POOLESVILLE – The pounding of horses’ hooves and the crack of mallet against ball were the only sounds that broke the silence in the wide open field. The horses wore saddles and leg wraps; the riders wore helmets and knee-high boots. Several members of the Congressional Polo Club shouted instructions to their teammates during a practice session before hosting the George S. Patton Polo Cup Finals on Sunday.
Even though the sport of polo has existed for centuries, the average person is unaware of the rules. The match is played with two teams of four players each. There are between four and eight periods which are called chukkas. Each chukka lasts seven minutes and the riders must switch horses several times during the match. The object is to get the ball through the goalpost on either end of the field by hitting the ball with a mallet while still mounted on the horse.
Nicolas Eurnekian is the head of the polo club and the manager of the Congressional Polo Academy. Eurnekian started playing polo with his family as a child growing up in Argentina.
“I always loved horses and you can have a relationship with the horses and play the sport. You can do both,” said Eurnekian as he removed a pair of red wraps from his dark brown horse.
The Congressional Polo Club has about 30 active members and every Sunday they put on matches that are open to the public. Multiple trailers pull up to the field and riders emerge from their truck cabs to lead their horses out and prepare them for the match.
The finals for the George S. Patton Polo Cup drew a small crowd. Several attendees planted chairs into the grass to watch the match between the two teams, Manderleigh and La Barra.
The match featured four chukkas with a short halftime in the middle. Congressional Polo Club cofounder Neil Agate had played earlier in the day and now provided commentary for those in attendance.
La Barra got on the board first but Manderleigh answered almost immediately as rider Tenzin Tognini urged his horse forward and fired two goals back to back.
There was less than a minute left in the first chukka when Tognini and teammate Phil Higgins combined for another two goals to extend Manderleigh’s lead.
It appeared as though Manderleigh was going to run away with the win and the trophy as Juan Semper scored a goal of his own to bring the score to 5-1.
However, Chris Abularrage scored for La Barra shortly afterward.
Marissa Bianchi helped pull La Barra out of its scoring woes as she slammed the ball between the posts for the only goal of the third chukka.
La Barra appeared to be closing in on Manderleigh’s lead. However, Tenzin Tognini and his father Daniel combined for two goals to close out the fourth chukka and give Manderleigh the victory, 7-4.
After the match, the four riders on the Manderleigh team were awarded with trophies bearing the seal of the United States Polo Association.
“Maryland is for polo just as much as it is for crabs,” said Congressional Polo Club member Victoria McGraw. “This club is not really known in this community and I think polo is a misunderstood sport. As long as you have a desire to play polo, you can just come to this club.”
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