Taking a Swing at Polo: My First Lesson at Palm City Polo Club

Jewel Connelly and her colleagues at Phelps Media Group mount up and tell us what it's like to play polo for the first time.

I remember the day I fell in love with polo, sitting field-side and marveling at the best polo players and ponies in the world. How did they move so expertly, pivot so swiftly and navigate the chaotic cluster of eight thundering horses? After six months of admiring their athleticism, myself and three of my colleagues at Phelps Media Group (PMG) finally got to take a swing at polo. With our fearless leader/polo aficionado Chip McKenney and Max the whippet in tow, we headed to Palm City Polo Club in Boynton Beach, Florida, for our first polo lesson.

Guided by expert polo instructor, Carlos Baez, we each took a turn learning the basics in the hitting cage. The hitting cage is a great way to learn the fundamentals of the swing with the security of a stationary horse. Baez taught us proper mallet positioning and how to maximize hitting efforts. Swinging the mallet can be a physical challenge over an extended period of play if you don't allow the mallet to carry the weight and rest the mallet on your shoulder when you can. The number one thing I took away from that part of the lesson, always use gloves. I learned the hard way.

After we all got a feel for the basics, Baez introduced us to our polo ponies and made sure each horse was appropriate for each one of us and our unique needs. Once mounted, this is where we had to combine eye coordination with horsemanship. We missed many shots before finally making contact with the ball. We were encouraged to move around the arena and practice the swing we were taught in the hitting cage. After we got our bearings, we played a practice chukker where we were introduced to game strategy to get a taste of a real game. We practiced hooking our opponent and intercepting the ball, all while riding and maintaining the momentum to propel the ball towards the goal. The building blocks all came together here and I realized the importance of each step in the process.

It's safe to say that none of us have a budding polo career at this point but we're chomping at the bit to return to Palm City Polo Club for our second lesson! Continue learning and hear what my colleagues had to say...

Annan Hepner:
I have been training and competing dressage since I was 6-years-old, and currently school Prix St. Georges. When I was given the opportunity to take a polo lesson, I was really excited, but I was worried I would never hit the ball since I'm horrendous at golf.

Once Carlos taught us the basics in the hitting cage, it was so much fun to hop on their seasoned and well-trained horses. "T-Pain" was a champ helping me feel comfortable while learning how to hit the ball at the trot and canter. Once I got the hang of the timing and swing, it was so much fun and I can't wait to go back!

Barre Dukes:
I grew up riding in the pony hunters from an early age. I have since taken some time off from riding, yet getting up on the polo pony felt like I was picking up right where I left off. My horse at Palm City Polo, "Coppertop", was so sweet and knew to follow the ball wherever it went, which was helpful because I had a lot more to learn than I thought.

Hitting the ball was harder than I anticipated because my excitement would cause me to swing too early but the coaches were so helpful and I was even able to score a few goals. It required more strength than I realized and I was definitely sore, but had such a fun experience learning a new way to ride.

Emma Miller:
I've been predominately a dressage rider for my entire life so I've only ever watched a polo match before. Being in the saddle and holding a mallet made me realize how wildly different polo is from other equestrian sports such as holding the reins in the left hand and "upside down."

Learning how to hold and swing the mallet in the hitting cage was incredibly helpful, then getting on the horses to take shots at some balls was very exciting. It was even more exhilarating when all the tips and tricks came together and we were able to swing and hit at the trot and the canter. Truly a fun experience for anyone, even if you have never been on a horse before!

To see more photos from our lesson, click here