- December 17, 2020
It was a somewhat simple question, but Karen Medford was having trouble with the answer.
Ashlie Osburg, a polo instructor who works out of the Sarasota Polo Club, asked Medford if she ever had ridden a horse.
The local business owner was about to embark on her first polo lesson at age 48, and she certainly didn't want Osburg to think she was a wimp.
Medford shook her head "yes."
Osburg, who was getting two horses ready for the lesson, looked back at her. That "yes" sounded a bit like "maybe, possibly, perhaps."
Does going around in circles at a county fair count?
Medford smiled, then changed her answer.
"No," she said softly.
Osburg was prepared for a "no" answer as one of the horses she saddled was a 14-year-old Argentine thoroughbred named Pepe.
"He's got more 'whoa, than go,'" Osburg said with a comforting laugh. "He always wants to stop and he is super pokey. But he will do anything you ask."
It was a perfect choice since a polo lesson can be tough if the student isn't comfortable on a horse.
Medford obviously was a bit nervous, but even more determined. She and her husband Rich Medford have proven their determination, building Sirius Day Spas into a thriving business in Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota. That success is even more impressive considering the young business had to survive COVID-19 when people weren't exactly wanting to be close to others in a spa setting.
Since they opened their Lakewood Ranch Sirius Day Spa four years ago, the Medfords have purchased season tickets to the Sarasota Polo Club, loving the tailgating atmosphere during a season that lasts from December through April.
More than that, though, Karen Medford developed an appreciation for the skills of the polo players, who would routinely lean over in a parallel line to the ground as their horse continued forward at a gallop. They would swing their wooden mallet and crush the ball, sending it 50 yards down the field.
Medford wanted to know the difficulty in performing such an artistic maneuver.
So here she was, exploring a new athletic path in a sport that is considered dangerous.
As Osburg had her trying on helmets, Medford's daughter, Ava, kept a watchful eye on her.
"She isn't afraid of anything," Ava Medford said of her mom.
Whether or not Medford has a little daredevil in her heart, Osburg goes through the regular routine for a rookie, which is safety, safety, safety.
After Medford had found a nice fit with a helmet, Osburg had her come to a spot in front of the stalls, where she had placed some plastic, toy horses. She started pushing them around, showing Medford the correct positions she needed to take to play the game correctly.
Nobody was getting on a horse until they learned about positioning.
Eventually, it was time for Medford, who handed her cell phone to Ava, to board the three-step booster and throw her leg up over Pepe. Osburg mounted Fish, a 15-year-old quarter-thoroughbred mix who she said was "super steady and calm."
She brought Medford over to a small corral where they practiced starts, turns and stops. Osburg also took Medford through beginner lessons on how to swing a mallet.
It was only about 15 minutes there before they headed out to a polo field, where in a very slow walk, Medford experienced hitting a polo ball for the first time. A pair of plastic cones were set up to simulate a goal, and Osburg led Medford around the field until she would have the opportunity to mash one between the cones.
All during the lesson, Medford's distinctive laugh echoed over the many polo fields, which won't be packed with players until December. Osburg was laughing as well, enjoying Medford's passion and her desire to learn everything right now.
While Osburg doesn't allow many of her inexperienced riders to trot during the first lesson, she was impressed with Medford's ability to pick up the basics so well. So there they went across the field, Fish leading the way and Pepe close behind at a slow trot.
"She is very athletic," Osburg said of her student, who blushed with pride at the comment.
An hour's lesson had come and gone, and the two women headed back to the stables, chatting all along the way.
"Oh my gosh, it was like ... exhilarating!" Medford said as she dismounted Pepe. "It took me a minute to get a feel for the horse, but after a little time we were synchronized. Ashlie is such an amazing instructor. She is patient and she hones in on all the minor details. She knows if your finger is in the wrong place."
With her heart racing and tension in her arms from trying to guide Pepe, Medford said it was an impressive workout.
Osburg has seen it so many times, someone at middle age or higher who believes they are too old to learn polo. After one lesson, they want more.
As soon as she hit the ground, Medford proclaimed that she wanted more lessons, to get closer to playing the game recreationally, perhaps with a group of friends.
"It is such an incredibly beautiful sport, and I have an admiration for those individuals who play it," she said. "Absolutely, I would recommend this to my friends."
Osburg has students as young as 6 and as old as 74.
"The girl who is 74, she dabbles in polo for fun because she just likes to hit the ball around," Osburg said. "Many people in their 50s say 'I can't.' Oh my gosh, 'Yes, you can.' This is a super healthy sport, and it builds a stronger core, which comes from sitting straight up on a horse."
Those who want a first lesson can simply show up after making an appointment. Osburg takes care of all the "dirty work," providing the horse and caring for the horse. Part of lessons can be grooming and care, if a student so desires. She provides everything needed such as a helmet, gloves and a mallet. A lesson costs $200 an hour and students can advance to playing a three-on-three game recreationally. Those who want to advance more can move into league play at the Sarasota Polo Club.
The lesson was over, but Fish and Pepe were given treats by Medford and her daughters, Ava and Mya, and already Medford was thinking about her second lesson.
This one would be different though.
When she is asked if she ever has ridden a horse, the answer will be "Yes!"