City College students play the sport of kings

Lauren Kelbe, City College student, practices polo at the Santa Barbara Polo School in Carpinteria, Calif. on Nov. 14, 2013.

Matilda Öijer

Lauren Kelbe, City College student, practices polo at the Santa Barbara Polo School in Carpinteria, Calif. on Nov. 14, 2013.

Brooke Holland, Features Editor

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Located between the mountains of Carpinteria and the Pacific Ocean, three City College students spend their afternoons riding horses and playing a game of polo.

Contrary to stereotypes, members do not have to enjoy high tea, fine champagne or be a seasoned equestrian to enjoy this sport of royals.

“I first tried polo because I thought it would be fun. Then I got addicted,” said Yazeed Alhashim, 18, City College business major. “There’s hustle in the game and that makes it interesting. It took me to start playing polo to understand what passion really means.”

It’s an action-packed day for the students as they prepare for practice more elaborately than most sports teams.

Before they begin playing, students must ready the horse by braiding their tails, cleaning out horses’ hooves, wrapping legs and saddling the horse properly.

“I learned a lot of skills other than the game itself. I learned how to build a relationship with the horse, prepare and understand the horse. I enjoy learning as well as playing the game,” Alhashim said.

As the ocean breeze sweeps in and the player’s shadow lengthens in the late evening sun, the students ride out to the arena practice field. Riders practice warm-up drills, penalty shots and dribbling exercises.

“To feel this level of control of the horse and how to handle it delicately is great,” Alhashim said. “I like when I’m in a game and I chase the ball. The whole experience is fun.”

Alhashim is the newest to join the team’s bandwagon. He began the program a few weeks ago and started with no prior riding experience. He trains on his donated polo pony named Warthog.

“It costs a lot of money but the Santa Barbara Youth Polo Association gives scholarships,” he said. “I just applied and will hear back in a few weeks.”

Along with his teammates, Alhashim practices five days a week and pays $5,800 to play for five months.

Despite being a highly priced sport, scholarships are available for students. Once eligible, students are awarded a range from 10 to 65 percent of the full tuition depending on financial status.

“The Santa Barbara Polo School is its own business. The program is one price, but students can apply for scholarships,” said Wendy Westley, co-owner of the Polo School. “The colleges form a club within each college and the students come to us for the polo.”

The Polo School and City College students joined forces to bring polo enthusiasts and horse lovers a place to learn the fundamentals of the sport. The students practice in a polo arena on the 87-acre property of the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club.

The collaboration started when students sparked an interest in forming a Fall 2013 SBCC Polo Club.

“I was hoping we were going to have a City College team this year. But we didn’t have enough students,” Westley said. “In the years past there have been successful SBCC teams that have gone to nationals and played against major four-year universities.”

Traditionally, there are three male and female players per polo team. According to Westley, not enough of both genders joined this semester to begin an official City College team.

The few interested joined the Polo School and train with the top college polo players in the nation. Westley’s husband, John, a veteran of polo for more than 40 years, coaches the players.

“We teach the kids and get them up to speed,” said Westley. “John is the coach. I teach the riding and ground work.”

The first-timers and experienced riders train together despite the different skill levels and a wide range of ages from 13 to 22.

“We have a varied group of kids ages and levels. All the kids have such a good spirit and they all work together nicely,” said Westley. “It’s not often that you see a varied range of students work together so well.”

The group will compete in intercollegiate games starting mid-December. The program plans to teach the newcomers the necessary skills and techniques before the United States Polo Association’s western region competitions.

“I’ve been riding horses for six years but had never played polo before joining. It’s cool to be around people who have played almost their entire life,” said Lauren Kelbe, 20, City College culinary arts major. “It’s nice seeing the variation of skills when playing.”

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