May 19, 2017 9:27 PM

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“The main benefit is giving new players fun safe attainable goals to reach quickly. It promotes horse ownership at an early stage by fostering team work, friendships and friendly competition. It also brings more experienced players into the role of mentorship.”  – Certified Polo Instructor and Orange County Polo Club Manager Heather Perkins

As summer polo heats up around the country with an emphasis on outdoor polo, we would also like to highlight the efforts of five California polo clubs doing a tremendous job supporting arena polo and the growth of the sport. The Pacific Coast Arena Polo League (PCAL) is an innovative summer polo competition unlike any other. An arena tournament, players have the opportunity to compete throughout the season at three different clubs for cumulative points with high-point earners scoring season-end awards.

© David Lominska/
Lucas Escobar of Santa Barbara with a neck shot to goal, challenged by Cory Williams from Central Coast Polo Team.

The Pacific Coast Arena Polo League was established in the early 2000s, spearheaded by Certified Polo Instructor and Orange County Polo Club Manager Heather Perkins. “We used to have single-day tournaments and many times there was not enough stabling for all the teams participating,” Perkins recalled. “Ultimately, you would travel to a club play one game and leave. It was a huge production and there was no continuity.” Perkins decided she wanted to find a meaningful way to connect all the single-day arena polo tournaments. Having grown up competing in hunter jumper shows, she recognized that the standard high point horse show system would translate well into a polo tournament format. In the horse show system, individuals accumulate points by competing in separate recognized events over the course of a season culminating in year-end awards.

© David Lominska/
Central Coast Polo Team's Megan Judge with a clearing shot to goal.

In a similar fashion, PCAL offers teams and players the opportunity to compete over three months at three separate locations. In a series of one-day tournaments, winning teams receive prizes and individual points are awarded to each player. Players are encouraged but are not required to participate in every tournament to be eligible for season-end awards such as: High Point Champion, Most Valuable Player, Best Playing Pony and Best Sportsmanship, among others.

This year’s PCAL is comprised of three distinct flights, boasting an impressive 11 teams and 36 players. “The A Flight 3- to 7-Goal is competitive and fast,” said Central Coast Polo Club Manager and PCAL Tournament Administrator, Megan Judge. “It’s for your run-and-gun players and usually includes many student players, strong adult amateurs and a lot of professionals. Everyone who is playing is rated a goal and above and it’s very fluid, no minus ones and zeros are allowed. The B Flight 1- to 4-Goal, is essentially a ‘pro pool,’ generally organized around an instructor then a one and a zero—no one above two goals. If there are a group of kids that are really strong they can all play together,” Judge continued.

© David Lominska/
Melanja Jones of Santa Barbara and Central Coast Polo Team's Cory Williams battle for possession.

Last but not least, the C Flight -1- to 0-Goal is strictly a student flight. Reserved for A- and B-rated players. “It is a safe place for trot to canter polo,” said Judge. “Everyone in the C Flight enters the arena for learning purposes and knows they will be playing against other novices. It is a great way for people to move up and buy horses, as the players who do really well generally own their own horses.” Many of the students from each club rent horses and Judge and Perkins stress that this competition is key to promoting horse sales and a student’s authentic commitment to the sport.

“The students love it!” exclaimed California Polo Club Polo Instructor, Kristen Ludwig. “It is geared for the students. This way they get to meet the other clubs and players. Interestingly, when they play tournaments against neighboring clubs, we found that really promotes horse buying. Playing in that level of competition is the number one motivator for students to purchase a horse.”

Mirroring collegiate polo, every participant is assigned a competition duty such as flagging, scoring or the coveted lining of the arena. This detail fosters a sense of community as players are encouraged to watch other games and cheer on their peers.

© David Lominska/
Farmers & Merchants Bank in red versus Central Coast Polo Team in blue.

Six California clubs are currently involved in the league including, California Polo Club (Los Angeles), Central Coast Polo Club (San Luis Obispo), Orange County Polo Club (Coto de Caza), Poway Polo Club (Poway), San Diego Surf Polo Club (San Diego) and Santa Barbara Polo Club (Carpinteria). Santa Barbara Polo Club will kick off the competition this weekend enticing players with a full weekend of activities, bookended by a Friday 12-Goal match and party and featured Sunday match with tailgating. Two other action-packed weekends are planned at California Polo Club (June 10-11) and Central Coast Polo Club (July 22-23). “What I like most about the league is that it builds a community feeling between all of the local clubs. Club managers are all friends and work together with the common goal of promoting the sport versus promoting individual clubs,” stated Perkins. California’s success is rapidly spreading across the country and other regions are following suit. On the east coast, Michigan is forming an identical league, albeit on a smaller scale, between the Detroit Polo Club and Grand Rapids Polo Club.

“It has grown and changed considerably over the years,” said Perkins. “We have played it three weekends in a row at various locations, and now prefer monthly tournaments. We have tried to have team continuity throughout but have found that individual awards allow for more flexibility. We also have moved to requiring certified and USPA professional umpires which has been a great addition. Plus, all the participants must be USPA members! The league has and will always continue to evolve as we all learn more through experience. It is fluid from year to year and the goal is always to promote the sport of polo.”

If you are interested in starting your own arena league or for more information on the rules and regulations of PCAL click here.

All photos ©David Lominska/