‘Horseback  Hockey’

‘Horseback Hockey’

Posh polo party returns to Scottsdale’s WestWorld

By Nicole Hehl

Polo is returning to the pitch at WestWorld in Scottsdale Saturday, November 2, with the ninth annual Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championship: Presented by Talking Stick Resort.

With its royal history — the sport was first used in Persia to train the king’s guard and later played frequently by nobility — polo often surprises spectators with its speed and ferocity. Former hockey goalie and captain of the Wales Polo Team, Ricky Cooper, likens the action to hockey on horseback. 

“It is very much high speed like ice hockey,” Cooper explains. “There’s a lot of collisions, there’s a lot of contact but it’s all done in a measured way.”

There’s also the hand-eye coordination needed and the object of hitting a ball through the goal with a stick. Cooper even finds that sitting on a horse puts him in the familiar position of his goalie stance.

Like hockey players, it takes a great deal of athleticism to be a good horseman and to be able to recover from the hits. Cooper says it’s imperative polo players stay trim and flexible with strong legs to send signals to their horse.

For first time polo-goers, Cooper says there’s nothing quite like the action of a match.

“Seeing the beautiful animals running at full speed. The power, the grace, the precision that they have,” he excitedly describes. “Then you mix that with the riders who are not only trying to control a horse at 30 to 40 miles an hour, but they’re also trying to hit a tiny ball with a stick of bamboo as hard as they can.”

It’s an experience that Cooper is eager to share at the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championship, dubbed The Polo Party. This will be the seventh year for the Wales Polo Team, who has become a fan favorite.

“Genuinely, this is a game we look forward to every year,” Cooper shares. “We can’t thank the organizers Jason Rose and Jen Parks and their team enough. This is the highlight of our calendar.”

That’s saying a lot for a team that plays seven to 10 matches a year, around the world, including on the snow-covered pitch in Colorado and the sandy beaches in Germany.

“Scottsdale is massively different compared to other events,” says Cooper. “The multiple marquee events build up a great crowd. I haven’t seen that anywhere else.”

The diverse entertainment includes a half-time rugby match, the World’s Longest Catwalk Fashion Show presented by Phoenix Fashion Week, performances by the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, the Canine Couture Dog Fashion Show, a preview of the 2020 Barrett-Jackson’s World’s Greatest Car Collector Auction, as well as field-side experiences and DJ-infused party tents.

The Fried & Fizzy food truck returns with its signature fried chicken and champagne, a combination that exemplifies the casual yet classy vibe of The Polo Party. Those going for the luxury experience can indulge in one of three VIP tents, including the Barrett-Jackson Champagne & Jazz Lounge, which is serving up French fries and mimosas.

The Polo Party is known for upping the ante with new events each year. This year introduces one-of-a-kind musical performances, including oboe, acoustic guitar, a “hip-hopera” fusion and songs from an intriguing new musical “Americano” coming to the Phoenix Theatre in January.

This year also offers additional days of polo festivities with a player reception for all ticket holders Thursday, October 31, and a player and sponsor VIP party for luxury ticket holders Friday, November 1. To continue your polo education after Saturday’s big event, register for Arizona Polo Club’s polo clinic Sunday, November 3.

The highlight of the weekend is the four matchups on the field:

U.S. Air Force versus U.S. Marines

Centtrip Wales Polo Team versus the Arizona Polo Club

Defending champs, Aspen Valley Polo Club, including world-famous player Nacho Figueras, versus The Royal County Berkshire Polo Club

The Arizona Equine Rescue versus Southwest Wildlife, a charity match for a $10,000 prize

Being able to use the sport and its royal connection to support various charities is one reason Cooper loves playing. The Wales Polo Team raises funds for many charities, including Prince Harry’s Sentebale charity supporting young people affected by HIV.

“I think that polo gets a bit of a bad reputation for being elitist,” he admits. “If you can link that into the charity side of things, then you’re also doing good at the same time.”

When asked about his most memorable polo moments, Cooper says gazing over the McDowell Mountains at The Polo Party as the sun goes down and the Welsh national anthem plays is among the best.

“I genuinely get goosebumps every year, and I feel privileged,” Cooper says. “I know it will end one day, but some of those pictures that I have from the reception we get in WestWorld and with the Scottsdale crowd is truly a great memory.” ν

Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships

10 a.m. Saturday, November 2

WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale

General admission tickets start at
$30; free for children 17 and younger
as well as veterans

480-306-5845, thepoloparty.com