Editors' pick

Twilight Polo

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Editorial Review

Gates open at 6:30 p.m.; the first match to begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $30 per carload ($10 if you come alone). Tickets are available at the gate or for pre-purchase by phone.

Horse country, at full gallop
Aug. 27, 2010
By Amy Orndorff
Women are in sundresses and hats, holding glasses of wine, Kenny Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" is playing on the loudspeakers, and the air is crisp and fresh. You can tell as soon as you get out of your car: This is horse country.

There is hardly a better way to spend a lovely summer evening than to join 1,500 to 2,000 people at Great Meadow in The Plains for Twilight Polo. There are two matches each Saturday night. Long before the first match starts at 7 p.m., regulars begin arriving to spread their blankets and picnics on the grassy hill overlooking the arena.

The bucolic scene becomes rollicking as soon as the first match begins. After all, polo, which is sometimes called "hockey on horseback," is a fast-paced and physically demanding sport.

But don't be intimidated if you have never seen a match; Twilight Polo is an easy introduction to the sport. Unlike polo that is played on grass, where the field stretches the equivalent of nine football fields, this version is played in a dirt arena, making it much easier to see the ball and keep up with the action. The announcer also calls the plays and explains penalties.

Twilight Polo can last more than four hours, but you can come and go as you please. Families show up early, and regulars such as Dayn Smith from Huntly, Va., are here, at least in part, to socialize. Tailgating is popular, and on a recent night, Smith, a chef, has a spread that includes red wine, white wine, champagne, poached salmon, tuna tartar, chips and dip.

"The kids love it....They love the freedom," Smith said, adding that this is one of the few places he feels safe letting his sons, ages 5 and 7, run around. There are kid-friendly activities, such as tug of war or stick-pony races between matches.

In arena polo, teams are lined up three to a side, and matches begin with an umpire bowling a grapefruit-size ball between the two teams. From there the players deftly maneuver their horses for a chance to hit the ball into the goal. Each goal is worth a point with the exception of one hit from beyond the halfway mark -- those goals are worth two points. Balls are sometimes lobbed out of the arena, and kids who retrieve them are rewarded with candy.

The match is divided into four 6 minute 30 second quarters called chukkers. After each chukker, players trade their horses for a fresh mount. The winner is the team with -- surprise -- the most goals at the end of the match. In Twilight Polo the teams in the second match are better than those in the first, but both matches attract "local players with a national reputation," according to Great Meadow Foundation President Robert Banner Jr.

A second crowd arrives for the later match. And then a third crowd shows up for the after party when a large, nearby pavilion takes on a nightclub atmosphere complete with a DJ.

For Josh Bethany, 34, of Arlington and his girlfriend, the combination of a nice picnic, a polo match and music was enough to make them "get out of the city and get into the country."