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Polo 101: How to horse around for charity

John Mangin, center in white, chases an airborne ball, trailed by seven other players and a referee, during a match at DI Polo Tour in Plant City, where each weekend, polo players gather to swing their mallets.

Daniel Wallace/tbt* files (2009)

John Mangin, center in white, chases an airborne ball, trailed by seven other players and a referee, during a match at DI Polo Tour in Plant City, where each weekend, polo players gather to swing their mallets.

Most people know Plant City for its strawberries. Chris Gannon, the son of Outback Steakhouse co-founder Tim Gannon, wants people to know it for polo.

Gannon and other supporters of the Children's Cancer Center are organizing the first Charity Polo Classic on Saturday at DI Polo Tour in Plant City. They wanted to try something a bit more unusual than a golf tournament or ballroom gala.

Gannon, 28, took up polo when he was 14 and played professionally with his father's team in Palm Beach. Now in advertising with DynaMedia of America, he plays for fun every weekend at DI Polo and will compete in the charity match. He hopes the event prompts more locals to get involved in the sport.

For the commoners unfamiliar with polo, we polled Gannon about dos and don'ts for attending the match. We also asked Tina Hunter Greene, a Children's Cancer Center board member and former Amazing Race contestant, the important question: What should I wear?

Here's a rundown.

Don't call them horses. You'll impress your friends — and next business client — by referring to the galloping manes as ponies. The name dates to the early days of polo when mounts had to be pony sized. Today's mounts are full-sized horses, but the name persists.

Get ready to stomp. It wouldn't be polo without the stomping of the divots. During halftime, spectators will go onto the field and stomp the tufts of dirt kicked up by the ponies. A champagne truck will distribute glasses of bubbly. This will be a chance to stretch your legs, socialize with the players and meet the ponies. Just don't walk behind them. They may be elite, but they still kick.

Channel Julia and Richard. Julia Roberts set the bar for polo attire in her brown sundress with white polka dots and matching hat in Pretty Woman. (And didn't Richard Gere look studly in his light gray suit?) While a long way from Hollywood, women headed to Plant City should think spring with dresses suitable for Easter services or a baby shower. Matching hats are encouraged but not required. Espadrilles, wedges or flats will work best for stomping the divots and standing in the grass. Hopefully, a guy or two will show up in a seersucker suit with boat shoes or penny loafers. The rest should go with a crisp linen short-sleeved shirt and nice slacks. Wear a Tommy Bahama shirt if you must, but skip the sandals. The fashion-forward will sport a fedora.

Perfect vision. While most visitors bring binoculars to polo events, you probably won't need them here. Organizers have shrunk the field to make the match even more intense and spectator-friendly. First-timers will be thankful. The standard field is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide, the approximate area of nine American football fields. That's a lot of space for keeping track of a small ball.

Be sure to enunciate. The play periods are called chukkers. Slip in the letter between E and G, and you might get horse-whipped. Matches typically have six, seven-minute chukkers and last about two hours. This one will go for four chukkers to allow for a longer halftime.

Skip the accent. The Brits certainly popularized the sport, but they didn't invent it. The game dates to Persia more than 2,500 years ago and became a noble pastime of kings, emperors, shahs and sultans, hence the nickname "sport of kings.'' It was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1936 and today is played professionally in several countries. 'Tis a pity, but not everyone who plays polo sounds like Prince William.

Pony up

The Charity Polo Classic is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at DI Polo Tour, 1003 Cowart Road, Plant City. Event includes a polo match, Argentine barbecue, fashion show, divot stomping and live auction. Tickets are $150 per person or $250 per couple. Go to charitypoloclassic.com.

Polo 101: How to horse around for charity 03/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 29, 2012 5:30am]

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