The accidental polo player

FITNESS PROFILE

Riding: Orthopedist Edward Cohen got into the sport by chance.

August 08, 1999|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,Special to the Sun

Dr. Edward Cohen didn't set out to be the next Prince Charles.

He just wanted to look at some vacation property in Aspen, Colo., 15 years ago. But the real estate agent took him horseback riding, and he and his wife realized how relaxed and wonderful they felt.

"Believe it or not, from that experience we came back and bought a horse farm," he recalls. Newly crazy about anything that involved horses, he went to watch a polo match. "They asked do I ride, and I said, 'I ride, but I'm not crazy enough to get into this.' " But the polo players persuaded him to take a class in polo, and he fell in love with the sport most Americans associate with British royalty.

A member of the Maryland Polo Club, Cohen plays the No. 1 position, which is like attack in lacrosse; his team gets the ball up to him and his job is to put it in the goal. During the five-month season, he practices twice a week and plays on Sundays.

The sport requires superior riding ability, obviously, as the rider twists and turns with the polo pony, all the while trying to whack a ball with a mallet from a moving horse.

To stay in shape, Cohen, 56, gardens. He jokes that he's turned a hay field on his Belfast farm into a forest by planting trees, but in fact he depends on digging and hauling shrubs as part of his fitness routine. Recently, he planted 60 dogwood trees that each required a 2-foot-deep hole.

"I do it myself to use that to stay in shape," he says.

But nothing can prepare certain muscles for riding except riding, as anyone who has ever been on a horse knows. Cohen sends his 10 polo ponies to winter in southern Virginia and doesn't ride much in the off-season. In early spring, he uses a treadmill to get in shape aerobically, but nothing can really prepare his muscles for that first agony of soreness when he resumes riding.

The ponies have an easier time of it, with an exercise routine that starts with walking, then trotting and cantering, until, after a couple of weeks, they can canter for 45 minutes without getting too lathered.

Cohen also swims and plays tennis regularly. In the winter, he says, he blocks off time with friends at an indoor court, which forces him to go. Regular exercise gives him a sense of well-being.

One thing that motivates him is weighing himself every day and writing it down. "To see you're staying the same is a tremendous reinforcement," he says. That's especially important during the polo season, when the temptation is to grab fast food after the practices end at twilight.

It helps that he has his own tennis court and pool for the summer months, but staying in shape requires time, time wrestled from his orthopedic practice, which has three offices. How does he do it?

"It's something that you enjoy; so you make the time," he says. "I don't watch TV. When people are talking about the most popular shows like 'Friends' and 'Frazier,' I barely know what they're talking about. I try to do something physical every day. It helps relieve stress and reduce the tension."

The Maryland Polo Club plays at 3 p.m. every Sunday through September at Ladew Topiary Gardens, weather permitting. For information and directions, call the polo hot line at 410-557-6448.

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