2009-03-26 / News

Jamestowner plays high school polo

By Eileen M. Daly

Island teen Read van der Wal, 17, has an interesting way of spending her free time: she is an interscholastic polo player.

Van der wal began playing competitive polo three years ago and she says the sport is challenging. "Hitting the ball, aiming the ball, everything about it is really diffi- cult. It is definitely the most challenging sport I've ever played," she said.

She started riding horses as a young girl and originally competed in equestrian events. She began her riding career at Glen Farm where she continues to ride. Her first mentor and trainer, Ted Torrey, was also a polo player and it was Torrey who started the Westchester Polo Club, a high school competitive polo team, three years ago, and it was Torrey who suggested that van der Wal participate in the game.

According to van der Wal, polo is a complicated game involving three horses per team. "There are so many rules," she said. "They took me years to learn." Each of the three players on the team has a role to play, she said. Player one, the position van der Wal plays, is strictly an offensive player. Player two is both an offensive and a defensive player and player three is strictly a defensive player.

Read van der Wal is in her third season playing interscholastic polo for the Westchester Polo Club. Above, her polo pony gets a little nosy with the camera. Photos by Onne van der Wal Read van der Wal is in her third season playing interscholastic polo for the Westchester Polo Club. Above, her polo pony gets a little nosy with the camera. Photos by Onne van der Wal The game is also physically grueling for both horses and players, van der Wal said. "I've been thrown lots of times. The last time I hit the goal, which is really a wall. I hit my collarbone really hard against it." Thankfully, it wasn't broken, she said.

The game is divided into four chukkas, or seven and onehalf minute periods, and players change horses for each chukka. The Westchester Polo Club uses 12 different horses all owned by Torrey. "You are allowed to use your first horse in the third chukka and your second horse in the fourth chukka, but we don't. We use a different horse for each chukka," van der Wal said. She explained that it is necessary to change horses because the sport is so physically demanding for the horse and that not changing horses can be detrimental to the horse. "Horses have even died from overuse," van der Wal said, but saud that it hasn't happened in many years and that it was associated more with upper level, outdoor polo games than with the indoor version that she plays.

Last year, van der Wal said, she got a job working for Jim DeAngelis, a former professional polo player. Her job required her to take care of his horses seven days a week, making sure they were fed, exercised and ready for him whenever he was scheduled to practice or play. Though she described the job as demanding, van der Wal said that she learned a lot about the sport of polo from DeAngelis.

Van der Wal is enjoying her time as a polo player and said she might even consider playing polo in college, but she said she would not focus her college search around whether or not the college had a polo team. She is very clear about her future career goals. "I want to study architecture and some kind of advertising or communications," she said. "I want to be an architect one day."

She was also quick to point out that polo isn't the only sport that she plays. "I play lacrosse, too," van der Wal said, "and if I don't play polo at college I'll probably play lacrosse." For now, though, van der Wal is enjoying her time as a high school polo player. "We travel all over New England. We go to Connecticut and New Hampshire to play," she said.

The team just finished third in the regional competition held a few weeks ago in Portsmouth and, van der Wal said, she is having a great time "just riding and being with my friends."

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