Photos by Alicia Castro

I never imagined I’d be sitting on a horse, holding a mallet, and trying to smack a grapefruit-sized ball across a field. But earlier this week, there I was, doing my very best to not fall off my horse. Argentina Polo Day, you showed me I could manage.

Traditionally a sport for the elite, polo has become more accessible through daylong events like Argentina Polo Day. Celia Alfie, who runs the family-owned business with her husband, told me that Argentina Polo Day stands alone in providing the opportunity to watch, learn, and play polo any day of the year.

“It was a crazy idea,” Alfie said of the company’s launch in 2009. “It changed the concept that people have of polo.”

Alfie’s husband, Ruben Jabib, had been playing under the old rules: four months a year with pricey club memberships and weather-based access. The couple envisioned a way to introduce the sport to more people.

“We wanted to break some of the paradigms of the industry,” Alfie said. “We opened it up – made it a little bit more friendly and relaxed to enjoy the surroundings.”

Ranked No. 1 on TripAdvisor for classes and workshops in Buenos Aires, Argentina Polo Day now welcomes about 4,500 clients per year. The program, which includes transportation to and from BA, costs AR $2,800 per person.

This year, Alfie and Jabib also began offering Argentina Polo Night (AR $2,300), an evening event featuring dinner under the stars while watching a match played on the estancia’s illuminated field.

Arriving to the estancia

Polo_Farm

I opted for the daylong version and visited the estancia with a friend familiar with the sport. During the hour-long trip from BA, we saw apartment buildings give way to warehouses, then open up to farmland, before turning up a gravel road and watching La Carona Polo Club sprawl out before us. Upon arrival, we received welcome drinks and freshly made empanadas to snack on while touring the site.

Across five acres of land, the estancia has two different polo fields, houses for overnight stays, and a pool for taking a dip after matches. The pulpería – where we gathered and ate – showcases the estancia’s laidback comfort.

Watching the match

Polo_Match

With drinks in hand, we walked to the site’s smaller arena field to watch a professional polo match. While we kept score and time, Alfie led us through the history and rules of the game.

“Polo in Argentina is the campo,” she said. “Any province, any estancia, you have a field. In Argentina, it’s not only fútbol, it’s also polo.”

Argentina – the reigning champion of Olympic polo – counts itself among the most celebrated polo-playing nations. Alfie credits this to the country’s culture of horsemanship, something her business seeks to highlight.

“We have the best players, best horses, our land is fertile,” she said. “We just show that anyone can do it.”

Before visiting La Carona, I had no exposure to the sport and minimal experience with horses. But in between rounds, Alfie taught us the most common shot techniques, and – still on foot – we practiced hitting polo balls around a grassy field. Subtly, over the course of the day, Alfie and her team built our confidence to play polo ourselves. And then, in true Argentine fashion, they gave us wine.

Breaking for bife

Polo_Bife

We feasted on a full asado with three different cuts of beef, plus choripán, grilled vegetables, wine, more wine, and dessert. Jabib’s background in hospitality includes opening a restaurant in Las Cañitas, and his good taste shines in the traditional barbecue with fresh ingredients and generous servings.

After a just-boozy-enough lunch, we reclined to discuss our athletic abilities and ranked ourselves from zero to “I could definitely play at Campo Argentino de Polo.” Emboldened by the wine, I gave myself a cool -2. Despite my lacking athleticism, I donned my team’s jersey and grabbed my mallet. It was game time.

Trying our hand at polo

Polo_Game

Following lunch, we walked to the farm’s smaller arena field and hopped on our horses at the pony line. We trotted over to the field, but instead of launching straight into the game, we practiced our shots on horseback until everyone felt comfortable enough to begin to play. For a couple of hours, we knocked around the ball, trying not to hit our horses or each other. Fortunately, some players exceeded the -2 skill level, but we all had the chance to play.

And this is Argentina Polo Day’s strength: that people like me – who rarely ride horses and never wield mallets – can participate in a match and pretend, just for a day, to be a polo pro.

Polo_Pro