Magical Days at La Tarde Polo Club

The La Tarde clubhouse
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On a glorious and sunny Thursday morning in December I was picked up from Pilar, Buenos Aires, by Jorge, who drove me to La Tarde Polo Club in Mercedes. On the way, he told me how he had once driven an Englishman to La Tarde from Buenos Aires and then every day for a week. That Englishman comes back every year and Jorge has now been driving La Tarde guests to the polo club for more than 10 years. Already there I knew that this would be a special few days (actually I already knew that from stalking their Instagram profile).

I arrived just in time for lunch, was greeted by two very happy and welcoming people, Juan Martin and Helena. They showed me around the estate with such enthusiasm that I felt like all three of us were on a high. Every nook of La Tarde being more cozy and welcoming than the previous. Lunch was served in the clubhouse, the centrum of after polo entertainment, and I got to meet the other guests. Again, as is normal in the polo world and part of why I love the lifestyle so much,  the group was a mix of people from all over the world (England, Italy, Australia) and of all ages, men and women. We exchanged our life stories over three delicious courses an then it was time to explore the grounds some more.

Cutie foal with her mamma

Cutie foal with her mamma

The resident llamas, Poncho and Pancha

The resident llamas, Poncho and Pancha

After sunbathing and chilling out it was time for the main event, afternoon chukkers! I was honestly terrified. I hadn’t played a chukker in a while, and the last time I tried resulted in an absolute meltdown, tears and all, on the field. But today was going to be different, I thought to myself, man up and just do it. I gave myself quite a long pep talk, and so did Helena and Juan Martin, then it was time to go (team selfies first).

Pre-chukker game face

We lined up, Juan Martin bowled the ball in and it was game on, sticks everywhere, excited ponies, excited players and that little white ball just moving along. I hardly remember the plays, it was just a blur of orange and ponies. Until suddenly I had the ball, and I was fairly close to the goal, so I ungracefully wacked the ball and it was the ugliest shot, but it went through the goal posts.

At the end of those four chukkers I was quite tired and everything was a bit sore, but I was ecstatic, sure most of the time I was just plomping along  far behind everyone else, I wasn’t marking anyone and I was actually nowhere near the ball (until the pros tactfully shot it to a few meters in front of me), but the times I did hit the ball and that one goal made my whole body tingle with joy.

Post-chukker game face

The reason for the name, La Tarde

I slept like a baby in the very comfortable bed and sometime after sunrise, I woke up, sore, but excited. It was stick and ball time.

The pro players Nacho and Nacho rode around with us teaching, tweaking and helping. And Helena was always there to capture it all on my phone (thank you Helena!!). I pretty much only work with offside but slowly learning nearside shots. I keep bending my elbow way too early in the follow through and I can’t seem to keep my head down, but I have improved my swing set up and I was actually in the half seat and getting out of the saddle, leaning out and twisting my body and not just my arm to hit the ball. We did about an hour and a half, two different ponies and I felt major improvements and couldn’t wait for the afternoon chukker session, right after some delightful lunch and my two-hour nap, of course.

Working on that offside, keeping my head down and my arm straight.

Walking over to chukkers I was a different woman than the day before, sure my body felt a bit sore and weak, but I had confidence and excitement bubbling in me. My first horse was Francessa, I had a great ride with her in the morning and I was ready to do the same on the field.

Team La Tarde whites ready to roll

I was a changed woman indeed, I was going faster (slightly), staying closer to the others, looking around to see where my teammates were, telling them where I was when it would make sense to pass to me and I scored another goal and a real one this time (ok everyone totally let me do it, no riding off or hooking, but still I managed to keep my cool). I had the ball and the goal was not too far away, so I tapped it and in the slowest canter possible (which felt like 100 km/h to me) I went to it and tapped it again, then getting closer to the goal and I could hear hooves behind me I knew it was now or never, I set my mallet up and let it drop, it made contact and the ball went forward and through the goal.  And that feeling right there is why people get so hooked on polo.

Getting out of my seat and reaching low and tapping the ball cautiously.

In sync manning my opponent

Big smile

A lovely asado with fun and games kept us all up and laughing until past Cinderella time that Friday night.

Saturday morning my body ached so bad I could hardly get out of bed, but I did get out of bed and up on a pony, but it was the wrong one, so instead of punishing my legs to get down and up on the right one, I had to just do it: the famous polo pony-jump (and post it on Instagram of course).

People make it look so easy and not scary at all, I pictured myself face-planting between all those hooves, but somehow made it over.

The best view is between pony ears

Mallet and spirits high

Really getting out of my seat to learn how to do a proper backhander

Another hour and a half of stick and balling, correcting, tweaking, riding, practising and smiling (well except for when I was swearing at myself for not doing it right).

And suddenly those three days had passed in a flash, with so many wonderful memories and feelings and a great sendoff in the form of a BBQ under the trees.

Thank you Juan Martin and Helena for such a wonderful experience, your club and your hearts are truly welcoming and I loved every minute of my stay, I will be back for sure!

Super selfie on horses

*Disclaimer: I was invited to spend three days at La Tarde in order to review and share my experience, which was honestly great.

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