Sacramento crowd gets taste of polo at SPCA fundraiser

The region got a taste of old England on Saturday as hundreds descended on a dusty Wilton ranch for a polo match.

Ladies donned ornate British-style hats, while gentlemen sported polo shirts. The crowd of 800 feasted on steak and decadent desserts amid the clatter of polo pucks and the stomping of hooves.

The $150-a-plate Lasher Polo Classic fundraiser benefiting the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will raise about $60,000 for the nonprofit’s programs, according to CEO Rick Johnson.

“This is the only event of its kind in the Sacramento region, and it allows us to provide services to animals,” said Johnson, noting that the organization cares for 11,000 animals each year, mainly dogs and cats.

An army of 200 volunteers, standing by with copious amounts of alcohol and serving up appetizers, ensured that guests were attended to. Spectators came as far away as Placerville for a chance to see the horses and players in action.

“I want to hear the thudding of hooves,” said Melanie McAlpine, 51, as she arrived at Chamberlain Ranch.

The match got off to a quick start. Minutes after the ceremonial ball was thrown out, the match began and the ball flew between two goal posts soon after.

“That is absolutely perfect,” announcer Tony Gregg shouted through the speaker system.

The women eagerly posed for photographs, as their hats were entered into a competition. Some headpieces displayed simplicity, while others – the more outrageous fashion statements – included feathers and multiple layers of cloth.

Beth Hassett of Carmichael was sporting one of the more creative hats.

The fedora, designed to mimic her 10-year-old pug Demetrius, included a felt pug face, complete with eyes and and a pipe-cleaner tail.

“I made it in the office yesterday,” Hassett said, while she held a pug-shaped purse in one hand. “It took a lot of fabric and a glue gun.”

Placerville resident Linda DesRosiers also used her art skills, when she assembled an oversized hat full of black feathers and a faux raven.

“I bought it off eBay and threw in the feathers,” she said.

Despite the slow pace of polo relative to basketball or soccer, player Hearst Welborn insisted the sport was competitive.

“When the horses start running, they want to run fast,” he said.

But players do face the challenge of keeping their horses in shape since polo season runs only in the summer months, Welborn added.

The event, the second year in its running, attracted a more mature crowd. Kevin Halfhill, 25, was the anomaly. The football fan traded a jersey for an oxford shirt as he watched polo for the first time on Saturday.

“It’s cool, but too classy for me,” he said with a chuckle.