Doylestown Woman Competes at Top of her Field
They call polo the 'Sport of Kings', a somewhat misleading term. Looking at a field of modern day competitors, you
immediately realize this event certainly defies any existing gender stereotypes. Men and women vie on an equal plane with
neither boasting a given advantage.
Audrey VanLuvanee, a veteran performer for the Tinicum Park Polo Club, did not grab
a mallet and mount her faithful steed to better any women's right cause. For this lifetime Doylestown resident, polo turned
out to be the logical next step in a very active sports career.
Raised on a farm in Doylestown, Audrey became versed in
the ways of horsemanship at an early age. "I've been riding since I was in sixth grade. I used to show horses and do gymkhana
and show hunters and jumpers. I use to be in 4-H and I did the Grange at Middletown and the Delaware Valley Horsemen a lot."
and starting a family, however, limited the time Audrey could focus on the equine sports. For awhile, she vented her athletic
energies in other arenas. "After I got married and started raising kids, it wasn't feasible anymore. I played softball, football
Injuries sustained in these endeavors sent Audrey back to the stables. "I ended up having three knee surgeries
and said that was enough of those sports. I went back to horses in 1996. I watched a match at the Bucks County Horse
Park and one at Tinicum and said that is for me. I started out with one
horse and now, I have six."
Already skilled in riding a horse, Audrey could concentrate on picking up the game of polo
itself. She instinctively recognized the need for getting a mount experienced in the polo wars.
"When starting, it really
helps if you get polo ponies that have already played. You don't want to get on a horse and start training it at the same
time you are learning. The horse will actually teach you how to play."
A good equine teacher does not necessarily have
to be as loquacious as Mr. Ed, the talking horse. He does, however, have to respond during the flow of a game.
will keep you on the line of the ball. When they see the ball turn or the play turn, they will turn before you ask them. They
instinctively bump another horse when they are supposed to."
Bumping another player's horse, called riding off, is an important
maneuver in polo. It is also dangerous when two fiery mounts collide. Audrey admits, "It can be dangerous, if not done correctly.
You want to bump shoulder to shoulder and be going at the same speed."
Audrey knows all about the potential dangers in
her sport. "A couple of years ago, I was involved in a collision on the field. I collided with another player and landed on
the back of my neck. I got up and iced it for about 10 minutes and then went on to play four more chuckers (seven minute periods).
got up the next morning and could hardly move. I went to the hospital and found I had fractured my [vertebrae]. I had, basically,
broken my neck."
The harrowing injury might have dampened the enthusiasm of a less spirited athlete. If anything, it only
sparked Audrey's competitive fire. Presently, she plays polo four times a week. She practices every Tuesday and Thursday.
Saturday she displays her talents at the Tinicum Park weekly polo match. On Sunday, she competes wherever she can.
"I travel around
the area on Sunday. I go to Lancaster, Stroudsburg, and Meadowbrook. This past weekend, I was invited to play in Denver but it didn't work out. In 1999, I played in Egypt."
Many clubs would love to feature a player of Audrey's
caliber on their team. With the highest rating, a ten, she currently boasts a one-goal handicap.
According to Audrey, "You
start at minus-two and as you get better and more accomplished at hitting the ball and knowing the rules, your handicap goes
up. There are only a few players in the United States that are rated 10. The USAP assigns the handicap. We have a handicap
committee that goes around and rates the players. The idea is to keep as even a playing field as you can."
excursions have granted her a storehouse of memories. Two moments rank among her personal career highlights.
to Egypt was a lot of fun. We got to ride
around the pyramids on camels but that wasn't really polo. Last year, we took a women's team out to Lancaster and played against a men's team. They wanted to split us up and we said, 'no.'
We'll either win together or lose together. We actually beat them and that was fun."
Audrey plans to harvest many more
golden recollections before hanging up her mallet and calling it a career. "The adrenaline keeps you going. You don't really
feel the bumps and bruises when you are playing. The next morning, you feel it. I'm going to play this sport as long as I
can...at least until I'm sixty."
With every match, Audrey helps change the label 'Sport of Kings' to a more politically
correct 'Sport of Royalties.' She is one talented polo player who can hold her own, regardless of the opponent.
Newtown Advance 8/16/06