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Arena polo championship comes to Medford

Polo players Rob Ceparano, left, of Medford and

Polo players Rob Ceparano, left, of Medford and Aaron Pagel, of South Africa, practice at Country Farms Equestrian Center in Medford. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

It’s polo time in Medford. For the fifth consecutive year, the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship returns to Long Island, culminating Saturday, July 22, in Medford.

An annual event, the contest dates back to 1926 and is one of the highest levels of arena polo competition in the country. The fast-paced contest includes seven or more matches featuring two teams of three. Each match lasts about an hour.

“Polo is a thinking man’s sport and a physical sport as well,” says Robert Ceparano, who in 2014 was voted most valuable player in the competition. “To win, players need to have a plan.”

Ceprano, a Medford resident, has competed with the Cedar Croft Farm team of Northport, which won the championships from 2013 to 2015.

This year, Ceparano’s father, Bob, serves as coordinator and manager of the event at Country Farms Polo Club, which he owns.

“Arena polo is appealing because it’s like hockey on horses,” says Bob Ceparano, a former professional polo player. “It is up close to the spectator and very fast paced.”

WATCHING A MATCH

The championship resonates with people in the same way that NASCAR does, the elder Ceparano says.

“It has sponsors, owners and professional players, just like NASCAR has,” he says, adding that polo is the original “extreme sport.”

On the local front, polo has a rich history. In the late 1950s, champion polo player Walter Scanlon introduced the “short form” — or “European-style” — four-period match to the game.

At the Medford competition, a few hundred spectators are expected on match days to watch players who range in age from 20 to 60. The younger players compete locally and internationally; the older players are typically sponsors.

TRADITIONAL SPORT

The younger Ceparano started riding at age 5 and has been playing polo since he was 13. His parents were a big influence on his interest in the sport. His mother, Yvonne, was an Olympic-level dressage rider. Bob Ceparano was involved in the sport for about 10 years as a professional player and also as a manager.

Part of the challenge of arena polo is the arena itself.

“A player needs a good understanding of the game to play at this speed and level of competition in this confined area of 150 feet by 300 feet,” Bob Ceparano says.

The sport demands strong hand-eye skills, quick reflexes, incredible timing and knowledge of one’s team and horses’ abilities, the Ceparanos say.

It also is important that a player have strong legs, core and balance, and exceptional riding skills.

Bob Ceparano says he hopes to build awareness and interest in arena polo on Long Island and beyond.

“We have some of the best players in the world playing here on Long Island, making it one of the best places in the nation to watch and enjoy the sport,” he says.

An earlier version of this story said Robert Ceparano would be playing in this year’s competition. His team is no longer participating in the event.

2017 U.S. Arena Polo Championship

WHEN | WHERE Through Saturday, July 22, Country Farms Polo Club, 200 Bellport Ave., Medford. Match schedule subject to change, check uspolo.org for details.

INFO 631-345-9585, country-farms.com

ADMISSION $10 ($5 advance) Saturday finals. Free for preliminary matches.

MORE POLO ON LONG ISLAND

Bethpage Polo at the Park

WHEN | WHERE 3-5 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 8 at Bethpage State Park Polo Field, Bethpage

INFO 516-500-7656, bethpagepolo.com

ADMISSION $10 (free younger than 13), $8 parking. $75 5-7 p.m. tented after-party with open bar, live music and light fare

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