Alan Hale got a late start but has made up for lost time.
He discovered his love of polo at age 40, and years later it has turned into a family hobby and pastime.
He was introduced to the sport while living in upstate New York.
“Everything about it, from the first time that I saw it … I loved the sound of it, the smell of it, everything about it,” Hale said of his first exposure to the sport in the mid-1990s.
However, he didn’t act on that passion until years later. After his family moved back to Raleigh in 2002, he asked for horseback-riding lessons for his 40th birthday.
He found David Brooks, who owns a farm in Orange County.
More than a decade later, Hale, his wife and daughter are involved with the Triangle Area Polo Club, an organization Brooks founded to help pique local interest in the sport.
In the 1980s, North Carolina was home to four polo clubs. According to the U.S. Polo Association, the Triangle Area Polo Club is now the only active club in the state. The club offers lessons and leagues and competes in cups.
The U.S. Polo Association has made efforts to grow the sport at a grass-roots level.
All you need are “a riding helmet, blue jeans, some kind of boots and an open mind and willingness to have a little bit of fun,” Angela Hale said. “The riding just comes. (Learning to play the sport) was a lot easier than expected.”
However, getting people interested can hold its own challenges, she said. Some may not have heard of it, and those who have might see it as a sport of royalty.
“You have this idea of polo and watching Prince Harry and Prince William and Prince Charles,” Angela Hale said. “They call it the sport of kings. Obviously this is at a much lower level. It’s a family-friendly environment.”
Newcomers of all ages are welcome. In addition to her husband, Angela Hale recalls a 60-year-old woman who had minimal riding experience picking up the sport.
Angela and her daughter Anna, 10, participated in one of the club’s beginner lessons, and Anna has taken to the sport.
“I’m very envious that she’s having a chance to start around age 8,” Alan Hale said. “She just turned 10, and she’s riding very confidently and is improving very quickly.”
“It’s just great to be out there with her on the field. It won’t be long at all until we’ll be playing in tournaments together. I hope she continues to enjoy it as I have. It’s great fun because it’s allowing our family to play it together.”
As the club grows, Alan Hale says, it is looking for opportunities to play in a more Triangle-central location.
An exhibition at Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park in May 2012 drew hundreds of spectators, he said.
“People started asking, ‘When are you having your next match?’ and inquiring about lessons,” Hale said. “It’s slowly coming together, but I think we’ll be announcing something pretty soon.”