The polo season is still a few months away, but those who travel in polo circles have a lot of big plans. First, there has been quite a bit of winter polo going on this year, despite weather that has been unusually cold. Karen Reese, who has been playing with several groups, says that she counts 47 players who are actively practicing this winter, on at least 11 different fields. Because several local high goalers have stayed home in Aiken before making the pilgrimage to Florida for the professional season in mid-February, the level of these games is sometimes quite high.
"The practices go all the way from baby, baby chukkers for green horses, to flying," she says.
Karen is preparing to entertain more year-round polo at her Hilltop Farm east of town. This winter, she broke ground on a new outdoor polo arena, where she plans to have practices and tournaments in the future. Although local players have proven that it is possible to play on Aiken's fields all winter long, there are certainly some days when the fields are wet and an arena would come in handy. Karen has a more immediate and practical need for an arena, however, since she is interested in providing a place for Aiken Polo Club's new interscholastic polo team to practice.
Interscholastic and intercollegiate polo is arena polo. The rules and the strategies of arena polo are different than they are for the grass game, so Aiken's team so far has been at a disadvantage. Although they have been playing at Clint Nangle's Overbrook Farm in Wagener, they have had very little chance to practice in an actual arena. When the arena at Hilltop Farm is completed, it will become the home base for the APC team. It will also be available for an intercollegiate team from USC Aiken, which has been in the works for several months and may soon become a reality.
The Aiken Polo Club interscholastic team, organized in 2010, currently has five members. The two youngest members are Miranda Gantt and Karen Reese's daughter Tess Pimsner, both of whom are still in grade school. The three older members, Austin Allen, Jeff Schuler and Tyler Morris, are high school students who have been practicing this fall and winter and are on their way to a regional qualifying tournament in Newport, R.I. from February 11 through 13. If they win there, they will qualify for the regionals at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. a few weeks later. The nationals will be in Charlottesville, Va., this spring.
Craig Fraser, who is the polo manager at Aiken Polo Club and the coach of the interscholastic team, explains that the kids have to travel so far because there are not currently enough interscholastic teams to make a Southeast region.
"You need three teams," he says. "We tried to make it work with our team, a team from Atlanta and a team from Charleston, but the Charleston team wasn't ready to compete at this level yet. So our team is competing in the Northeast region."
In order to be eligible for the interscholastics, players must be in at least the fifth grade, and they may not have reached their 19th birthday on September 15 of the year that they are playing. To be a part of the Aiken Polo Club team, players must also live within 100 miles of the club. Since two of the senior members of the current team will soon be too old for the program, Aiken Polo Club is looking for new prospective members. Craig says that kids who would like to play do not need to have prior polo experience and they do not need to have their own horses. Anyone who is interested should email Craig. (firstname.lastname@example.org).