Beach polo events grab South Beach’s attention

By ALISON AGUDO
School of Communication
University of Miami

It is no small feat to attract the undivided attention of a bustling beach town like South Beach where international festivals and events lure socialites and tourists from around the world just about any time of the year.

In order to stand out, create a buzz and be memorable, organizations such as The Polo Life, LLC produce events like the AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup that are specifically designed to attract people from all walks of life who are drawn to temporarily experiencing the life of a privileged few.

The seventh annual AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup was held April 21- 24 on the sands of South Beach between 20th and 22nd Streets directly behind the Setai Hotel.

As the largest national polo tournament to take place on a beach, the four-day event began with a full day of women’s matches followed by a three-day men’s tournament, cocktail parties, fashion shows, live music, a who’s-who of Miami’s social elite and intermittent sprinklings of intrigued on-lookers.

Internationally recognized players including Nacho Figueras, Luis Escobar and the number one U.S. player, Nic Roldan, all played during the tournament.

“The South Florida weather and a day like today make this polo event second to none. It’s truly one of the highlights certainly of my year. We have players that have travelled from around the world literally,” The Polo Life, LLC founder Bruce Orosz told the crowds at this year’s opening events.

Professional polo players cross the sanded area on horseback at the AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup (Photos by Alison Agudo).

A long-time Miami Beach resident, Orosz, who rides horses as a hobby, came up the idea of bringing beach polo to his hometown while watching a match played on the snow in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Intending to preserve the renowned elegance and integrity of the game, Orosz founded The Polo Life, LLC to bring beach polo to the sands of South Beach in the spring of 2004, in hopes of exposing a wider audience to the sport.

Polo players wait on the sidelines in anticipation of the tournament at the AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup.

First played in Dubai one year before it made its way to South Florida, beach polo has rapidly spread internationally with countless polo clubs, associations, academies, foundations and tournaments played in Belgium, England, Wales, Chile, Ireland, Uruguay, Thailand, Germany, Australia, Spain, Italy, Ireland, India and other countries. The International Beach Polo Association serves as the global organization and active agent for the game, advising and encouraging the advancement of the equestrian sport.

Miami Beach resident Sarah Haine, 42, attended the event for the second year in a row. The weather, the crowds, the atmosphere and the sport itself were all components that drew her back.

“I enjoyed it last year so much I wanted to come back. Watching from the sidelines with the ocean behind you and beautiful horses in front of you makes it really unique,” she said.

Referred to as the “King’s Sport” because of its association with high society and British royalty, polo was first used as a training exercise for cavalry units of the king’s guards of other elite troops in Persia. The game of polo as a sport emerged as it was passed from Persia through other parts of Asia and eventually materialized into the modern version that has been formalized and popularized by the British. The name “polo” is thought to come from the Tibetan word “pulu” which means ball.

Traditionally played on a full-size field measuring 300 yards long and 200 yards wide, the object of the game is to score goals against an opposing team by driving a small white plastic, wooden or leather ball into the other team’s goal by using a long-handled narrow mallet.

Conventionally, each team consists of four riders, an offensive player, the offensive midfielder, the pivot (often the highest rated player) and the defensive back.

A polo pony waits on the sidelines at the AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup.

Beach polo, however, is played in an area about one-tenth the size of the field game with sand slightly compacted to facilitate the specific demands of the ponies and players. The common beach polo playing area is 100 yards long and 50 yards wide. The smaller size of the field makes being a spectator at the event more intimate. A VIP tent lines one side of the field and general admission spectators stand on the sand on the opposite side.

“You’re able to get so close up to the match,” said Jake Sander, 28, who was visiting from out of town and attended a few of the weekend matches. “It helps to get you more into it, even if you don’t know all the rules or techniques, you still feel a part of it.”

For beach polo, due to the smaller field, three players per team are brought to the field, which is typical of what is known as arena polo, the more common type of polo in the United States.

The horses, traditionally called ponies, are well trained and able to stop and turn extremely quickly. They are considered faster than racehorses over shorter distances and are often perceived to be the most essential part of the game of polo. The term “polo pony” is a traditional phrase that developed in the early days of polo history because the height of the mounts used for polo was restricted to pony size.

Polo players and their horses wait to enter the sanded area to begin the match at the AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup.

However, today, the average size of a polo pony is about 15 to 15.3 hands tall and they can be of any size or breed so it is not uncommon to see horses of many different color patterns competing in the same game. In the United States, the most common breeds are the thoroughbred and the quarter horse.

Protective gear for the polo ponies includes bandages or boots on the legs under a protective boot, skid boots on the back of the legs and coronet boots to protect the front feet. The tail is typically tied or taped up to prevent it from getting in the way and the main and forelock are often shaved.

According to the United States Polo Association, there are 29 polo clubs in California, 23 in New York, 22 in Florida, 11 in Colorado, 10 in Illinois, five in Michigan, two in Iowa and many others spread throughout the nation.

Having a strong online presence with websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts are efficient ways to make sure that the clubs maintain a global online arena for the polo community to stay connected. Many clubs have their own websites and clubs are increasingly following in the Twitter and Facebook trend.

The International Polo Club, based in nearby Wellington, Fla., has more than 1,000 Twitter followers, the U.S. Polo Association has nearly 430 Twitter followers, the Dubai Gold Cup has nearly 400 Twitter followers and the Ibiza Beach Polo Twitter has nearly 300 followers. Orosz’s company, The Polo Life, current has 64 followers.

Polo ponies even have their own organization called the American Polo Horse Association which was founded in 2006 and includes a polo pony registry, website and membership opportunities. The American Polo Pony Twitter account has nearly 400 followers.

The growing recognition that beach polo has acquired over the past seven years has attracted the attention of individuals such as polo aficionado John Walsh, the well-known presenter of “America’s Most Wanted television show and spokesman for the National Foundation for Missing and Exploited Children, one of the participating charities at this year’s AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup.

A player himself, Walsh joined AMG’s team and additionally awarded trophies at the end of each tournament in the traditional post-event awards ceremonies. His daughter, Meghan, a designer for Blank Silk, acted as one of the fashion show presenters.

In addition to Walsh’s foundation, the tournament’s official charity partner for a second year in a row was the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami who received a percentage of all ticket sales.

 

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