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But there I was, sitting atop a panting, snorting, sweaty beast that wanted about as much to do with me as I did with him. Factor in that the horse was affectionately referred to as Extreme and that it was the single biggest animal I’d ever touched, and a recipe for pain was stirring in the wind.
To my credit, I at least looked the part. I was on one of Buenos Aires’s renowned polo fields -- a giant, sweeping expanse of green the length of six football fields -- in my red polo shirt, my white polo pants (actually, they were a pair of Dickies painter’s pants that I’d bought at Wal-Mart before my trip, but I fooled everyone down there), and my leather boots, holding a long darn wooden mallet that was heavier than any Big Bertha I’d ever swung.
The number on my shirt was two, which meant I was to guard the player wearing the two on the other team. That’s when my confidence grew. My counterpart was an 11-year-old boy.
“I’m fine now,” I told myself. “My horse is big, yes, but I’m a man. A man battling a boy. This child is about to grow up real quick. And I’ll finally get my payback.”
My payback, you understand, had nothing to do with Cholito. That 11-year-old smiley, gap-toothed kid and I had no beef. My payback was a symbolic one to be meted out -- unfortunately for Cholito -- at his expense. Remember that North Star Camp overnight horseback ride I went on when I was Cholito’s age? That stupid trip needed to be atoned for, and the best way to do it was to teach this horse a lesson, albeit 22 years later.
When all of us campers met at the barn in Hayward, Wisconsin, the head horse guy sized us all up and gave us horses that he felt were our speed. Somewhat of a skinny 11-year-old, I was given Daisy. Daisy was more of a large dog than a small horse. And Daisy and I drew a spot at the end of the walking-horse procession. So Daisy trotted the feeling out of my lower half eight hours a day for two days, just trying to keep up with the others. She also had a fondness for rolling up on the horse in front of us. That horse had a fondness for kicking Daisy when she did. I haven’t been fond of horses ever since.
But here was my chance at redemption. I would teach the cosmos that while horse racing is the sport of kings, I and my mount named Extreme were the kings of polo. Yep. That’s what the cosmos was about to learn.
It only took a few chukkers for Cholito to exert his will and show me who the man was on that field. He was faster, smarter, and, dare I say it, stronger than I was. Everything he did looked noble, and everything I did was wrong. I couldn’t stay mad at him though, not with that goofy gap-toothed grin. So I’m back to where I started. The only horse I’ll even consider getting on these days is the smallest one on the carousel at the Santa Monica Pier (see page 13), and that’s only if I’m escorting my young daughter.
If horse racing is the sport of kings, I’m the joker of polo.