Ask which would learn polo quicker--a horse or a person--and Kathy Batchelor will tell you it's no contest.
"Horses are much easier to train because they don't ask why," Batchelor said. "A person gets determined and always wants the ball, whether it's safe or not. We have to dampen people's enthusiasm sometimes."
Batchelor runs the Tri-Valley Polo Club in Chatsworth, one of several Valley-based polo centers that offer lessons for beginners and stage matches for more experienced players. Beginning students can take a five-week session of lessons for $100 and learn the basics of this fast-growing sport.
"Since arena polo has come together, the sport has grown vastly," Batchelor said. "Last year we took over 200 students."
Batchelor spends much of her time trying to change what she says are misconceptions about polo. It's not just a sport for the wealthy, she says. It is, however, physically demanding and requires sports sense and riding skills.
"It's a difficult thing to follow a little 4-inch ball around," Batchelor said. "You have to be totally in control. If you are either in very good condition or a very good rider it makes it a lot easier to learn."
Batchelor teaches polo to a lot of businessmen, such as stockbrokers and accountants, who want a physical and outdoor sport.
"Horses are good therapy for people with a lot of stress in their jobs. They don't tell you that you screwed up at work," she said.
Women, however, make up most of Batchelor's classes and she said they also make the best students.
"Women use what a horse has to offer and don't try to muscle it," she said. "Men have a lot of strength and can get away with a lot. It's very hard to tell men that they don't need a lot of muscle. Women don't have the strength to make up for mistakes so they are fanatics about learning to be exact and getting it right. They like the animal aspect of polo and being outside."
Batchelor has only one basic rule for beginning students--if they can't mount their horse without assistance they can't take lessons. In an introductory session, she teaches students the rules of polo, how to swing the mallet and horsemanship. It gives a beginner enough time to decide whether to pursue the sport, she said.
"We will give them a good idea of whether they have the right physical and mental conditioning for the game," she said.
Lessons are also available at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank.