Tom and René Skaggs moved to a 10-acre farm in Eatonville for weekends like this: Bright sunshine. Fresh air. A day of polo with his friends.
"You can’t really ask for more, can you?" Tom asked Saturday.
Skaggs, wearing white pants, a striped shirt and boots, wrapped the legs of his horses as he prepared to umpire the first match of the Piper Classic 2008 polo tournament in Roy – one of three competitions the Tacoma Polo Club hosts this season.
Polo has become a weekend staple for the Skaggs.
René was a collegiate polo player at Texas A&M University. When she and Tom looked for places to move after graduation in 1995, their decision hinged on whether a polo club was within a reasonable difference. They chose Eatonville.
"I played for the first time when we moved out here," he said. "Now it’s in my system."
Skaggs officiated the first game of Saturday’s tournament and played a later one. On a freshly mowed field with a crisp view of Mount Rainier, competitors deftly guided their horses to beat out other players for the best angle on the ball. A hand-operated board displayed the score. During breaks in play, participants rode to the sideline and chatted with spectators. An announcer delivered a play-by-play of the action.
"Polo is chess at 30 mph," said Suki Piper of Snohomish.
And it’s also a social event.
Spectators sat at white plastic tables – adorned with vases holding yellow flowers and bowls of snacks – on a deck of a nearby house. Vendors sold pottery, soap, china and bottles of wine. Dinner of steak and chicken sizzled on a nearby grill.
The polo season runs May through September, and participants play each weekend, Skaggs said. The Tacoma Polo Club, which has about 10 members, travels throughout the Northwest to play.
Piper’s father, Pete Piper, founded the club 40 years ago. Suki played sporadically as a child but began again five years ago.
"There are more levels of play, and that means more opportunities for women and children are available," Suki Piper said. "And it’s become something I look forward to."
Stephanie Strack, an 18-year-old from Spanaway, has been playing for four years. She began playing arena polo, an indoor version with three players per side, but said she prefers the outdoor variety because it’s much faster.
Strack, a cadet with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, plans to continue playing locally for the foreseeable future.
"It’s my favorite sport," said Strack, who also played soccer and lacrosse at Bethel High School. "And everybody out here is what makes me want to come back and play."
Polo is not a cheap pastime. Tournament entry fees can cost several hundred dollars. The costs of owning a horse – replacing shoes, purchasing hay and the filling the fuel-guzzling trucks to haul around the trailers – add up quickly.
But few people focused on the costs Saturday.
"It’s something I will do forever," Piper said, "but as long as I can bring my horses and keep them fit and sound, there’s no better way of having fun."