By Professor A.W. Campbell
It’s been over a decade since my horse and I did what we did today.
Three years ago, out of frustration, I quit polo. I could no longer hit the ball straight. That resulted from three mallet-arm issues. First, my right shoulder was anchored to a healed-but-overlapped broken collar bone. Second, only tendons connected that arm to my shoulder-blade; the nerves had been severed by a near-fatal fall. Third, I’d ripped two right-arm tendons out of my skeleton.
Then, a super surgeon (thanks, Daniel Keefe) reattached my bicep tendon with a stainless steel screw, and the other tendon to the top of my shoulder with three dissolving screws. So, four months ago, I decided to give another shot to what I now call “half-arm polo.” I’d be one of the fortunate one-percent of seventy-five-year-olds who still played the world’s fastest contact sport, and second-most lethal.
This morning, pre-game, I clucked my unmounted horses through large circles in a turnout arena, to check for attitudes and injuries. AprilLuv, my T-bred, seemed decidedly sluggish. Still, I tacked her up with green leg-wraps, with matching green tape cinching her chignoned tail. Bowl-in was slated for 9:45, although there was a wispy, sheen of dew on the grass.
Waiting for clearance onto the field, I paused for a minute on April beside a goal post. My hot-blooded steed locked her hips and started dozing! As soon I got the signal to enter, I said, “Okay, let’s go babe,” raising her reins and touching her flanks with my spurs. Instantly, she sprang to life and dashed down the field, surging faster each time I swung at a practice ball.
Even if I couldn’t hit the ball well, her speed and strength would help our team on defense. We’d need it, as our rivals had better players and included one ex-pro. I joked with teammates how it’s often shrewd to feel like under-dogs.
Two minutes into the chukker, a teammate walloped the ball down field. April pounced on the right-of-way line, I rose in her stirrups, and smacked the ball towards our goal. It actually went where I’d aimed! When we reached it again, another whack kept it speeding toward goal. I glanced over my shoulder; no one could catch us before I could take the last hit from thirty-yards out. That was still enough time to ask myself: “Will you miss the goal shot, as you so often do? Will your straight-wheeling wind-up and whippy release overcome ‘half-arm’ polo”? The ball sailed straight through the posts!
As both teams jostled for the umpire’s next throw-in, April and I found ourselves in the number-one position, instead of our usual number-two. Just as a white blur left the umpire’s hand, I whipped my mallet towards it. It caught the ball in mid-air, sending it winging towards our goal! That also put April a jump ahead of everyone else. All we needed to do was hit the ball straight two more times. We did, for another score!
The pro on other team whacked a loose ball from forty yards out, scoring one for his side. Then my team drove the ball to the sideboards to the right of our rivals’ goal. Again, April grabbed the right-of-way as others crowded around. My only hope was to dribble it toward the goal mouth, a challenge for old half-arm guy. An opposing player bumped and mock-cursed us, trying to make me miss-hit or shove my steed out of bounds. April, leaned into him hard. As she held him at bay, somehow I managed a half-dozen dribbles, edging the ball towards our goal. From an angle that left just a foot-or-so space between posts, I was able to tap the ball through.
Three scores in one chukker at seventy-five! In my mind, I heard my late wife quip:
“Remember, what I told you, Art? Compared to chasing women, polo’s safer, cheaper, and you’ve got a lot better chance to score.”
When the whistle blew at chukker’s end, I was riding on air, not just April.