Tinicum Polo

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Photographs by Henry Rowan

Looking for a really pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on Saturday afternoons in the summer? Give the Tinicum Park Polo Club a try! From mid-May through early October, polo ponies and their riders partake in the beauty of Tinicum Park and entertain spectators from all over the region.  The setting, which is nestled along the Delaware River in Erwinna, Pennsylvania, is easily accessible, which allows the polo matches to be integrated in easily with the multitude of other recreational activities of the area.

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Polo is a game of speed and power, but most importantly, finesse.

Polo may be the “Sport of Kings” but, at Tinicum, every effort is made to ensure that it is an event that everyone can enjoy. The matches are often combined with benefits for local causes and other activities, such as Tailgate or Hat Day competitions as well as the annual British Car Show. Our favorite is the Pooches and Polo event that always draws a crowd and leaves you smiling.

Entertaining the crowd with the polo version of spinning a ball on your finger.

Impressive ball handling skills - polo style!

Although the sport of polo has roots that go back 2,000 years, its rules and nuances are alien to most of us. Never heard of a “chukker”? Don’t worry, the announcers at the Tinicum Polo Club take care to explain the rules and the action as the match progresses so you never feel too lost. Besides, the basic premise of the game is quite simple, hit the ball through the goal posts. How much easier can it be?

Getting chased by five 1,000 lbs horses with riders with clubs is an odd way to relax!

Getting chased by five 1,000 pound horses with riders armed with clubs is an odd way to relax!

And polo is easy, provided you ignore the part about the need to hit a little 3 1/4 inch white plastic ball with a mallet in a controlled manner while sitting atop a galloping horse with other galloping horses surrounding you. The teams are comprised of four players each and matches last for six “chukkers” or periods. Each chukker is seven minutes long with a three-minute break between chukkers to change horses, which are commonly referred to as polo ponies. Although not officially a distinct breed, polo ponies are none-the-less quite unique and specifically bred for the game. In the United States they are commonly a combination of Thoroughbred and Quarter horses, but other countries have adapted different breeding strategies.

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The players wear kneepads and the horse's lower legs are padded for protection.

The atmosphere at the Tinicum Park Polo Club is very laid back. At $5 per carload, it is also very reasonable. Bring some chairs and some snacks and prepare to relax and make some new friends, as it is a very social atmosphere. Make sure to bring the kids and the dogs, though they (the dogs, not the kids) really must be on a leash as more than one has shown a near fatal inclination to chase the horses during a match. During half time, the kids will have an opportunity to hop on-board Charlie Chukker, which is a “unique” metal horse, and practice hitting a ball with a mallet. In addition, half time includes the tradition of walking the field and stomping the divots to help increase the safety for horses and riders alike. On the subject of safety, matches are cancelled if the field is too wet, so it is best to check their hotline even if the sun is shining on a Saturday but it rained earlier in the week.

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10 acres is a lot of ground to cover, even on a horse.

Polo remains a sport with very limited exposure. We are sure that there are other clubs that provide the same combination of thrilling competition and a family friendly environment, but we have not visited them personally. To find other polo clubs in Pennsylvania, click here. Also note that the Tinicum Arts Festival is held in early July immediately adjacent to the polo fields. Check the dates as this is a Saturday and Sunday event that you want to make sure not to miss. Music, good food, great art, and polo Рwhat could possibly be better than that!

Photography Tips:

You are going to want a long lens for most polo shooting. 300mm will leave you wishing for more. The field is 300 yards long by 160 yards wide so that’s 10 acres of ground to cover! However, when the horses get close you are going to curse having the long lens on so go for detail shots or use a zoom.

You are also going to want to keep your shutter speeds up, unless you are intentionally trying to blur your image, as the horses are very fast. This is a great place to practice panning as well.

Fast shutter speeds are needed to stop the action. This one is at 1/2500.

Fast shutter speeds are needed to stop the action. This one is at 1/2500 of a second.

Slow shutter speeds can also be used to good effect.

Slow shutter speeds can also be used to good effect.

Be cognizant of the position of the sun. The direction you shoot in will vary somewhat depending on the time of the year, but it is generally a bad idea to shoot directly into a high, hot summer sun. Again in general, you are better with the sun at your back and you are going to want to be wearing sun screen!

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