- Associated Press - Sunday, September 11, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Rebecca Barker grew up in Jamaica riding horses as part of a polo-playing family.

She moved to Sioux Falls seven years ago from Cincinnati and brought her love of the sport with her, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2cID1cU ) reported.

Barker, a stay-at-home mother of two, has four horses.

“And three are polo ponies, so the summers are busy with horses,” she said.

She’s also helping the game gradually find a foothold in Sioux Falls. As a leader in the Sioux Falls Polo Club, Barker has been helping the loosely organized group come together.

“I tried to formalize it a little bit and expand the relationship with the U.S. Polo Association, so now we have U.S. Polo Association tournaments, and we’re playing more clubs regionally,” she said. “It’s fun. It’s unique because there’s really nothing like it around here. It’s the only really functioning club in South Dakota.”

The club counts about six players, including some who have played professionally.

One of them, Jeff Schneekloth, played in New York before moving back to Sioux Falls in 1989. He started playing as a student at Texas A&M; and founded the Sioux Falls Polo Club in the early 1990s.

He said he didn’t know if the game would take off locally.

“I just wanted it to because I had to have someone to play with,” said Schneekloth, who has a background in the cattle industry and owns Handy Trucking Co.

“The base keeps getting bigger,” he said. “The age group we get are in the 30s and 40s. That’s our target.”

The growth of Sioux Falls has drawn new players, and social media has helped get the word out about the club, Schneekloth said.

“That’s a tough thing,” he said. “You can get into it if you don’t have a horse. Come try it. We have programs for that. It’s a lovely setting.”

The club practices and plays on a field owned by one of its members southeast of Sioux Falls near Good Earth State Park. The team plays or practices multiple times weekly and travels to compete with teams in larger areas, including Minneapolis and Des Moines.

Polo is played on horseback typically in teams of four. The goal is to drive a small ball using a mallet into a goal.

“We have a small number of players, but the unique thing about our club is the level of play is very good,” Barker said. “And we have people who will take time to help you. My husband hadn’t ridden a horse until a few years ago, and now he can play in a tournament and be fine.”

An invitational tournament Aug. 6 hosted by the Sioux Falls club against the Madison Polo Club from Wisconsin resulted in a Sioux Falls victory as the team brought home the U.S. Polo Association Masters Cup. The event drew a crowd of spectators and several corporate sponsors, including Avera Health, Howalt-McDowell Insurance and Luxury Auto Mall.

“This is us giving back and being part of a fun, outdoor event that makes Sioux Falls great,” said Mike Chaplin, general manager of Luxury Auto Mall.

The auto dealer has been a polo club sponsor for four years and every year hosts a VIP tent for guests at a tournament.

“We have vehicles displayed for all to see, and our employees come out to see it as well,” Chaplin said. “We believe this is what makes Sioux Falls great. Forward-thinking events like this in a community of our size shows that we are progressive and that we will support growth.”

Those involved with the club anticipate growing the sport locally, too.

“Knowing all the tournaments I’ve been to, there’s huge corporate interest,” Barker said. “I think there is so much potential.”

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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