Midtown: Sports

Triangle Area Polo Club looks for grassroots growth

cgrant@newsobserver.com

Alan Hale got a late start.

He discovered his love at age 40, and years later it has turned into a family hobby and pastime.

He was introduced to polo while living in upstate New York. He and his wife would visit Saratoga Springs, where there is a racetrack, but also a field for polo.

“Everything about it from the first time that I saw it ...

I loved the sound of it, the smell of it, everything about it,” Hale said about his first exposure to the sport in the mid-’90s.

However, he didn’t act on that passion until many years later.

After his family moved back to Raleigh in 2002, he asked for horseback riding lessons for his 40th birthday.

He found David Brooks, who owned a farm in Orange County.

More than a decade later, Hale, his wife and his daughter are involved with the Triangle Area Polo Club, an organization Brooks founded to help grow local interest in the sport.

In the 1980s, North Carolina was home to four polo clubs. According to the U.S. Polo Association, the Triangle Area Polo Club is currently the only active club in the state.

Hale and his family will travel from their North Raleigh home to Crooked Creek Farm in Hurdle Mills on Sunday to participate in the Independence Cup, a free afternoon exhibition open to the public.

Alan will be competing. Anna will help him as a groom.

It is the third in a series of Sunday afternoon events the club has put on this year.

The Triangle Area Polo Club offers lessons and leagues as well.

Angela says the sport can be accessible, and the U.S. Polo Association has made efforts to grow the sport at a grassroots level.

All you need are “a riding helmet, blue jeans, some kind of boots, and an open mind and willingness to have a little bit of fun,” she said. “The riding just comes. (Learning to play the sport) was a lot easier than expected.”

Getting people to take interest in the sport can have its own challenges.

Some may not have heard of it, and those who have might see it as a sport of royalty.

“You have this idea of polo and watching Prince Harry and Prince William and Prince Charles,” Angela Hale said. “They call it the sport of kings. Obviously this is at a much lower level. It’s a family friendly environment.”

Newcomers of all ages are welcomed.

In addition to her husband, Angela Hale recalls a 60-year-old woman who had minimal riding experience picking up the sport.

Angela and her daughter Anna, who is 10 years old, participated in one of the club’s beginner lessons, and Anna has taken to the sport at a young age.

“I’m very envious that she’s having a chance to start around age 8,” Alan Hale said. “She just turned 10, and she’s riding very confidently and is improving very quickly. ... It’s just great to be out there with her on the field. It won’t be long at all until we’ll be playing in tournaments together. I hope she continues to enjoy it as I have. It’s great fun because it’s allowing our family to play it together.”

As the club grows, Alan Hale says they are looking for opportunities to play in a more Triangle-central location.

An exhibition at WakeMed Soccer Park last May brought out hundreds of spectators, he said.

“People started asking ‘when are you having your next match and inquiring about lessons,’” he said. “It’s slowly coming together, but I think we’ll be announcing something pretty soon.”

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