Law, Order, and Chic in the Great Frozen North

(by Dan Harvey Pedrick)

Ever wonder how to get two thousand people to attend a polo match at a tiny little club on an off-shore island in Canada? It’s simple: invite the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride to perform on the field at half-time. It’s just a matter of swallowing one’s polo pride and surrendering to polo pragmatism.

Anyway, it worked for the Victoria Polo Club on August 9th , 2009, a crystal clear Sunday afternoon under sapphire skies, with the scent of green grass, ripening blackerries, and horses on the fresh, cool, summer air—the very stuff memories are made of! A concert by the marching bear-hatted-and-plaid-kilted Victoria Police Pipe Band set the tone of the event which was followed by some three dozen Mounties on their noble black steeds.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, noted for “getting their man” while looking great, certainly appeared worthy of their reputation. Each trooper was fully and identically kitted out with resplendent red tunic, flat brim Stetson hat, sword belt, holster, and a lance with flowing red and white pennant. Their superbly trained mounts were no less coalescent. Matched for size, color, and temperament—many from the Force’s own stud farm—they performed a repertoire of specialized and coordinated maneuvres before the enthralled crowd that have become iconic of Canadian culture.

One segment, “The Dome”, consists of the entire squad forming a circle with lances pointed level toward the centre. Then, as the riders converge and draw the circle tighter, the lances are slowly raised in the air. This figure was famously represented on a now discontinued series of Canada’s scarlet fifty-dollar bill. Other routines were equally impressive and performed at all gaits, from walk to gallop.

The strict military bearing one might expect at such an exhibition was somewhat softened by the irresistible smiles of enjoyment on the faces of the proud chevaliers. At the end of the performance each officer rode to the rail and greeted onlookers with legendary courtesy. Remember, these are the people who, after cautioning him to remain on his best behavior, made Sitting Bull welcome after fleeing to Canada in the wake of the Little Bighorn battle. And the great war chief obliged, by all accounts.

Meanwhile, the playing field had to be shortened to accommodate the Mounties and numerous spectators. Consequently the teams for the exhibition match were likewise shortened to three-a-side. Umpired by retired naval officer, diplomat, and polo player David Harris, the two teams included University of Victoria Chancellor Murray Farmer, Victoria Polo Club President Steve Mann, and veteran professional Susan Guggenheim, wearing red. The blue-shirted team was comprised of Dan “Quick Draw” Adey, Steve “Digger” Hughes, and teen-aged university student and former polo groom Dani Ward.

Nursing a swollen leg from an incident he does not care to recall, your correspondent announced the game to the crowd, very possibly a group that had more immediate interest in watching cops on horseback than our beloved King of Games. Still, their attention was soon captured as the contest became a fast to-and-fro. Under increasing pressure and falling behind, the blue team focused on textbook marking and brilliant passing in the last two chukkas. Their efforts soon paid off, bouncing back to take the joust in a close 7-5 victory with a final seconds-to-spare goal from Dani Ward. The dramatic finish caused a roar of approval to erupt from the young lady’s father, understandably shattering his effort to remain the phlegmatic and un-biased scorekeeper. By this time the audience was fully engaged and the final bell was greeted with enthusiastic cheers and applause.

The tired but happy Mounties, having cooled and cared for their animals in the tradition of all good horsemen and women (and a good number of them were women), gathered at the clubhouse to relax and refresh as the satisfied crowd formed a long, streaming column in retreat back to their barbecues under a languorous Canadian Sunset.

(This article was published in Polo Players' Edition magazine in January, 2010. )

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