrimmaging right in front of me. It was intoxicating.”
At that moment, Hart decided to get back into polo. Instead of riding competitively himself, he has used his skills and resources to organize the club and support Estraviz’s efforts. Hart has embraced Corvallis and Oregon State. He, his business (Global Grid Telecom), and the Northwest Polo Club all donate time, money, and resources to the OSU Polo Club. He also promotes the club by sharing the sport with others. Hart will talk polo to anyone who will listen.
If you are interested in witnessing the sport of kings, here’s a quick primer. Each match consists of six periods, called chukkers. Scoring is accomplished when the ball is struck with a bamboo mallet through a goal. Riders are not permitted to block the path of their competitors, instead running side by side at full speed. A defender may use his animal to bump his opponent away from a rolling ball or shot attempt. He may also use his mallet to hook the mallet of his opponent. Horses are the key to the sport, and are treated with respect and admiration. The animals ride hard for only three to four minutes at a time before being replaced, often mid-chukker. Lastly, here’s a word of caution for the fans. If you are planning on tailgating with adult beverages, be aware. That ball can travel upwards of 90 miles per hour. Spectators would be wise to pay attention to the action on the field.