Courtesy photo

What has 36 legs, 12 arms, six mallets and a ball?

A game of polo.

In a nutshell, polo is “hockey on horseback,” said Megan Judge, coach of the women’s Polo Club team and an ag business graduate student.

Three players from each team play at a time in a dirt or sand arena.

The Cal Poly women’s Polo Club team practices and plays at the Central Coast Polo Club, which is located off Los Osos Valley Road.

There are currently about 20 beginner players and 10 varsity players. There is a men’s team, but there’s about a 5-1 female players to male players ratio.

Although the team went to nationals last year, there’s a common misconception that the women come in already knowing how to play.

“I get about 50 percent green non-riders,” said Judge, who has been playing for 15 years. “Ninety-five percent of the people have never even played polo before.”

Twin sophomores Karen and Kelly Shaw have been riding their entire lives but had no experience with polo when they signed up for the team, they said.

“In the past year they’ve gone from having no idea about polo to getting to play in Santa Barbara on the grass fields,” Judge said.

Even if the women are experienced riders, they often have to be taught how to ride for polo instead of their usual western or English style, Judge said.

Animal science junior Kate Cappe, the team’s captain, just returned from a 10-day visit to Argentina. Intercollegiate coaches all over the country nominate players to go and Cappe was one of the four women chosen this year.

“Women don’t play (polo) in Argentina,” she said. “It’s a very macho-man sport.”

However, Cappe was invited back again for a December tournament.

“The president of the Argentine Polo Association (basically said) ‘I will give you my horses to play if you guys want to come back,’” she said.

Although the quarterly dues of $250 for beginners and $450 for varsity players do drive some people away, Judge said it’s very affordable in comparison to owning a horse. Also, the players get to ride all of the Central Coast Polo Club’s 16 horses. The club provides helmets, boots, knee-pads and mallets, although most prefer to bring their own helmets and boots. The size of the mallet depends on the size of the horse and the height of the players.

“Collegiate (allows) a lot of people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to play get to try it out,” Cappe said.

Cappe is an exception in that she owns three horses that she boards at the Central Coast Polo Club. One plays polo already, one is learning and one is . a miniature?

“It’s our mascot,” Cappe said. “Her name is Poly Dolly.”

The game consists of four chukkars, which are seven-and-a-half minutes each, and players can be substituted throughout the game. However, players will usually stay in if they have a good flow going, Judge said.

Thoroughbred horses are used for the sport and the rules stress taking care of them.

“The rules are to first, protect the horses, and second, protect the players,” Judge said.

Cal Poly’s club team is in the western region and competes against Stanford, USC, Santa Barbara City College, Westmont, UC Davis and Cuesta College. Last year they won regionals and placed fifth at Nationals.

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