For more than 75 years, fierce battles have been won and lost on a grassy field west of Spokane. Men and women, on the backs of swift horses, continue a tradition whose roots stretch back centuries: the game of polo.
Born on the fields of Persia in the fifth century, polo is essentially a war game. It migrated across Asia and was eventually brought to Europe by the British.
The British introduced the game to Argentina, which is still considered the “mecca” of polo.
For many in this country the image of a polo player on a horse is familiar only as something that is stitched onto clothing. Certainly nothing you might expect to see in Spokane. But several times each week, the real thing can be found at the Spokane Polo Club field in Airway Heights.
Polo came to Spokane in 1913 after a Canadian team played at the Interstate Fair, and the Spokane club is one of the oldest in the United States.
Today, the club is composed of 15 players.
Club president Suzy Dix and her brother, Pete Dix, grew up around the game. Their father, Peter Dix, was an avid player and spearheaded the development of the current field. It is named after him.
In 1982, after a match, Dix collapsed and died of a heart attack. “He just came off the field and died,” son Pete Dix said. “It was a good way to go if you love polo as much as he did.”
The Peter Dix Memorial Tournament is held in his honor each year.
Practices are held on weekdays. On weekends, riders, swinging long wood mallets from the backs of trained horses, meet for games that are divided into four to six periods, each 7 1/2 minutes long, called “chukkers.”
Clods of grass, called divots, are kicked up by the horses’ hooves as they thunder across the field, stopping, then turning and running again.
Known as the sport of kings, polo is still out of the reach of many. Each player must have four to six trained horses – one for each period of the game – as well as the proper gear. Stabling and transportation fees can be steep.
“It can get expensive,” Pete Dix said “But it is a great sport.” However, Suzy Dix added that new players don’t need horses of equipment to join the team.
Pete Dix makes the point that polo is the fastest ball sport played. “Where else do you ride a 1,200-pound animal 30 miles an hour, stopping, turning and racing after a ball?”
When the idea of holding a major fund-raising event at the polo field was raised, club members jumped at the chance.
“We’d like to introduce the sport to more people,” Pete Dix said. “We want to bring in more players.”
Dix’ business, Cobra Roofing, is the major sponsor of the event. Others include Merrill Lynch and Arbor Crest Wines.
When the teams hit the field for a fund-raising tournament to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Ronald McDonald House next Sunday, they hope to bring in more than money.
“We want to educate people about us, and the game we play,” Suzy Dix said, “because it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen.”
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