Ponies at Play: Quechee Polo Club Turns 40
Members of the Quechee Polo Club and the Byfield Polo Club ride after the ball during their match in Quechee, Vt., on July 26, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee Polo Club's Patrick Andrew, of Canaan, N.H., left, Greg Frizzell, of Sandwich, N.H., center, and Steve Leninski, of South Woodstock, Vt., wait to trot onto the field to start the match against Byfield Polo Club in Quechee, Vt., on July 26, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Katy Coombs, of South Woodstock, Vt., winds polo wraps around the legs of Steve Leninski's horse El Nino before Quechee Polo Club's match against Byfield Polo Club in Quechee, Vt., on July 26, 2014. The wraps protect the horses' legs from the impact of the polo ball. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee Polo Club's Steve Leninski, of South Woodstock, Vt., gives rides on his horse as Cori Santagate, Emily Stringham, Julia Stein and Jen Stein, all of Springfield, Vt., enjoy the atmosphere after the match against Byfield Polo Club in Quechee, Vt. on July 26, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
After the match against Byfield Polo Club in Quechee, Vt., on July 26, 2014, Quechee Polo Club's Patrick Andrew, of Canaan, N.H., center, raises a toast to friend and former teammate Chuck Warren, who passed away this past winter. Warren played for the polo club for 7 years. After each match, the polo club eats together and the toast to Warren has become a new tradition. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Kaelen Lundberg, 7, of New London, N.H., watches the polo match from his mother Elizabeth's car in Quechee, Vt., on July 26, 2014. They usually attend one match a year. This is their fourth year attending. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee Polo Club's Steve Leninski, of South Woodstock, Vt., trots after the ball during polo practice at teammate Chuck Wira's house in Plainfield, N.H., on July 23, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee — Polo players in the Northeast have just a few months to compete, and most summer Saturdays find the Quechee Polo Club doing just that.
The club, which plays on land owned and maintained by the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association, turned 40 this summer. Its members are Twin State residents, including several former college players, and many have been with the club for years. More are welcome.
“We are always interested in recruiting players,” said Cathy Kozlik, who announces the games.
Chuck Wira, who joined the club in the mid-1990s, enjoys the sport, which offers camaraderie and action, he said.
“The competition is part of it, too,” he added, “good-natured competition.”
Spectators pay $5 a carload to attend regular matches, and the sidelines, filled with family members, friends and others, have a festive feel.
A recent game drew 90 carloads of people, Wira said. “We are seeing more of cars backing up to the sidelines, bringing lawn chairs and having picnics.”
While many arrive prepared to enjoy the afternoon entertainment, others are curious passersby. For the uninitiated, the competitions on Dewey Mills Road are a good place to learn —Kozlik explains the rules and provides play-by-play narration.
“I try to tell them all about the game and how the horses are prepared and what the players have to wear, in terms of helmets,” and people often come up and ask her questions about what they are seeing, she said . “It’s a really fun time, and we get more and more people coming out and being interested in the game.”
The matches, which last about 90 minutes, are divided into six 7 1 ⁄ 2 -minute periods, or “chukkas.” The play is four-on-four, with horses rotating out frequently.
At halftime, spectators carry on a polo tradition, stomping in the divots created by the horses’ hooves. Doing so helps ensure the ball will roll straight and not stick in a divot or shank off in a weird way, Wira said. “It really is very important.”
Following the matches, spectators are invited onto the field to mingle with the players and “ponies,” as polo horses are called.
Afterward, players host a barbecue for both teams and the people who have helped out. “No goes away hungry,” said Wira, whose adult son, Chris, also belongs to the team.
The club plays most Saturdays in July and August, with matches starting at 2 p.m. The season includes an annual benefit for the Quechee Library. This year’s match, against the Sugarbush Polo Club, is set for Aug. 9. Admission is $10 per car. The Quechee matches wrap up on Labor Day weekend with the annual Chihuahua Invitational. The season may be short, but caring for the horses is a year-round endeavor, and training starts months before the first match is played.
“Everybody really takes care of their horses,” Wira said. “Great care is taken to get them into athletic condition and make sure they are fit to play. There’s quite a bit of conditioning.”
Their opponents come from New England and New York. Most of their games are played in Quechee, but the team sometimes travels, often in caravans of three or four horse trailers. Many of the faces they encounter on the field are familiar. The chance to see the same people year after year is “one of the really nice things,” Wira said.
Aimee Caruso can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3210 .