CSU Polo club is charging its way to the top
April 14, 2006
The CSU men’s varsity polo team warms up for a game. The men and the women’s team were ranked second in the Central Division throughout much of the year. Photo by Becky Talley
by Becky Talley
Fence Post Staff Reporter
Take six players, six horses, six mallets and one ball and put them all into one indoor arena and the result is what has been described as “hockey on horseback.”
Polo, one of the oldest sports played horseback, has been around for centuries. It is an extremely popular international sport that has caught on in Colorado and Colorado State University (CSU) is leading the charge.
CSU has been playing polo for decades, but the current polo club has been in existence since 1972. The club is an official member of the United States Polo Association (USPA) and has been since 1981, according to George Cole, polo club advisor.
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Polo was initially a class taught in the physical education department at CSU. However, with the growing support from the school’s equine sciences program it became more. The team got its first polo ponies in 1979, which were initially housed at private barns. In 1988 they were moved to be permanently stabled at the CSU Equine Center. While the team once had to practice in private arenas, they now hold the twice-a-week practices at the CSU Equine Center.
The team begins practicing as soon as school starts and hosts the Ram tournament in September, which is held to get playing experience and experience conducting tournaments. The season doesn’t end until April and the horses are turned out until it all starts again in September.
With such a long season, the club relies almost entirely on the donations of others. Because they are not a varsity sport at the university they only get club funding through the student budget committee. This is in sharp contrast to most teams the club plays ” varsity teams that receive enough funding to buy things like equipment and full-time coaching. Members of CSU polo also pay fees that are among the highest of all the clubs offered at the university.
The money from student and member fees is not enough to buy all the necessary equipment, much less the maintenance and purchase of the horses. The horses are by far the most expensive aspect for the club. It costs $4.50 a day to keep the horses in a dry pen, $7.50 a day to keep them in a stall if they are injured and $1 to keep them on pasture in the summer.
CSU polo ponies mostly come from private donations; some are leased. The horses are usually thoroughbred/quarter horse crossbreds that have been used in outdoor polo leagues around the region, mostly the states of Texas, Colorado and Wyoming. These horses are often donated because they have lost too much speed for outdoor play, but can still do extremely well in indoor polo, which is a 30-by-80 yard arena instead of the 160-by-300 yard outdoor field. Currently the team has 32 horses and is often the destination for others to give their horses.
“We’ve got the reputation of keeping the horses the best because of the vet school,” said Cole.
Most equipment is donated also, and because of the funding, former players often volunteer their time to coach the team. When there is no one available to coach, the team members just take the task on themselves.
Despite the cost involved, it is a very popular club. The membership of the club is outstanding with 40 people currently enrolled and has earned the reputation of being one of the best collegiate teams in the nation. It draws top talent from all over the United States and from foreign countries as well. The men’s varsity has won the National title in 1990, 1991, and 1999. The women’s team won regionals in 2000 and took top honors at this year’s tournament.
The varsity men’s team currently boasts two players that have received honors. Nick Cifuni, of Littleton, Colo., was named to the USPA All West Team in 2000-2001. Teammate Justin Porter, of Grove City, Penn., was named to the USPA Interscholastic All American Team in 2000. The women’s varsity team is also long on talent. Erica Gandomcar, Littleton, Colo., was named to the USPA All West and All American Polo Teams. Tara Vorhes, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was named to the All West Team.
Most beginners start out on this hitting dummy. It is used to help players learn to maintain balance while leaning off the sides of the horse and to learn how to hit and handle the mallet properly. Photo by Becky Talley
In fact this year’s teams are so talented that they spent most of the year ranked in the top two teams for the Central Division, one of three divisions in collegiate polo. The women went on to win Regionals in March and will Advance on to Nationals on April 6 in Burleson, Texas. The men have a chance to get a wild card slot into Nationals this year.
CSU polo isn’t all about winning however; one main goal is to get more people involved in the sport. In fact it isn’t a prerequisite to have even played polo before joining the team. Many people join because they are in the equine science program at CSU and want to see what it’s about.
“Most of the guys that come here have never seen polo,” said Cole.
Those that are beginners are put on a new members’ team where they are started on a wooden horse and taught how to handle the equipment and hit the ball. From there they advance to a junior varsity team and then have a chance to move up to varsity if they have mastered the skills of the sport.
Many of those who go out for the team are mainly interested in trying something new.
“I learned everything about the sport here [CSU]. I wanted to find something different,” said Diane Proenneke, a junior varsity player and senior equine science major at CSU.
And something different she got. Polo is the most contact type of sport you can do on horseback. It is one of the most dangerous sports that can be played. Indoor polo, which is faster than outdoor polo and only has three players on the field instead of four, is what all collegiate teams play.
Each player has a mallet which they use to hit a ball into the other team’s goal. Each member on the team plays both offense and defense and there is no goalie.
However, each player does have a specific job. Player number one primarily plays offense, number two plays both offense and defense and is usually the top player of the team and player number three primarily plays defense. However, according to Cole, when the play starts, everyone is just out there to get the win.
“It is obviously a contact sport. It is very addictive and exciting,” said Lyndsay Hackman, alternate for the women’s varsity team and executive vice president of the club.
The game itself is broken into four chukkars, each lasting seven and one-half minutes. Horses are changed out between each chukkar and are rotated between both teams so each player has a fair chance to use every horse. At CSU games, junior varsity members are responsible to cool the horses down and make tack changes at each break.
The basic strategy of a polo player is to have good horsemanship to maintain balance of himself and control of the pony, to be able to anticipate the game and the ball, be able to hit the ball from both sides of the horse with control and have an understanding of the rules of the game.
Looking at the success of the CSU Polo Club, it looks like that they have a grasp on all the things that make a great team. They also display the teamwork that will carry them into Nationals and into success in the future. However, to ensure their success, the team needs help in the form of donations of animals, equipment and money. Currently they are in need of winter horse blankets, indoor polo balls, stirrup leathers, money, and horses. To help them out please call Carole Becker at (970) 491-6770 or mail any donations to:
Colorado State University,
Student Recreation Center
Fort Collins, CO 80523.
For more information on the CSU Polo Club go to http://lamar.ColoState.EDU/~clubspts/ and go to the Polo link.
You can also email Boe Gregson at email@example.com.
For more information on club sports at CSU please contact Bill Hill, Sports Coordinator at (970) 491-2116.