Horses and Horsepower

The world’s only Gay Polo League rides into Arizona

By Alexis Getscher, Oct. 23, 2014

If you think the sport of polo is just for the rich and famous you’d be highly mistaken.

In its fourth consecutive year, Horses and Horsepower: Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships promises a weekend of polo — and so much more — at WestWorld of Scottsdale Oct. 25 and 26.

“We have grown into the most attended polo event in the United States and we like to say now that we’re the world’s most diverse polo event as well,” said founder Jason Rose.

Chip on horseback8Gay Polo League

Adding to the diversity of this year’s event is the addition of the Gay Polo League, the only gay polo club in the world, which was founded by Chip McKenney as a way for him to meet LGBT individuals and interact outside the bars..

“People that join the Gay Polo League publicly play as out gay athletes and I think it’s extremely important,” McKenney said. “In my own personal childhood experiences, I didn’t know that you could be gay and be an athlete, I didn’t know that team sports were available to me … So I think that’s a wonderful thing because we send a message by playing as out gay athletes, to kids in junior high and high school who are aware of their sexuality but not really sure what it is, that you can be an athlete and be gay.”

McKenney hopes participation in the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships will raise awareness of the GPL and advance its mission of encouraging LGBT athletes everywhere to identify as such and carry the message forward.

“What you’re going to love is you don’t have to be a polo player to love polo, it’s as social as it is sport,” said McKenney. “It’s very easy to understand from the sidelines and very spectator friendly.”

Along with McKenney, who will be traveling from Florida, other GPL members participating in the event include Gordon Ross from Canada, Dwight Tran from Connecticut and Jean-Marc Herrouin from Los Angeles.

Chip McKenney

Chip McKenney

The Best of the Rest

The GPL team will be joined by some of the world’s best polo players.

The Clogau Wales Polo Team, the defending champions, will take on the Women’s World All-Star Team, which features top professional female polo players, including Sunny Hale from the U.S., Paola Martinez from Argentina and the top professional gay polo player in the world, Caroline Anier, from France.

While these women have never played together, collectively they are the highest rated women’s team in the world.

“The thing that is really wonderful about equestrian sports is that they’re the only Olympic sport where men and women compete as equals,” McKenney said. “So that has a lot of appeal to me in the LGBT community, because gays and lesbians, bi, trans, we can all play together as one team.”

Another new dimension for this year’s event is the Skills Challenge.

Much like the competitions during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, Rose said the skills challenge will pit polo athletes against one another to showcase their individual polo skills, including scoring from the farthest distance and a finesse competition of dribbling the ball through various cones.

chip on a horseMore than Mallets

“We’ve been able to create a very dynamic, unique event,” Rose said, “We think it’s the most beautiful event in Arizona and one of the most interesting …”

Back again is the 2014 Arizona Porsche Concours d’Elegance car show, which includes “full” and “display only” levels of competition as part of the “biggest Porsche event in Arizona.”

New this year, the Applewood Pet Resort in Paradise Valley is sponsoring the Canine Couture Fashion Show. Judges for the event will include Million Dollar Listing‘s Chad Rogers, New York Times bestselling author Kelly E. Carter, and two-time winner of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show’s Best In Show handler Gabriel Rangel.

While trophies will be awarded to the top five favorites — scored on appearance and outfit creativity — Rose said registration will be limited to 100 dogs, but expects the show to take off into a whole event in itself within the coming years.

“It’s going to be fun, outrageous, flamboyant and way over the top,” Rose said.

The event will also include the Larsen Live Art Auction conducted by Jason Brooks, known for his work on the Discovery Channel’s Auction Kings.

Both days of the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships will also serve as a Super Regional for the WFC and 10 chefs will be chosen to move onto the 2014 main event in Las Vegas.

“For one or two days it’s one of the best places to be in the world,” Rose said, “watching great polo, staring up at the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, drinking some great champagne …”

A Polo Point of View

Grays Mallet Head(1)What to know before you go:

  • Polo is played in teams of four that can be made up of men and/or women and the majority of polo rules are made for the safety of the riders and horses.
  • The goal of the game is to move a hard ball across the field — 300 yards long and 160 yards wide, slightly larger than nine football fields — and through an unmanned goal.
  • The most important and basic rule of the game is the “line of the ball” rule: A player with the ball has the right of way and no other player is allowed to cross the imaginary line directly in front of the ball. The player who last touched the ball has the right of way.
  • The ball must be “dribbled” on the right side of the player’s horse.
  • Players are allowed to “steal” the line of the ball by hooking mallets, or bumping horses to push the rider off the line of the ball. A “bump” must come at no greater than a 45-degree angle and cannot endanger the horse or rider.
  • A match typically takes an hour and a half and is separated into four or six “chukkers,” which are seven minutes each.
  • After each goal, teams change direction to account for field and wind conditions.
  • During halftime, it’s tradition for spectators to go onto the field to participate in divot stomping. This fills in the divots left by the horse’s hooves.

    Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships
    Oct. 25-26
    WestWorld of Scottsdale
    16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale
    Tickets: $20-$10,000;