Combining his skills as a youth pastor and professional athlete, Horace Henriot hopes the polo lessons he offers this spring will stick in central Ohio.
The Belgium native said he wants to make the sport he loves available to everyone via his business, Play Polo LLC. The main field for lessons will be in Gahanna.
Henriot, 36, started playing polo in Belgium as a boy and became a professional polo player in the United States at age 19. He has trained in Argentina with some of the world's best players and played competitively in Europe and throughout the United States.
Polo is a game played on horseback between two teams, each comprising four players. The object is to score points by driving a ball into the opponent's goal using a long-handled mallet.
"It's one-handed hockey on a horse," Henriot said.
Though Henriot stopped playing professional polo a decade ago so he could study theology, he's returning to competition this season with the Columbus Polo Club.
He and his wife, Tina, and their three children moved from Belgium to Westerville about seven weeks ago. She is from Westerville, he said.
"I'm getting back into playing professionally myself," Henriot said. "I felt this was the right time and place to get back into polo. It will be helpful for teaching. I hope this will draw some new blood into the sport."
Although he's initially targeting more affluent areas to give lessons, Henriot eventually would like to introduce polo to inner-city youth who couldn't otherwise afford it.
"Our eventual goal is to provide access to kids who couldn't afford polo," he said. "We would like to create a structure to support that."
He said Play Polo is committed to be a voice of hope by adding value to the world through giving, serving and advocating for causes that matter.
Henriot said polo hasn't flourished in this area because the infrastructure isn't sufficient to support it.
"It needs a place with a stable and field," he said. "I'm trying to find ways to partner with someone who wants polo in their facility. By the fall, we hope to have a partnership for an indoor (facility) to go year-round. That's key."
To start out, lessons will be held beginning the first week in May at 5750 Clark State Road in Gahanna. Henriot also has access to a field in Granville, in front of the Bryn Du Mansion.
Play Polo will provide experienced polo ponies and all of the essential gear, including helmets, polo mallets and chaps for participants to learn how to play.
Henriot said he hopes to match participants with similar skill levels and ideally offer weekly lessons, lasting an hour.
He said lessons are open to all ages and ability levels.
"I'll teach up to four students at a time," he said. "I have one girl who wants to play polo in college next year. She wants two lessons a week. It's up to the people. I think once a week is a great start."
He will use retired polo ponies that are calm, easy and considered "bomb proof."
"It has to be safe," he said. "We have life-sized wooden horses with a real saddle to practice movements before (students) get on a real horse. They will be on the field stationary."
Henriot will provide all of the instruction, he said.
"No one on a professional level is doing this," he said. "We felt it was a niche market. We also want to do polo experiences for companies and parties."
For more about Play Polo, go online to playpolo.us.
To schedule lessons, call 614-230-3342.