Monday, August 3, 2009

Polo By The Bay

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day, which almost made up for missing the dressage musical freestyles the day before. You see, Mother Nature had thrown me a curve ball by remaining overcast and rainy until shortly before the freestyles were going to begin. By that time, it was too late to clean up and drive the half hour to the show grounds.

But the day of the polo match was beautiful, and I headed to the horse park in the morning with plans to catch the last few dressage halter classes and then wait for the polo match. As luck would have it, the last class was ending as I headed down the wooded horse path to the lower rings. Three fiesty Friesians came up the path at me, so I respectfully stepped off the trail and grabbed a few shots as they approached and went by.

That meant that I now had over two hours time to kill before the polo match was scheduled to start. I looked around for the polo ponies and spotted the trailers arriving and unloading on the other side of the upper rings in an area that was accessible. So, off I went to take photos of the ponies lined up beside the trailers.

Then off I went to the Grand Prix ring where I found some shade beside a VIP tent and sat down to wait. While there, I surveyed the best spot from which to photograph the action, and when the crowd began to arrive and fill up the bleachers, I moved down to “my” spot for the rest of the wait. I had the good fortune to sit next to a very friendly young couple from the Detroit area, and we struck up a conversation. That helped to pass the time until events in the arena began.

First up was a dressage demonstration by local rider Betsy Van Dyke riding Cantana. She explained what dressage is and demonstrated the various movements and then did a bit of musical freestyle - which almost made up for yesterday. Above you see Cantana doing two tempe changes, and below he is doing an extended trot.

Once the dressage was over, the polo match began. While the ponies were warming up, the basics of polo were explained to us, and we learned that we would be watching arena polo which is played on a much smaller dirt field and consists of four chukkers (or periods of play) versus the seven chukkers that are played on a much larger grass field. After each chukker, the riders switch to fresh ponies because the action is non stop, and ponies get worn out fast.

In this contest, Team Elmers (a local asphalt and excavation company) was pitted against Turtle Creek Casino and Resort. The ponies and riders were provided by Meadowview Polo Club of Grand Rapids, but most of the riders were either members of the Michigan State University or University of Michigan polo teams. It may not have been high goal polo, but it was definitely fun to watch and challenging to photograph.

Below are some of the many shots I took during the match.

The action was over much too fast with Turtle Creek Casino winning by two goals, and we spectators reluctantly packed up our stuff and began the long trek through the ring area to our vehicles. The horse park seemed desolate compared to the hustle and bustle of earlier weeks. The viewing tents had been taken down, the potted flowers removed, the rings groomed and even the fencing around the rings was gone. Staff was in the process of taking down all the tents in the barn area as well. It was a little sad to realize that eleven months will go by before Horse Shows By The Bay returns. I wonder what improvements will be made in the intervening months? What new shows or horse events will be added to the yearly schedule at this horse park?

I can’t wait to find out!

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