Aug 23, 2016 6:31 PM

California Polo Club Logo

Located fifteen minutes from Hollywood, California Polo Club (CPC) is a prominent Pacific Coast polo club. Situated in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County and surrounded by the Transverse Ranges mountains, they offer a nearby country escape in contrast to the high-stress, busy lives of many of their members. Their outstanding polo school, home to no less than 150 students, has produced many talented players over the past two decades. A solid club league with a variety of traveling tournament options, combined with a turnkey and amazingly affordable boarding facility, have given rise to a burgeoning club in a thriving metropolis.

“Being in L.A. helps, it’s a huge city, so we have a large population to pull from,” said CPC instructor Kirsten Ludwig. The majority of their referrals come by word-of-mouth, and most of those who join are usually friends of members from outside of polo. The overarching factor that sustains their membership, however, is horse ownership. The CPC club format is comprised of four levels: Beginners, Coaching Chukkers, Intermediate (bi-weekly coaching chukkers with a 2- or 3-goal professional on each team) and Club Level. Once members make it to the Club Level they are expected to buy their own horse. Fortunately, almost all of the students who go through the program have purchased at least one horse, in fact most, according to Ludwig, have bought two or more.

In response to the high demand for polo lessons, a team of six instructors are available at CPC including Kirsten Ludwig, Max Duarte, Ismael Molina, Jessica Bailey, Elizabeth Humphreys and 6-goal arena professional and 2011 U.S. Arena Open Polo Champion, Domingo Questel. “We have many instructors, and different instructors have different styles, but we are very supportive of each other. It’s nice to have different instructors because different people learn different ways. Ultimately the goal is to have students buy horses and get playing and that helps everyone,” Ludwig explained. The flexibility of the instructors combined with their 30 horse string of polo school horses allows lessons to be held six days a week.

California Polo Club Domingo Questel Lovive Laverdure
California Polo Club Instructor Domingo Questel instructs a student on the near side. Photo Credit: Lovive Laverdure

What sets California Polo Club apart from other polo schools, however, is their rigid testing system. In order for members to advance between the four club levels CPC has devised a testing rubric, in an effort to quantify student’s efforts and track polo skills and strategy. Created and put into use a little over a year ago, the testing was spearheaded by Ludwig, a postdoctoral cancer researcher at UCLA by day. “We took the USPA standards for what a -1, 0 and 1 should be able to do and actually wrote a test,” Ludwig said. “We get a group together, usually three or four people who want to test for the same area and we ask them to perform a series of tasks. The testing is based on a point system. If they can do it on the first try, they receive three points, two points on the second try, one on the third attempt andzero points if it is not completed. At the end of the test, we add up the points and if they receive above an 80% they pass and can graduate to the next level!” Available to the students beforehand, this testing procedure has produced a more goal-oriented student body. “Every time people go out for a lesson they have a goal. All of the students want to graduate and move on to the next level. We have gotten really positive feedback from it, really positive,” said Ludwig.

The testing times are public knowledge and more advanced players typically come to watch and cheer on aspiring students. In this way students feel included in the club community, before they are officially part of it. Pass or not, everyone is invited to the celebration afterwards. For students who do not pass on their first try, it gives them specific skills to work on.

California Polo School Foot Mallets Lovive Laverdure
Students practice polo skills with foot mallets. Photo Credit: Lovive Laverdure

CPC participates in the Pacific Coast Arena League (PCAL), which features five Southern California arena clubs, Central Coast Polo Club (San Luis Obispo), Orange County Polo Club (Coto de Caza), Poway Polo Club (Poway) and San Diego Polo Club (San Diego). Echoing collegiate polo, once a month all participating clubs travel with a team to a designated club for a weekend of tournament play. Established at the Poway Polo Club by the late Russ Sheldon, CPC competed in the tournament for many years, taking a break for a few years and have returned to the excitement this year. “The students love it!” exclaimed Ludwig, CPC Polo Instructor. “It is geared for the students. This way they get to meet the other clubs and players. Interestingly, when they play tournaments not against our club members, we found that really promotes horse buying. Playing in that sort of thing is the number one motivator for students to purchase a horse.”

Katty Wong California Polo Club member Empire Polo Club
CPC member, Dr. Katty Wong on a breakaway at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Photo Credit: Sean Paul Franget

Not to be underestimated as solely an arena facility, CPC works in conjunction with many neighboring polo clubs to offer their members the best that California polo has to offer. During the summer polo season, CPC organizes club outings to play at the Santa Barbara Polo Club (Carpinteria, California) and Will Rogers Polo Club (Pacific Palisades, California). California Polo Club manages and operates the polo school at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, during the winter season from December to April. A perfect segue for their arena members to grass polo, Empire Polo Club has weekend long 1-goal tournaments. Thanks to the efforts of club president and Founder Rodney Fragodt, in his donations of both time and trailer, CPC has the capacity to haul 30+ horses to an outing. This infrastructure allows CPC members the ability to play polo on the perfectly manicured grass fields at Empire without the headache or financial commitment involved in organizing transportation or grooms. CPC members merely need take the scenic two-hour drive south to show up and play.

This has been an incredibly fruitful system. Last year a CPC student put in both a 4- and an 8-goal team at Eldorado Polo Club and another CPC graduate has moved on to play in an 8-goal tournament at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, where he recently relocated.

California Polo Club Empire Polo Club
California Polo Club members at Empire Polo Club. Photo Credit: Mary Ann Fragodt

Over 25 percent of CPC members and volunteers are highly-educated holding Ph.D.s. “They have jobs and very stressful jobs and coming out to the barn is cheaper than therapy, well I mean it’s probably not cheaper than therapy, but it’s probably more effective,” joked Ludwig. “I think what makes CPC so special is that everybody—the founders, the coaches—none of us make our living at CPC, so it takes the pressure off of us. Everyone who is here and who is doing it, is doing it for the love of the sport, not to pay our mortgage.”

Dependent on the work of many volunteers, California Polo Club makes polo affordable. All aspects of polo are carried out in-house, and the club has created a broader sense of the California polo community through easily accessible tournaments at nearby clubs. CPC is well-tuned to the demands of a sustainable polo future through horse ownership. “I have been all over this country and all over this world with polo clubs, and CPC in particular is about getting people playing the sport and moving them up to where they can support a 4- or an 8- or even a 12-goal team. That’s everyone’s goal,” said Ludwig.

An exceptional environment for the growth of new polo players, CPC covers all the bases. A hop away from the bustle of the city with extensive country trails to hone your riding skills, a regulation-size arena, fully-enclosed hitting cage, stabling for 60 horses, complete board, exercise, grooming and training services and an Argentine-style barbecue area, what more could you ask for.

To learn more about California Polo Club, visit their website, and follow them on Facebook for up-to-date information on tournaments and events.