From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Cheer for the Team…. Or join one.

Polo season is in high gear. Come watch some games, or learn to play yourself!

Photo credit: Middleburg Photo, Karen Monroe
Photo credit: Middleburg Photo, Karen Monroe

Polo season’s in full swing midsummer: ponies are fit, players are primed, tailgates are packed, and teams have fans cheering them on at most games. High summer means the height of polo opportunities in the Blue Ridge. More fields, arenas, instruction, schools and leagues have sprung up and the game has become a staple of hunt country sporting and social life for both players and fans. In addition to Great Meadow’s summer twilight arena series on Saturdays in The Plains, there are several other venues for the action packed sport with regular games on both grass fields and in arenas in Middleburg, Fauquier and Rappahannock.

The granddaddy of them all, Great Meadow Polo’s twilight series in The Plains, hosts games every Saturday night in the lighted arena beginning at 7 p.m. Twilight polo has been a staple of the hunt country social life since it began 20 years ago. With the recent growth in the sport, it’s hard to remember that in 1994, Great Meadow polo club had only 3 playing members. Arena polo was a novelty; the few polo players in the area played mostly on the grass at private farm fields. But the Arundel family had the vision that if the game could be brought to the people, the people would come watch–and learn to play, and join the club, either as playing or social members. And so the twilight series at Great Meadow, home of the Virginia Gold Cup, was born and has matured into one of the most popular equestrian events in the area. Polo’s popularity attracted other clubs and games to the area, and now both grass and arena games are played regularly at various locations including Middleburg, Upperville and (little) Washington in Rappahannock County, as well as at several private farms in the area.

An apt description of field polo once given in the British humor magazine Punch described polo as “a game played on the far side of the field.” A spectator needs binoculars–and a good understanding of the rules–to follow the action. A grass polo field is the largest playing field of any team sport at 300 by 160 yards, the size of three football fields and requiring a minimum of 10 acres of open, level land. Each team has four players and there are usually two or three mounted umpires, so there are 10 or more horses and riders in action.

Arena polo is easier to follow since spectators are at eye level with the action and arena teams have only three players each, so the game is easier to follow. As opposed to the expanse of the grass fields, arena dimensions are typically 100 by 50 yards, so the action is never very far away from the viewing and tailgate area. The popularity of the Great Meadow arena program and polo’s subsequent growth in the area was a natural in the hunt country with its ready audience for anything horse, the engine that drives the local economy as well as many of the tourist dollars spent in the area.

You, too can learn to play polo

From April through November, several teaching facilities run student programs as well as summer camps for kids and adults to learn to play the game. One enterprising polo school at Chetworth Farm in The Plains has even managed to get polo accredited to satisfy physical education requirements at several local private schools. Instructors Daniel and Ilene Tognini run a family-oriented program where they teach the kids and welcome their parents as well. In the summer months, the kids play early, when it’s still cool, and they also offer week-long polo camps in July and August. For more information, visit

You don’t even need to know how to ride to learn to play polo, although it helps. For non-riders, most area schools offer basic riding instruction on well schooled and patient mounts. Competent professional instructors teach the riding basics as well as game mechanics. Most beginners start out with arena polo, a much gentler introduction to the game. It’s easier on the wallet, too: while competitive field polo requires a minimum of four horses, arena players can and do play with only one or two horses, and a considerably smaller outlay for related items like tack and trailers.

Destination Polo offers instruction April through October, and includes several private and group lesson packages, including instruction, use of trained horses, tack, mallets and all regulation gear other than boots and britches.

Polo school head Doug Barnes makes the polo pony the cornerstone of his successful program.  He teaches anyone from total beginners with no riding experience, to intermediate and advanced players who wish to improve their skill level, for both the weekend package as well as the regular lesson series. For more information, visit Destination Polo on the web at or call Barnes at 540-229-POLO. Great Meadow’s polo school is located at Willow Run Farm, next to Morningside Farm, just south of Great Meadow off Rt. 17. The club offers instruction, training and sales.. Gone are the days of the free introductory lessons, however. An early manager of the club said they used to give free lessons “to get people out and let them try polo for free.” It proved to be good advertising in horse country for the area’s first polo school, as many of the original students became regular club members. To learn more about Great Meadow’s lesson program, the Saturday twilight series or any of its grass games, check out

Virginia International Polo Club known as VIPolo, hosts both grass and arena games, and has a lesson program as well run by professional player and Chilean native German Noguera. Known for his outstanding well trained horses, Noguera says he can get anyone, even someone who’s never ridden, playing in a game after just one lesson. His polo ponies can do everything for their riders except keep score. Located at the historic Llangollan estate just outside Upperville on 1,000 acres on the morning side of the Blue Ridge, it has a special ambience. For information on games or lessons, visit online.

While the skill level of polo played has steadily increased in the area, every player has to start somewhere and the various polo instruction facilities allow anyone to learn to play. With the basics down, they can advance to the pace that suits them, from scrimmages to low goal fun matches or exciting fast-paced tournaments with some of the best players in the country to high goal national and even international games.

Written by: Julie Reardon

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