The Beginnings of an Umpire


It started when I was about 13 years old. 

I was grooming for my grandpa at Will Rogers Polo Club, the last grass Polo field in Los Angeles. We would get up early on Saturdays, drive 20 miles from Topanga, CA to Pacific Palisades, and line the field.

My grandfather would hold the rope, and I would push the cart of lime.

Then the lawyers, doctors, real estate moguls, and the Questals would play Polo, and I was the ball girl. I would shag balls to help the umpire, and occasionally, when the umpire was not around, I was in charge of throwing in the ball.

Megan Judge umpire

Steve Lane, Tom Goodspeed, and Rege Ludwig would come to the club each summer trying to teach the rules and standards of a good Polo game to a bunch of lawyers. And boy, did those guys love to argue. “But what if I hit the ball last?” or “I never saw that guy,” was what I often hear from them. 

The consistent clinics, the humor, and joy these professionals brought to Will Rogers each summer made me laugh and laugh.

When I went to college at Cal Poly State University in 1995, I quickly found that I, with my hand-me-down knee guards, bell Polo helmet, and western Olathe boots, had more knowledge than most—even than the coach, a nice but rico-suave type from Guatemala, Christian Schapps.

I quickly started explaining the Line of the Ball (LOB) and Right of Way (ROW) to my young college peers in between shots of patron and cans of Coors Light. I also tried explaining these to the Cal Poly Rodeo team, but they were not as receptive.

Honestly, it was an uphill battle teaching the rules in college, but I wanted to win a National Championship! So we learned the rules, practiced weekly, and made it to the Nationals. We lost, but I realized how much I still had to learn. So I started reading the rule book. Seriously, I would read it all the time—on road trips, when I was watching baseball games with my grandpa, anytime I was having a hard time going to sleep. I read the rule book for fun. I wanted to get the game.

Megan Judge playing polo

Fast forward to seven years and I wanted to start a Polo club here in San Luis Obispo, CA. I needed to be legit. I started with clinics with Dan Healy and Steve Lane. They came to our club, taught a bunch of beginners the rules, LOB, and ROW. Then, I started coaching the Cal Poly Polo Team and a high school team. I really needed to have all the tools to teach, umpire, and lead teams.

I began umpiring intercollegiate games, high school games, then some friends started a tournament called the Pacific Coast Arena League. The PCAL tournaments were hosted by clubs throughout California. Arena games happen each weekend at a different club from -2 to 3 goals.  But we needed to have umpires because we would have up to eight games a day!

I started attending umpire clinics for three reasons: one, to be able to pull my opponents into fouls; two, to get paid to the umpire, and; three, to listen to Steve Lane. He was so funny, sometimes my face would hurt from laughing.

polo umpire
polo umpire

So then fast forward to seven more years, I got pregnant! Well, what can a pregnant chick do?  Umpire! So I started umpiring more and more, plus I would train my students to umpire. I figured if they could see the plays from the umpire’s perspective, then they could play better, stronger, and smarter. 

I have now successfully (after 21 years) attained a B-rating as an indoor umpire. I have also been umpiring Pro-pool at Santa Barbara Polo Club, and 4 goal matches at South Bay Polo Club. This weekend, I will be umpiring for the USPA Umpires LLC, a USPA National Arena Challenge Tournament.

In the business of Polo, I feel that as a good coach, instructor, and player, I can give back by being a good umpire. That is what inspires me when I am umpiring—I am giving back. It is not an easy job, but I enjoy keeping the game safe, competitive, and real. That is why I am an umpire.

Megan Judge umpire

Recently, I have seen fewer differences in Men’s and Women’s Polo. The handicaps are becoming more accurate, the tournaments are well-run, there are bigger sponsors, and a lot of support from the men has improved the games. The professional women and men in Polo are supporting it in terms of providing horses, umpiring, and coaching. Men are including women more in their green horse and practice matches and encouraging women to play harder in those matches.

I have been saying for 14 years that the future of the sport is women. I told Steve Crowder about this ten years ago and he laughed at me. Now, I think he agrees.

The women’s handicaps are great—it gives women recognition to work hard to get better, buy or make nicer horses, improve their teams, and practice more. As more women become horse trainers, managers, professionals, umpires, and grooms, there will soon be no more conversations of men versus women—it will simply become Polo. 

Physically, a professional female is different from a male counterpart. However, that same idea is true mentally. A female can be mentally stronger, ride a horse differently, and compete toe to toe with their male counterpart.

There is a place for anyone in Polo, male or female. They just have to act professionally, want to play for the love of the game, and be good or have resources to surround themselves with good trainers and good horses.

Megan is currently the Manager at Central Coast Polo Club in California. Reach out to her through their website.

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