WESTPORT - The dreams of four equestrian enthusiasts has brought yet another summer attraction to the North Country.
The Adirondack Polo Club's second summer season is well underway at their grounds in Westport, which were established just last year by professional horse trainer Lonnie Cross.
"I've been playing for about seven or eight years, and always wanted to build my very own field," said Cross. "It's just a dream come true."
Cross spearheaded the club's acquisition of property on Stevenson road, adjacent to the Westport Country Club, and together with friends Justin Kenney of Middlebury, Vt. and Gordon Costin and Christopher Lukin of Westport, transformed the fallow pasture into an arena for one of the world's oldest sports.
"We came up in the winter on golf carts with six inches of snow and took a look at it," recalled Costin. "We said, 'It's do-able.'"
"We really didn't know what we had," he added, noting how the gentle slope of the land provides good drainage.
The group chose Westport partly for its nearby attractions and amenities, but also because of its location between neighboring polo clubs in Middlebury and Saratoga.
Drawing competition from these and other clubs in the Northeast, the Adirondack Polo Club hosts weekend matches throughout the summer months, and encourages others to learn the game they have come to love.
"In the long run, my goal is to keep the sport alive in a small town like Westport," said Cross, noting how the matches add to other activities and attractions in town, such as the marina and country club.
Polo, a game that has been traced back nearly 2,500 years in history, is sometimes described as "hockey on horseback," where eight riders on two opposing teams bump and jostle with each other as they race at top speeds and strike a small white ball, attempting to score on the other team's goal.
"The misconceptions people have, and a lot of it is from 'Pretty Woman,' is that everybody is dressing classy and stomping divots," Cross said, "but there is a lot more to it than that."
Instead, explained Kenney, the game is about caring for the horses, who themselves must be kept in top shape to sprint back and forth across the green. Also, with only about 4,000 registered polo players nationwide, competitors share in a close comaraderie that brings together people from many different walks of life.
"It takes a commitment," said Sue Doyle of Keene, a member of the Sugarbush Polo Club of Middlebury, Vt., the visiting team in Westport Aug. 1. "You have to love it and you have to love the effort of it."
It's also known to be somewhat of a dangerous sport. About one player dies each year from polo-related injuries and others can be seriously injured, Costin said, noting eye injuries caused by a flying polo ball are the most common.
"The ball can travel about 80 miles an hour, and it's about the size of a baseball," said Costin, "and they're made of hard plastic."
Still, the players are in it for the love of the game, putting their own time and money into maintaining the field and organizing the matches in Westport. Admission for spectators is free, and tailgating is encouraged.
Several matches have served as fundraisers for local causes. A July 1 polo match raised $800 for Molly Rascoe, a Westport student undergoing kidney treatment. Matches later in the season will try to raise funds for High Peaks Hospice and the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington, Vt.
Also, the Adirondack Polo Club opens up their field on Sundays, weather permitting, for practice sessions. Both members and non-members can come with their horses and work to improve their skills with the game. The club welcomes those new to polo, and is supported by the Polo Training Foundation as a group that encourages the growth of polo.
The Adirondack Polo Club is located on Polo Club Way, just west of the Westport Country Club on Stevenson Road. For more information on upcoming matches or how to get started playing polo, visit www.adirondackpolo.com or call 572-9391.