Is polo really just for posh people? Momtaz Begum-Hossain tried to master the sport of the royals
I’ve only ever had two thoughts about Polo: a) it’s what the royals do b) you’d need to be an expert jockey to take part. Sure it’s true this is the sport of the well-to-do, but it’s also something that anyone can play, even someone whose never sat on a horse, let alone ridden one.
Despite my many sulks as a child to board a pony, I have never been near a horse, apart from the time I was a bridesmaid and got to sit in a horse and carriage. Yet here I was on a random weekday afternoon in May, wearing leather shin guards about to discover a whole new skill (or lack of). It was all in aid of Mint Polo In The Park, a special polo event that takes place June 7-9th in West London at Hurlingham Park, the spiritual home of the game.
But how is this relevant? Mint Polo In The Park is not your typical snooty event in a strange rural location attended by elite people, it’s literally held in a community London park with ticket prices that start at a bargainous £10, making it accessible to everyone. Considered as prestigious as a day at the races, it’s also a good excuse to dress up and enjoy some alfresco fun, especially as the event coincides with the warmest day of the year so far.
You don’t need to know anything about Polo to enjoy the game, it’s after all a typical ball game, where teams are trying to score goals – the most exciting part is the speed and the general running around on horses. Especially when you’re on top of one.
To gain an appreciation of the game, I volunteered to ‘learn the sport.’
Organised by Cool Hooves, polo lessons can be taken as intensive courses or you can enjoy them for one-off activities like teambuilding or hen parties. Whatever your ability, you are totally looked after by actual professional polo champions.
First up, we learnt how to hit the ball on the ground. Remarkably I had a knack for whacking the ball – from front and behind, and even managed to do so whilst squatting as if I were sitting on a horse. Before I knew it, I was.
As I was assigned my horse and told to climb on top of it, I had a panic attack. I was convinced I would fall off and damage my back for life and decided to decline the opportunity. But then adrenaline kicked in. I yanked my foot in the stirrup and there I was; sat on a horse.
Next we were shown how to hold the reigns and control our animals, I kept getting mine in a twist which wasn’t particularly helpful as the slightest movement signalled the horse to take off. Lift them up to move the horse forwards, halt to stop, then turn to the side so that the horse and you turn too.
It was manageable with two hands, but then came the realisation that we actually only had one hand; the other was needed to hold the polo stick. Hmmm this was going to be fun.
We were split into two teams and challenged to a short match. On my own I was a disaster zone, I was told I had a lazy horse, who needed a massive kick from me to get it moving but I was too scared to do it. As soon as the all approached I chickened out and when I did get a swipe, I usually missed. At times my horse sped up so fast I was in utter shock, I couldn’t quite believe it, it was like being in a Western, my mouth was opened the whole time from sheer amazement.
The only person who 'fell’ was me. Still. I managed to sit back on and finish the game. Not sure if my team won or lost, I was totally baffled by the whole experience which basically was AMAZING and my thighs and bum ached, which is a sign it polo is a good work out too.
Intrigued about polo?
Watch it yourself at Mint Polo In The Park 7-9th June 2012
Or take a lesson with Cool Hooves.