If the last 20 years had done anything to fade my recollection of just how incredibly MEGA polo was then within seconds of arriving at Cirencester Park Polo Club and hitting the ball it all came flooding back with a vengeance!
It’s so hard to explain to an eventer, show jumper, dressage rider etc the sheer buzz that polo delivers. I can imagine the counter arguments:
‘Yes polo looks fun but……’have you but have you ever jumped clear round a 1.30 course of show jumps?’ ‘ridden the perfect passage?’ or ‘felt the thrill of notching up a clear xc round Badminton’ no I haven’t but more to the point…..have YOU ever tried polo????
Its appeal to me is clear because it delivers speed, accuracy, determination, physical contact, skill, sabotage, team work, and all these aspects of the sport send my adrenaline levels sky high.
The riding style is also much more intuitive (although no less demanding or skillful), and therefore imo more immediately enjoyable. No more heels down, soft elbows, straight back etc etc, no silly dress code (although white jeans wouldn’t exactly my first choice of flattering legwear!). Just jump on go, stop, kick on, ride off and do your best to hit the ball. Even at a trot or slow loping canter, timing your shot to perfection and hearing that rewarding crack as the ball sails across the pitch is ridiculously satisfying (this is either a universal truth or I really need to get out more!).
To reach the higher echelons and great rewards of most equestrian sport takes years, requires great skill, self sacrifice and endless man hours. With polo you can get a great sense of achievement and satisfaction within hours. If you’re already a rider, can master one stroke and effectively hit the ball then you are already on the way to enjoying the sport. Its simplicity and immediate rewards are fatally attractive though, and no doubt if you really get hooked then your piggy bank is probably going to take a hit!
I did some quick maths and totted up the cost of 4 average polo ponies, a 4 horse lorry, club membership and playing costs and quickly wet very pale when I realised I would need to list my left kidney on eBay to help fund this change of hobby. Current mood can best be summed up like so….
I love the team aspect of the sport as well. So much of riding is individual and even with great communities and familiar faces on the circuit when actually out there in the ring or on the course it can feel a little lonely. With a team activity you can share in a common goal, and revel in your mutual success. There’s also the perks of post match socialising and all that goes along with the polo scene!!!
With next month’s charity polo match looming I thought it best to get some practice in so with the help of Major Moi Watson (a livery at our yard who just happens to be an ex-polo player. Handy!) we found a useful spot on the farm to whack some balls about and attempt to iron out bad habits.
As you can see I fully mastered my mount ‘the step ladder’ but controlled direction of the ball was proving a little more illusive!
I think it’s clear from the 2nd pic that the ball did not go in the direction I had intended! #blogger #polo #equestrian #horseygirl #horsesofinstagram #inspirecharitypolomatch #rundlecup #horse #stickandball #chukka #woahstepladder #poloponyrequired A photo posted by Chloe Ammonds-Nutt (@gifthorseeventing) on
Refreshed and primed for the next day I set off to Ciren Polo to take part in their polo taster morning. Just the refresher I needed before the big match!
We started with a leisurely cuppa and introductions and I got the distinct feeling that a few bods were nursing a hangover from the Jerudong Cup Day (featuring non other than HRH Prince William) the day before. Despite a few fuzzy heads in our group Tim our instructor was enthusiastic and keen to get us all into the swing of things, and his passion for the sport was infectious, a better hangover cure than any alka-seltzer!
We began with hand sticks and practised each of the 4 key strokes (near side fore and backhand and offside fore and backhand) until fairly confident in our accuracy and technique. I have to say that my competitive nature is hard to stifle and when faced with the boards at the end of the pitch about 30m away and a pile of balls to hit my first thought was ‘I AM hitting those boards’.
Conscious of my desire to ‘whack the ball into the next county’ Tim was great at helping with technique to accompany force, and within a few strokes my shots were much straighter and less effort….almost…bordering on stylish!
Next up we mounted the Trojan horses and put what we had learned on the floor into practice on ‘horse back’. If you’re looking for a low maintenance and easy to keep horse then may I suggest one of these?
After the theory came the practice and I got to meet ‘Zonita’ my polo pony for the day. Still playing chukkas and looking super smart all hogged out and tail taped up she was a delight. Very obliging and responsive she was the ideal refresher mount, not to sharp, not too sluggish.
We went for a little hack round the far pitches to get reacquainted with the polo aids, and worked a little on lining up imaginary shots. Picking up sticks on the way past the wooden mounts we started some stick and ball and that’s when the fun really began.
Large flat grassy area + nippy little polo pony = huge smiles
After a while Zonita and I were cantering about knocking the ball from one end of the pitch to the other with only the odd fluffed shot. I even attempted a few backhands and a passing umpire quipped ‘good backhand!’, I almost fell off my pony with shock!
To finish Tim organised the 4 of us into 2x teams of 2 and we had a couple of run downs. (A run down is like a race from one end of the pitch to the other with your team in a straight line behind each other. If you miss the ball you peel off and join the back and let the next rider take control of the ball, like an equestrian peloton)
After 3hours of fun it was all over and we rode back to the pony lines to hand our mounts back to the waiting grooms. I gave Zonita a scratch and told her she did a great job, and for a brief moment contemplated trying to fit her into the boot of my car so that I could smuggle her home.
I had to dash off at that point as I had some other very important ponies to deal with (Dustry and Bolly) so couldn’t stick around to see the professional matches in the afternoon, but the typical taster day then continues with lunch in the club house and an afternoon of watching how it’s meant to be done as the pro matches take place. If you wanted to go all out Ciren Polo can tweak your taster day to include a champagne reception and 4 course lunch. For those who’ve not ridden much I think a few bubbles might be just the tonic needed to boost your riding ability 😉
If you wanted to make it more of a weekend affair then The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester offer a special Sunday night polo deal comprising of the taster day, accommodation and a full Cotswold cooked breakfast in the morning. I think this would be a great idea for a ‘horsey hen do’ or company team building day…..now to convince my colleagues (who can’t ride) that we should do this!
Suitably refreshed and reminded of just how fun this sport is I cannot wait until The Rundle Cup and the Inspire Charity Match – Bring it on!!!!