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Chris Erskine | Lesson 1: Polo playboys don't bag road apples

June 22, 2013|Chris Erskine
  • Chris Erksine, left, upon Leon, gets a polo lesson from a patient Alvaro Tadeo at the Temecula Valley Polo Club.
Chris Erksine, left, upon Leon, gets a polo lesson from a patient Alvaro… (Crispin Courtenay )

I have a crush on my polo pony. His name is Leon.

Many polo ponies come from other countries. Leon is American. The last time I drove a domestic was a Chevy rental. Liked it well enough to try again.

So Leon and I are a couple now. At least for an afternoon, while I learn to play polo out in Temecula. Last week, hang gliding. This week, polo. Please don't mock me, though I certainly would if I were you. It's as if I've suddenly awakened as a thrill-seeking playboy, the algorithms of my next fortune dancing in my pretty little head.

Love that word: playboy. We don't have so many anymore. Quick, name a playboy. See? I think they vanished when stewardesses became flight attendants. Or when text messages replaced poems.

Now there are no more playboys. Essentially, Paris Hilton killed them off, stealing the airhead playboy lifestyle as a swaggery form of New Age feminism.

I say: "Save the playboys!" The same way you would a whale.

Here's why: When I tell a colleague that I am taking polo lessons, she gasps: "Gawd, polo players are sooooooo good looking ... foreign and swarthy." Then she passes out from the very thought of them.

Which might disqualify me at the outset. No one ever faints over me. And I am neither foreign nor swarthy. True, I speak English with difficulty, but that's because I'm always chewing a sandwich. Instead of the deep chestnut tan that polo players wear like longjohns, I am always a little bit pink and over-glossed. Imagine Molly Ringwald's tongue.

But I am comfortable around horses, and I love Temecula. By the way, why do we have to pick up after our dogs when no one ever picks up after a horse? Walking a dog used to be appealing. Now we follow them around with little baggies, hoping nobody is watching us perform the most undignified gesture of modern life. Stoop. Scoop. Smile.

On the horse trails near my house, no one picks up after their rides. It's one more reason I love rich people. They don't pick up after nobody. In short, rich people rock.

Yet, Geraldine Strunsky, the founder and president of the Temecula Valley Polo Club, insists polo isn't just for tycoons and aristo-brats. She says members of her new club are largely professionals — doctors, lawyers. Mere working stiffs, like you and me. Well, I'm a little stiffer than you, but you get her point.

Strunsky opened this polo club in May, and if you're looking for another sign of economic rebirth, a new SoCal polo club might be it. The tiny Temecula club joins renowned operations in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Diego. The fact that it's an eager upstart facility makes it more approachable for beginners.

And polo is not as fiscally daunting as you might suspect. Private lessons start at $100, and that includes a well-trained polo pony, often a former race horse. Riding experience is helpful but not required.

Sure, if you choose to pursue the sport, each hourlong match will run you at least $400. Polo players usually change to a fresh horse every 71/2 -minute chukker (quarter), says Alvaro Tadeo, a patient instructor, especially with me. I slap at polo balls like a drunk killing wasps on his forehead.

"Smooth," he urges. "Smooth and easy."


"You're a natural!" chimes Strunsky.

No. But polo's not as tricky as it looks. I score three goals and ka-ping another one off the post. Turns out you hit the ball with the long side of the mallet, not the butt end, as you would in croquet.

Thwaaaaaaack. The sensation is as sweet as a well-hit 3-wood.

And think of the social benefits, meeting people like Strunsky, for example, who speaks three languages, including French. Reminds me of Claudine Longet. Remember her? Always shooting at people? Or one of the Bond girls. Remember them? Always seducing men to death? As if that's very difficult.

So you should put polo lessons on your summer to-do list, especially if you like horses and beautiful people like me and Geraldine. At least sample it the next time you're here slurping up Temecula's grapey charms.

Be sure to ask for Leon.

Temecula Valley Polo Club

Where: 38801 Los Corralitos Ave., Temecula
Price: Lessons are $100 an hour, including horse
Info: (760) 832-5297,

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