Your Horse Challenges You… to try polo
Athletic, nimble and full of character, a good polo pony will teach you far more than just the game at hand, finds Kate McLaughlin
POLO IS A FAST-paced, adrenalinefuelled game, steeped in history. It tests the skill of the rider and the agility of the horse, who is always called a polo pony, regardless of height. Once thought of as an elite hobby, only for the rich or those of royal blood, polo has never been more accessible. With over 70 clubs in the UK, a large university, school and young rider following and many establishments offering lessons, there has never been a better time to try a sport that tests the alliance between horse and rider. Games are divided into periods of play called chukkas. Each lasts approximately seven minutes and allows for 30 seconds overtime. Professional polo players usually change ponies during a chukka, nimbly leaping from one pony to the next without their feet touching the ground. Speed is a huge factor in the game, but the most important rule is right of way. During play there is an imaginary line of ball. If another player crosses it close enough to be dangerous, or causes a break in the other player’s speed, a foul is committed and a penalty awarded.
Up close and personal is allowed under the rules, with players using their horses to push opponents away from the ball. Rhian Rose-Jones, who recently had her first polo lesson, says: “I decided to give polo a go because it looks so much fun. The appeal for me is how fast the game can be and that it’s a team sport. “The ponies have a job to do and they know it well. When they’re not playing, they stand quietly on the sidelines and wait their turn. Once play begins, they are quick to stop and turn for forwards or backwards shots with ease and power. “The difference in tack and equipment is a real learning curve, from the lowpommel saddle to the extra set of reins that require some co-ordination to master. I can’t wait to try some of what I’ve learned with my own pony Orbit.” Anyone can have a go at polo. It’s an exciting test of your balance, focus and co-ordination — learning how to use the mallet, riding one-handed and making quick decisions when moving at speed. Being aboard a pony so switched on to his job will challenge your responses in the saddle and teach you transferable skills that you can take home and implement, whatever you enjoy doing most with your horse.
To find a club near you that offers lessons, visit polotimes.co.uk.