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Polo in the Mid-South


2016/10/03













By Nancy Brannon, photos by Larry Hsia, Sierra Hotel Images

September and October are the months when polo is at its peak in the fall. This month we cover several polo matches, from Chukkers For Charity in Franklin, TN to the Benefit for Junior League of Memphis and Wings Polo Classic in Rossville, TN. We have some great photos to share from Brenda Black and Larry Hsia.

Rain was a significant weather factor at a couple of September’s polo matches. Rain came through with a force to be reckoned with at the Franklin, TN Chukkers for Charity event, but left a beautiful rainbow and the promise of fun polo after all. At the Wings Polo Classic in Rossville, TN, the party had just gotten started when rain came rolling in before the polo match could get started. The preliminary party goers, those arriving between noon and 1 p.m., got a sampling of the food and wine, but those arriving later had to wait out the rain in their cars, only to find that the match had to be cancelled. The remainder of the food was donated to the Memphis Food Bank and plans were made to reschedule the online auction, wine pull, and other fund raising activities.

Polo games with Memphis Polo Club are played in an outdoor field on Bermudagrass turf. Franklin Polo Academy members play arena polo. There are some essential differences between arena and outdoor polo. Arena polo is played “3 on 3,” i.e., three members on each of the opposing teams, whereas outdoor polo is played “4 on 4.” Arena polo had four chukkers (or periods of play), while outdoor polo has six chukkers per match.

Memphis Polo Club is based in Rossville, TN on the 200-acre Erb family farm, with quite a few of the Erb family members as players. Their season runs from April to October, with August off because of the summer Memphis heat. The club hosts neighboring clubs with two weekend days of high speed polo competition. Polo events are great venues for social activities, including fundraising for charitable events. Memphis Polo Club hoses Argentine barbecues – asados – at some of the tournaments. Beginners can learn polo, become familiar with the rules of play, the speed, and the horses at practices. Beginners don’t have to buy horses or equipment—just schedule lessons with the instructors and they take care of the rest.

Memphis Polo is located at 1705 Frazier Road near Rossville, TN 38066. Jack Erb is Club President and Alfredo Guerreño is Club Manager. Find more information at: http://memphispoloclub.com

Franklin Polo Academy, in Franklin, TN is a full service polo school, with matches played in the new TSC Arena at historic Harlinsdale Farm at 239 Franklin Road. Practices are also held at a private arena on Old Hillsboro Road. Their polo season runs from April until the end of November, with eight public matches during the season. Franklin Polo holds two fundraisers a year – one in June as a benefit for Friends of Franklin Parks, and another in August, “Raise the Roof” to raise maintenance and improvements funds for Harlinsdale.

Franklin Polo Academy offers an Introduction to Polo course, which is a broad spectrum course explaining the game, with the academy providing all the equipment. The course includes safety instruction, ball hitting, riding drills, and everything a novice needs to know to learn polo.

James Armstrong is co-owner, instructor, and Director of Polo Operations for Franklin Polo Academy. He was born and raised in South, where he learned to ride and play polo from his father, starting at age tem. At eighteen, Armstrong immigrated to the U.S. to pursue a career as a professional polo player. He has since played professionally in the U.S. for over 20 years, competing for some of polo’s most prestigious titles. At the height of his career he was rated at 6 goals.

Armstrong is one of the initial founders of “Chukkers for Charity,” an annual fundraising polo match held at Riverview Farm. Over the past 19 years, Chukkers has raised over $2,000,000 for Saddle Up! and the Rochelle Center. 
Find more information about Franklin Polo Academy at: http://www.franklinpolo.com/. Find information about polo at Harlinsdale Farm and Friends of Franklin Parks at: http://www.friendsoffranklinparks.org/. Find information about the Park at Harlinsdale at: http://www.franklin-gov.com/government/parks/facilities-and-parks/park-locations-maps/park-locations/the-park-at-harlinsdale-farm.

The game of polo dates back thousands of years to Central Asia. The game followed the nomads’ migration to Persia some time between 600 B.C. and 100 A.D. In Persia, polo became a national sport, played by the nobility and military men. Ultimately the game was formalized and spread west to Constantinople, east to Tibet, China and Japan, and south to India.

Modern polo originated in Manipur, a northeastern state of India. The Silchar Polo Club was founded in 1859 by British military officers and tea planters. From India, polo spread as fast as its enthusiasts could travel, appearing in Malta in 1868, England in 1869, Ireland in 1870, Argentina in 1872 and Australia in 1874.

James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, saw his first polo game on a trip to England. Early in 1876, he returned to New York with mallets, balls and a copy of the Hurlingham rules. The first polo game was played at a New York city riding academy; in the spring they moved outdoors to a field in Westchester County. That summer, the New York players took polo to Newport, R.I.

The United States Polo Association (USPA) was founded in 1890 as a governing body in to coordinate games, standardize rules, and establish handicaps so the teams could be more evenly matched.

During the World Wars era, U.S. Army Cavalry riders were encouraged to participate in polo to improve their riding ability and to keep their horsemanship skills sharp during the harsh winter months. Even dignitaries like President Theodore Roosevelt took up the game. Arena polo’s roots lie with the U.S. military as well.

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