November 11, 2010

The Truth About Cornell Polo

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How much do you really know about the Cornell men’s polo team? Can you tell me how competitive they are compared to the rest of the country? How do they take care of all their horses? How long have these men been playing polo before coming to Cornell? To tell you the truth, I did not know the answers to these questions before sitting down and talking with the team’s captain, junior Max Constant, and head coach David Eldredge ’81.

The men’s polo team plays arena polo, which is different from regular polo. Arena polo has fewer people on the field at a time, a smaller field and a different terrain. The objective of the game is still the same –– to score as many goals on the opposing team as possible. After that the rules become very technical depending on how the ball is hit and how it bounces off the wall. The men’s polo team consists of 10 men on the Varsity squad, with six of them fighting for playing positions. Usually four men travel –– three players, and one alternate.

In order to play, each athlete obviously needs a horse. How all those horses are taken care of and travel to each match, however, is not so obvious. There are two Adopt-a-Horse programs at Cornell to take care of the horses. One Adopt-a-Horse program is for the students. Each equestrian rider or polo player agrees, at the beginning of the year, to take care of a horse. The students are responsible for the overall upkeep of the horse and to give it “a little personal TLC,” as Eldredge would say. The other Adopt-a-Horse program is for friends and alumni who feel connected to the sport and the athletes. They financially support the horses. This helps Cornell feed, shelter and finance any additional medical expenses.

The horses do not travel to all the away matches, only the bigger tournaments like Nationals. When other polo teams travel to Cornell to play, or when the Cornell polo teams travel to an away match, they use the other team’s horses. This way, no one team receives the benefits of riding a better horse, and the teams switch horses after two chukkers (similar to quarters), or at halftime. At the bigger tournaments, during which teams bring their own horses, the teams switch horses after two chukkers as well. This ensures that the winner of the match has the higher-caliber athletes, not the higher-caliber horses.

How the players on the Cornell polo team first got involved with the sport varies depending on the person. Constant started playing polo after his father got involved in the sport. Before that, he rode equestrian. The men on the team had some previous riding experience before coming to Cornell, but not necessarily experience playing polo. As Eldredge explained, some of the men have zero experience actually playing polo as incoming freshmen, whereas others have up to eight years of practice playing the sport.

The season has been going extremely well for the team, which owns a record of 3-1. Cornell’s one loss to the University of Connecticut was by one point.

As Constant said, “It was kind of a fluke loss … we shouldn’t have lost that game.”

The team came back and beat UConn last weekend by 12 points. The team travels down to the University of Virginia this weekend to play its biggest rival. Looking to the end of the season in April, the team’s ultimate goal is to win the Northeast regional title, which would earn it a spot at Nationals. Earning a spot at Nationals means the Red would be one of the top 6-8 teams in the nation.

“I think that we have a very good chance of repeating as the Northeast regional champions, which we were last year … we are one of the consistently higher-level teams in the country every year,” Eldredge said.

My eyes were opened to the sport of polo this week. If you are ever interested in seeing one of Cornell’s championship-caliber teams and interested in learning about this sport, go watch a match.

“We are definitely a team that flies under the radar, but we are also a team that has a tremendous amount of success,” Constant said. “It’s an exciting game to watch, and it’s a different type of sport.”

Original Author: Karen Schillinger