POLO: “Campbell’s Down But Not Out!”
The Margarita Invitational Tournament
Visiting Australia, I just missed being able to see Oz’s Makybe Diva, the greatest racehorse (actually, a mare) in the world. But my consolation was coming home and riding my own don’t-say-whoa Thoroughbred mare in the Margarita Invitational Polo Tournament.
In my first chukker I got to drill a 40-yard goal off Chloe as she broke away from the pack and raced down the field at top speed.
I once heard a fighter-pilot say that charging down the polo field on a breakaway was more exciting than anything he’d ever done in a jet plane. Since I had been only an Air Force navigator, his thought goes double for me.
In the tournament’s last chucker our team was down two points. This time I rode my Arabian, determined to stop an opponent who had gotten a pass from his team mate. As the two of us broke away, he kept eluding my defensive hooks and swats at his mallet as he leaned forward and dribbled the ball towards the goal. So I spurred Zarahas one stride ahead of him, to take one last desperate overhand whack at the ball itself before it crossed the goal line. I leaned far out to the left, a move most polo ponies would feel and accordingly shift to the left to keep me on board.
But good old Zarahas was the typical “thinking Arabian.” In two prior games he had let me get knocked off his back by a goal post when he swerved past it in the opposite direction I was leaning in an effort to smack the ball. So that was the moment he decided he’d leap to the RIGHT.
Result? I not only missed the ball but came crashing off his back in front of my charging opponent! My old rugby reflexes folded me into a tuck and roll, so I wasn’t hurt (just stiff next day.) The other guy’s horse managed to veer away from my body. Zarahas instantly halted, looked over at me, and said, “Sorry, Boss, I thought you’d prefer me to move AWAY from all the commotion!”
As a spectator, my wife Dru was standing only ten yards away but was looking at something else. She missed hubby’s tumble until I finished my roll by bouncing up, raising both arms like a gymnast, and grinning for the judges to score my fabulous unorthodox dismount.
Overall, although my team lost, it was a terrific tournament. Like landing a plane, any fall is a good fall if you can walk away from it. In fact it reminded me why, at 64-1/2, I continue playing the world’s fastest contact sport: to lessen the chances I’ll die of cancer or Alzheimer’s! Where else can an old jock find thrills like this?