We are in Indio, a town in California’s Coachella Valley. It’s February and it’s Sunday. That means it’s going to be a Polo Day!
We start our day by heading to the Eldorado Polo Club. Once there we head to Roc’s Firehouse Cantina and get a table right on the edge of the patio. We order breakfast and settle in for a morning of excitement! This is how we’ve started our Sunday mornings in Palm Desert/The Coachella Valley for the past 5 years.
This year the weather was perfect. (Who am I kidding, the weather has been perfect for polo every time we’ve been here!) When we sat down for breakfast the temperature was 68, there was a slight breeze and the sun was chasing away the morning shade. Like I said, Perfect!
We arrived before the actual polo game so we got to watch young kids taking polo lessons. You might think that they would give the kids smaller horses to learn on, but no, they are up there on full-sized polo horses! Some of the kids are so tiny that their legs stick straight out, like they’re sitting on top of a whale! I can’t imagine riding a horse that way, but I’ve also never seen a child fall off a horse during a polo lesson.
Maybe at this point I should stop and just talk polo. Like us, you probably don’t know much about the sport. It’s really not complicated and it’s very easy to watch because the announcer here at Eldorado, and later at Empire, tells you every thing you need to know. But for now, here’s a primer:
Each polo team has four mounted horsemen. The objective is to hit a ball through your team’s goal at the end of the field. It’s very much like hockey in that the players hit the ball to each other as they are working it down the field. However, there is no goalie in polo and instead of a hockey stick polo players use a mallet.
There aren’t a lot of rules in polo. The few rules are primarily for the horses’ safety and secondarily for the players’ safety. The biggest rule is not to cut in front of a player/horse that has control of the ball. That could lead to dangerous collisions.
I’m sure you’ve heard that the players ride polo ponies. In fact, they aren’t ponies. They are full-sized horses and most of them are former thoroughbred race horses.
Oh, and one other thing that’s pretty interesting. ALL polo players must hold their mallet in their right hand. This is another safety-based rule that might seem to handicap lefties, but in actuality it’s said that lefties steer their horse better.
Like I said, there aren’t a lot of rules. This, plus the fact that the announcers provide a play-by-play, makes polo a very easy to watch sport for novice spectators.
Okay, back to my story! We are at the Eldorado Polo Club eating breakfast outside and the polo field is about twenty feet away from us. We are at the same level as the field so when the horses run out of bounds they end up almost at the table with us! I don’t know what it is that makes this one of the best meals ever: Could it be the horses thundering down the field? Or maybe it’s the fresh air? Or possibly it’s the palm tree and mountain backdrop? Or could it be the perfectly prepared food? I’m not sure what it is; I just know that breakfast at the polo field is a meal I look forward to every year!
Around 10:30 we head for our next stop of the day: The Empire Polo Club. This club is adjacent to the Eldorado club so there isn’t much traveling to do! By the way, have I mentioned that admission to both clubs is free? Yep, you can bring a lawn chair to either club and sit on the sidelines and watch horses and polo all day for free. You can’t beat that!
Well, actually you can beat that. The sun gets pretty hot here in the afternoon so at the Empire club we reserve a table under the beautiful white awning. For $25 each we get shade, an elevated view of the field and table service. Money well spent!
On Sundays there are two games. The second game always has the highest-rated teams. During half time of each game spectators are encouraged to come out onto the field and stomp divots. Divots, you know…those clumps of dirt kicked up by the horses as they run and turn on the turf. Note: Divots are composed of dirt and grass. Do not stomp those rounded clumps out on the field…you’ll find that those are squishy and well….you know what I’m saying.
The divot stomp at halftime of the second game at Empire Polo Club is the most popular stomp of the day. That’s because there are servers along the sidelines handing out flutes of champagne to the stompers. Yep, free champagne for stomping dirt. Can you tell why we love this sport?!?!
One of my favorite activities is to go behind the scenes and hang around the horses. Anyone can do this. You just walk to the end of the field and mingle. My favorite part is watching the horses get their post-game shower. They obviously love their showers! Every now and then a horse gets loose and wanders over to talk to his/her buddies on another team. I’ve never seen a horse run off…they just wander and mingle.
One last benefit of wandering “backstage” are the dogs. Polo people seem to be big dog lovers and there are all kinds of dogs around polo fields and especially back with the horses. Many, if not most, of the dogs are the larger breeds and virtually every polo dog I’ve met is well mannered. They just kind of hang around and when they need petted they’ll come up to you for a scratch or two.
We are definitely avid once-a-year polo fans. We don’t follow any particular team. We root for whoever is playing and we applaud virtually every goal. That means we are at a par with about 95% of the rest of the spectators here!
Watching polo is one of our favorite activities in the Coachella Valley and I highly recommend you give it a try. Here are links for more information on the Eldorado and Empire Polo Clubs:
And don’t forget to try Roc’s Firehouse Cantina at the Eldorado Polo Club! Roc’s Firehouse Cantina