Hanging with the polo set

You don’t have to be from Harvard to check out some chukkers at Myopia Hunt Club

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / August 19, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

HAMILTON - Although I am no stranger to self-aggrandizing claims - for years I boasted of being the country’s second-best squash journalist - I have never claimed to be a Harvard graduate. Yet for some reason I receive solicitations from the Harvard Alumni Association, which must hope that I will tithe a portion of my grandiose salary to the World’s Greatest University.

Most recently, the HAA invited me to a Harvard event at the posh Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton: the finals of the Forbes Cup polo tournament. Myopia boasts our nation’s oldest polo field, immortalized in a famous scene from “The Thomas Crown Affair.’’ The Steve McQueen version, not the one with Pierce Brosnan.

So what did a $30 contribution and a spurious Harvard connection get me? I got free Gatorade, and a comfy parking spot on the non-horse trailer side of the polo field. It also allowed me to press the flesh with North Shore Republicans, who had arranged a private party right next to the WGU tent. That’s right; I shook the hand of Bill Hudak, who lost to John Tierney in last year’s congressional election up here. But I digress.

Thanks to the Harvard connection, we Happy Few received a pre-match briefing from J.P. Stilz, last year’s captain of the Harvard polo team. You didn’t know Harvard had a polo team? They do, largely thanks to actor Tommy Lee Jones, who has contributed 11 horses to the Harvard effort. He also invites the horsemen and women down to his massive West Texas spread for preseason training.

Harvard polo is good, but not that good, coach Crocker Snow Jr. explained to me. “We can’t keep up with the University of Virginia and Cornell - the big universities that have veterinarian schools,’’ he said. So either Tufts, with its prestigious Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, should field a polo team, or Tommy Lee should endow a vet school at WGU, double quick.

Stilz’s briefing was invaluable. For instance, I learned:

■ The periods really are called chukkers. Each lasts about seven minutes, and there are six of them in a match. The players change horses after each chukker. During the match, which Stilz announced from a rickety wooden tower overlooking the field, he actually said: “We’ll have a brief pony change and be right back!’’

■ All polo players have to be right-handed, or at least grasp the mallet with their right hand only. This to avoid head-to-head confrontations between the horses.

■ That “polo ponies,’’ per se, don’t exist. The players ride horses that have been trained to play polo. Stilz, for instance, was riding a polo-playing thoroughbred donated by Jones during his pre-match talk.

■ That many players are indeed dead-handsome Argentines, who wear tight jodhpurs, and keep company with attractive blondes. Stilz didn’t tell me this. I saw it with my own eyes when I crossed the field to have a gander at two of the Argentine pros playing for the Newport, R.I.-based team Giddy Up.

The match? Fascinating - fast, furious, with no small hint of danger. A woman in the Harvard tent casually mentioned that she knew someone who died during a match in Rio de Janeiro. Yikes. And the match was fun, too. From his perch above the field, Stilz invited the 200-odd spectators to engage in “divot-stomping’’ at halftime. We did! Those thundering hooves tear up Myopia’s beautiful grass, so we made a small effort to repair it.

I watched the second half standing next to Snow, a former Globe editor and foreign correspondent who also happens to be the ultimate Soccer Dad. Three of his sons have played professional polo, including Nick, who was on the field, starring for Topsfield-based Chanticleer, which had trouble keeping its wily Argentine opponents at bay.

Half the time Crocker was explaining Giddy Up’s strategy to me, which mainly consisted of efforts to keep his son from scoring. The rest of the time, Crocker acted like any manic, sideline father, hoping to shout his son and his teammates into scoring goals, e.g. “Come on, Brandon, pass that across!’’ or “Saddle, Nick, saddle!’’ Which I think means “Ride hard!’’

The Giddys won, 9-7, and after the game Crocker offered to introduce me to his son, and more important, to his horses. “I wish someone would write about what great athletes these horses are,’’ he said, escorting me around the elongated trailers.

I’d be happy to, and I must admit that it’s hard not to love a sport that gives an MVP award to the Most Valuable Pony, won this time by Nick Snow’s spirited, fifth-chukker mount, Honey.

Don’t take my word for it. Go see polo for yourself. There’s a match this Sunday at Myopia. All you need is a $10 admission fee. Harvard pedigree not required.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is