fb-pixel

IPSWICH — Mark Tashjian was shouting instructions and offering encouragement to the three teens alongside him.

In full coaching mode, Tashjian implored, "Come on, rotate through, rotate through. Keep them moving."

This, however, was no ordinary youth sports setting.

Tashjian and his students were galloping atop glistening polo ponies, and swinging long-handled mallets at a softball-sized root ball. The pitch was a lush field off Route 133 in Ipswich, and on this overcast Sunday, Tashjian's Boston Polo School class was in full session.

"People often come to me because they want to experience what polo, and riding the horses, is like," said Tashjian, a 28-year-old resident of Hamilton, where his school is based. "Others come to me because they realize it is the ideal location for them to grow as players, horsemen, and members of the greater polo community."

Advertisement



After a brief stint working at the Myopia Hunt and Polo Club in Hamilton, Tashjian started the Boston Polo School last year.

He had received his first polo lesson at age 16, at the University of Connecticut, fell in love with the sport and "the relationships I quickly built, with the horses and other players, and attended UConn in large part to play polo."

That "love at first sight" scenario is a familiar refrain among polo players, young and old.

Elizabeth Owens, a 14-year-old Carlisle resident, saw her first match two years ago while on a family vacation in Kentucky.

"We drove by a field where there were people racing up and down a big field on horses, whacking at something with sticks," she recalled. "We pulled over and watched for a while. I knew, right then, it was for me.

"Later my parents told me they were a little nervous because they didn't think they could afford it," said Owens, a student at the Waldorf School in Lexington. "They didn't want to encourage me too much. They thought polo was just for rich people. It is an expensive sport, for sure, but clubs like Boston Polo give players more affordable options than there used to be."

Advertisement



Tashjian is trying to make polo more accessible. His lessons, both private and group, range from $125 to $150.

"If I had known there was an opportunity to play polo available, I definitely would have started earlier," said 20-year-old Tessa Kell from Pembroke. "I started riding lessons when I was only three years old, and have continued for most of my life. But when I took my first polo lesson, I hadn't been on a horse in four years."

She was nervous that she had forgotten how to ride, but her skills came back with muscle memory.

"As soon as I had a mallet in my hands and made contact with the ball, I was hooked," said Kell, who plays polo at UConn.

"Each time I took a lesson, I gained confidence both in the horses as well as my own ability."

For many, like Kell and Charlotte "Caddy" Yates of Weston, the sport offers an elegant combination of skill and a fondness for physical play.

"I always loved horses and rode as a kid, but my mother was very insistent that all her kids learn to play stick sports and team sports," said the 25-year-old Yates. "Polo is like a natural combination of both, and once I tried it, I became addicted."

Advertisement



That experience knows few age limits.

Tashjian has taught riders as young as 10 (the US Polo Association requires players to be at least 12), and has had clients in their 70s as well.

"I met Mark at a polo fund-raiser event in Medfield, and we stayed in contact," said Tany Heuer, 45, owner of a preschool in Walpole. "Years later, I learned he was teaching polo, and that's when I signed up."

Her first time playing was "exhilarating."

"Me, playing polo? Seriously," she said. "This is a sport for true horsemen and people of extreme wealth, right? Not right. Mark has opened that door for anyone that desires to play. No experience necessary."

Students also learn to care for the ponies.

At a typical lesson, students spend a considerable amount of time before each "on-field " session preparing the ponies, including wrapping their legs, and grooming them afterward.

"Mark always puts the care of the horses first," said Owens. "The horses are all beautiful and amazing. He treats them as though they were his children. We spend more time caring for the horses than we do riding them, but I think that's true for all equestrian sports."

In turn, the ponies are almost always up for a game.

"A common question I get is, 'Do the horses like the sport?' And the answer is unquestionably yes," said Tashjian. "Polo is the highlight of their life. They know when they have a competition and they act different.

Advertisement



"The horses absolutely love chasing the ball and racing against their opponents. They really get into it."

Which is exactly the sensation that Tashjian wants his students to have.

"It was amazing for me to be riding Mark's horses in a whole new way, and to see how they knew that game even when I did not," said Heuer. "Mark is good to his horses and they have a special bond that is obvious to even a novice. He is good to them and they are good to him, and his students."


Brion O'Connor can be reached at brionoc@verizon.net.