THE BRITISH COMING…THE BRITISH ARE COMING
April 19th in Boston has always been the day to celebrate Paul Revere’s ride on the 18th to Lexington and Concord to alert the waiting Minutemen, (farmers), that the British were coming. Despite what Sarah Palin believes, the signal was by lantern, which was to be hung in the tower of the North Church, one lantern if by land, two if by sea. It was never“bells” designed to warn the British. I know this is fact because I not only went to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Grammar School in Cambridge, but the great poet himself immortalized the horse ride in verse, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”
About now, you are probably asking, “Isn’t this supposed to be a sports column?”
Well, it is and there are many parallels to be drawn!
In New England, April 19th known as Patriots Day, traditionally celebrates the ride. As a kid growing up, I knew that the Boston marathon would be run on that day with at least 200 of the best marathoners in the world competing, and secondly, it would be followed traditionally by the opening of the Red Sox season.
Times have changed: there are now thousands competing in the marathon, plus the Red Sox opening date varies. How I miss those gentler times when my dad would take my younger brother Bobby and I heartbreak hill to watch the race and than hop a trolley to Fenway Park to cheer for the Red Sox.
Now, we are about to be invaded by the British again and it involves horses once more. Prince William and his bride Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, will be paying their formal visit to the former colonies. Scheduled in their visit will be a stop in Southern California. While in Southern California, Prince William will compete in a charity Polo Match at the Santa Barbara Polo Grounds.
All proceeds from the event will go to the Princes William and Harry Foundation. The Foundation’s prime purpose is to raise funds to help disadvantaged people, bring about environment awareness, help in conservation, also to help heal and mend the broken lives of returning veterans. So if you have a spare $4000 around you can sit in the VIP section and sip tea with the royals, or for a mere $400 you can get in under General Admission. Sounds like a good deal to me.
But what do we Americans really know about Polo? When I lived in Cleveland and was working for a TV station near our home in Gates Mills, there was a Polo Field. On many a Sunday, my late wife and I would pack a lunch take Steven and Lisa go out to the field and enjoy an afternoon picnic sitting on the roof of our car.
Polo is both an interesting and exciting sport once you understand it a little bit. For this article, I did some extensive research. Briefly, here are the salient points of what I learned.
The game was first played in Persia (Iran) during the latter part of the 5th century BC.
It began as a training game for cavalry units, usually the king’ guards, or other elite units. Warlike tribesmen took up the sport and they played with as many as 100 on a side. It was miniature battle… In time, it became the national sport of Iran and spread throughout the world. Today, the game is played with 4 players on a side.
It is no more a miniature battle! The name Polo is derived from the Tibetan word “Pulu” meaning “Ball. The modern game of Polo, though formalized by the British, is derived from Manipur (now a state of India) who played “Pulu”. Polo is the Anglicized version.
The game of Polo is now found in over 70 countries. When the United States hosted the first Polo matches in New York City during the early part of the 20th century, the game was changed dramatically. It became a high-speed sport, differing from the game in the United Kingdom, where it involved short passes to move the ball towards the opponent’s goal. The U.S. team used the fast break, sending long passes downfield to riders who broke away from the pack as full gallop.
Prince William, like his father Prince Charles before him is an outstanding Polo Player and both royals have used the Polo Grounds as a place to make important deals for charity… like many of us use the Golf Course.
Today, all the rules are designed to protect both the horses and the rider. The animals out of tradition are called Polo Ponies from its Manipur roots. Today, the mounts are full grown horses. The Manipur Pony stood around 52 inches, whereas now the Ponies average approximately 60 inches,( 5 feet).
Each player must have at least 3 ponies. Some have as many as 6. The reason for so many horses is that after each7 minute period called a chucker, the mounts need a breather. Today’s pony weighs around 1000 pounds and is selected carefully for agility, stamina, quick bursts of speed and maneuverability. They are trained to be handled with the left hand on the reins. The right is for holding the mallet. Oh by the way, the mallet can only be used in the right hand. The mallet has a rubber-wrapped grip and a webbed thong called a sling for wrapping around the thumb. Heads are slightly over 9 inches in length while the mallet handle varies in length and is often customized to the height of the rider
There are four players on each team, the field is 300 yards long, 160 yards wide with a goal at each end of the field marked by two posts placed 8 yards apart. The teams change field sides after each goal and after each Chukka. This is to minimize wind and other weather advantages.
Okay! That’s it! Are you set to watch the Prince either live, or on TV? TV is less expensive.