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Easy Riders

Experience the pastime of royalty at the Barrington Hills Polo Club.

Team Chronos Consulting, in red jerseys, battles Medieval Times.

Polo: To many, there is little casual about the word. It evokes an exclusive sport limited to those with years of horseback riding experience, a great deal of time to pursue it and, in more cases than not, Argentinean provenance.

At the Barrington Hills Polo Club, however, it’s a much different story. Founded in the late ’80s as the Lakewood Polo Club, the Barrington Hills Polo Club, as it was rechristened in 2004, is the only polo club in the Chicago area with a nationally recognized school where students of all levels of riding skill are taught by United States Polo Association-approved instructors. With facilities that include a state-of-the-art grass field, a regulation outdoor arena and an indoor venue, BHPC members play year-round.

In short, it’s a game that’s far easier to embrace than its reputation suggests, says John Rosene, president of BHPC for the last 20 years. “Even when you go to the International Polo Club Palm Beach [considered one of the world’s top polo clubs], you’d be amazed at how accessible the polo players are,” says Rosene, who like some of BHPC’s 40 or so other members, first got a taste of horseback riding when he was growing up. But it wasn’t until he was older and established in his career as the founder of an advertising agency that he was able to fully indulge in his passion for polo, which includes playing up to four times a week during the warm months and twice a week in the winter.

“The idea of the BHPC is to offer a model for successful working professionals to combine their careers with the sport of polo,” says Joan-Carles Brugue, a senior manager for a Fortune 500 company who’s been playing polo at BHPC since 2006.

It was while doing research for a polo education-oriented vacation to Argentina that Brugue came across the BHPC website. Instead of taking that trip, he signed up for polo lessons with the club. While Brugue never expected to stick with it as long as he has, he found that the sport combines his love of horses (he now owns two) with the intensity of playing soccer. Brugue is also surprised at how quickly his riding skills improved. “Because you’re concentrating on the ball and the game, you end up doing things with the horse that you wouldn’t do that quickly if you had to think about it,” he says. “The adrenaline allows you to loosen up.”

Adrenaline is also an aspect of training at the club’s polo school, which begins on April 12 (a second course is offered in September). At the six-week Saturday morning course, the eight to 12 students, who are provided horses and equipment through the club, play a polo match on their very first day. The course combines classroom-style instruction focusing on terminology, rules and game strategy, as well as horse training and horse-grooming education. At the end of each session, students play two chukkers, or periods, with fellow classmates. As they progress, students are moved into matches with more advanced club members. “Our goal is to get them so excited that at the end of the course they get a horse for themselves and keep playing with us,” says Rosene.

That’s exactly what happened with Nadir Khan, a director for a mobile technology applications group who lives in Fox River Grove. Khan dabbled in polo while growing up in Pakistan, but it wasn’t until years later, after he moved to Chicago from New York, that he got back into the game. His interest was spurred when he saw an ad for polo lessons at BHPC. Ten years later, Khan is the club’s top player and heads up the school.

“It’s thrilling as far as a sport goes, and just being around horses is very therapeutic,” he says. And skeptics take note: Polo is easier to learn than you might think. “As long as you can swing a golf club or make contact with a tennis ball, you can play at an amateur level,” says Khan.

After completing the polo school last year, native Australian Oliver Baker, a sales and marketing professional who lives in Bucktown, found himself “hooked from the first go,” and plans to return this season. “It’s exciting, risky and a little bit dangerous,” he says. “I love all that.”

While polo is clearly the focus at BHPC, there’s a strong social aspect to the club, too. Its annual LeCompte/Kalaway Landowners Cup in September is the largest polo event in Chicago, drawing some 3,000 well-dressed guests who come to watch the games and socialize. Then there are the impromptu barbecues that inevitably happen after the weekend games. “People find that the bonds they develop with the [club members], atmosphere and horses make it impossible not to get passionate about [polo],” says Khan. “It quickly becomes a part of your life.” $800 for classes, including horses and equipment, Barrington Hills Polo Club, 847.854.1415