Equine heritage celebrated at Barrington Hills polo event
In a matchup of headpieces -- not hats, luv -- Gretchen Von Hess easily reigns over the Duchess of Cambridge.
"It's my cloud hat," Von Hess says casually. "My fall cloud hat."
Von Hess turned heads almost as much as the horses at the LeCompte/Kalaway Trailowners Cup Saturday in Barrington Hills, the largest polo event in the Chicago area and a prime opportunity for posh fashion.
"Every year, I just get inspired by the spirit, all the activity here and especially the place where we live," said the Barrington Hills artist.
Clouds inspired a white, abstract bow on Von Hess' hat -- "I think of them more as sculptures than hats" -- topped with a tuft of white flowers.
And naturally, Von Hess needed three escorts: Bachione (Italian for "little kisses), Bella Pepper (Bellini for certain occasions) and La-li -- all black poodles and all wearing rhinestone collars.
"It's just the most fabulous event," said former chairwoman Karen Selman, admiring the pomp and the entries in the ladies hat contest.
The festivities began with a parade of the hounds by the Fox River Valley Hunt club, followed by polo matches -- one a "battle of the sexes" -- on a sprawling field at Oakwood Farms.
Almost 2,000 spectators were expected during the volunteer-run event, with a special lunch for homeowners who open their properties to let the nearly 350 members and their horses in the Riding Club of Barrington Hills use pristine trails.
"We are an equestrian community, and there's not another one like that," said Cathy Keady, who sits on the club's board. "And we're trying to preserve that tradition. We all feel strongly about our equestrian heritage."
"This is really one of the last bastions of equestrian pursuits," said organizer and polo player Jeff Hensel.
"You look so terribly smart," said Jane Clement, complimenting Hensel.
The Peter Wessel Memorial Tailgate was named after Clement's late husband, a former village trustee. In another contest, an award went to the best "tailgate," really tents with elegant furniture and flowers.
"This is a big block party with a little polo played in the middle of the field," Clement said.
Proceeds from ticket sales support the club's maintenance of miles of trails and the Barrington Hills Polo Club.
"Really the spirit is to celebrate the community," Hensel said.
"It's very much a hometown feel, and it's about keeping the love of horses."