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VALLEY GALLERY

Horse Play

Valley polo club members tend to be white-collar professionals, out for fun and a little frustration-busting.

October 13, 1998|KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAKE VIEW TERRACE — Horses charge forward. Riders clutch reins in one hand and a mallet in the other.

One team endeavors to advance a 4-inch ball toward a goal. The other team struggles to take possession. Horse hooves thunder. Mallets are swung high. Clouds of dirt scatter upward.

For a few hours on weeknights and weekend mornings, the mostly white-collar professionals in the 40-member California Polo Club get out from behind their desks and into saddles for aggressive games of arena polo at Osborne Riding Stables, the only arena polo facility in the Valley.

"A lot of people come here to get their frustrations out," says Ernie Darquea, club manager and instructor. "The horses are running, there is contact, there is excitement . . . it's very freeing in that way."

Although polo has a reputation as an elitist sport, Darquea says California Polo Club members are ordinary people who spend about $300 a month to lease a horse and pay another $40 per game.

"The people who play here have desk jobs and they are stressed out," he says. "They enjoy being outside, with friends and animals, and just relaxing."

Once polo players master the sport's basic skills, Darquea says, they soon hunger to improve their game.

"Not only is there the technical part of riding a horse, but you also want to a have the finesse of a fluid swing and a sense of the game," he says. "Once in a blue moon you get that perfect shot . . . and that's what keeps players coming back."

Unlike other team sports, polo sponsors often field teams with both professional and amateur players, Darquea says.

"For [an amateur] who likes the thrill of playing with the best players in the world, they can," he says. "But in baseball, for instance, it's the owners who say who can play."

California Polo Club members most often play among themselves, he says, but occasionally they take on other clubs during tournaments or charity events.

The stables, at 11035 Osborne St., are open to the public, Darquea says, and spectators are welcome to watch matches for free.

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