OMG I think I have found my calling! A few days ago, I decided to bite the bullet and give Polo lessons a go. Not so long ago, a few friends that work up in The Polo club brought me along to watch Polo matches in Wicklow, and from there I gained a rather soft spot for the sport well besides being totally in love with the polo ponies.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have no idea about the rules side of the sport but I am sure I can learn pretty quickly. Funny that I mention it, The Palo Alto club in The Phoenix park are organizing a rules night on Thursday 14th July. I will be sure to make an appearance, especially if I want to consider taking up the sport full time. (seriously need to get myself a polo pony, they are CLASS!)
A quick explanation of a game of Polo – the game consists of six periods, called chukkers, lasting seven and a half minutes each with a halftime. Each team has four players who brings about 6-8 horses to the game. Players usually change horses either in between chukkers or halfway between chukkers depending on how tired the horses get.
So lets get started. I will run through the ins & outs of my lesson on Monday evening and hopefully it will give you guys an idea of what the sport is about. It is quite technical but once shown its hard to forget!
Meet Leo my instructor. He is an Argentinian Polo Rider, and OMG he has some skill! Playing off a handicap of 2, Leo has experience playing all over the world, From the minute I hopped up on the pony he was dying to get me started! You don’t need any riding experience to start Polo but as I did it seemed to be a huge benefit making things a lot easier for Leo as it meant he didn’t have to teach me how to ride in the space of an hour.
To ride a Polo pony, they use western riding as the basis. Its is very different to the English riding style that I ‘m used to! In Polo you always hold your reins with your left hand, and the polo Mallet in the right, (I will be calling the mallet a stick for the duration of this post, I just cant get my head around the word mallet!!). There is also a certain way to hold the reins, outlined in the picture above. Holding the reins was quite awkward at first, even trying to explain it I get slightly confused. Hold your left palm out flat, you place both reins on top and close your hands around them, using your index finger between both reins to shorten & lengthen your reins. It takes some getting used to but after a while it becomes second nature.
I couldn’t get over how reactive the pony was. Steering was done through the reins, & not through a contact with the mouth. Using the reins, you lean them up against the top of the horses neck to steer in the direction you want to go. They are so reactive to the movement of your body so I spent a good 10 minutes playing around with this, it was great! To stop the pony you simply lift both reins up and sit back and they stop immediately. With most Polo horses, sitting/leaning back in the saddle also does the trick. But do prepare yourself in case you bolt forward – when you want them to stop they literally stop!
The most important thing to remember, something Leo constantly had to keep reminding me to do, GRIP WITH THE KNEES!!! It was like using a whole new set of muscles, but the idea of this is to grip yourself in place so it gives you the freedom to move your body around to tackle other players. Your lower leg should also hang free & loose giving it the freedom to swing back, while trying to remember to keep your toes pointed inwards!
As we progressed in the lesson, we started off trotting, (I wasn’t holding the polo stick at this stage) once Leo realised I was well able to ride we moved up into a canter and did a few laps of the polo park, so I could get a proper feel for it. If you have ever seen a polo match being played you will notice that players tend to rise up and down in the canter, and this is what we also did.
Getting used to the pony came fairly quick, so we began to progress onto techniques including holding the Polo Stick and hitting the ball. The is literally like playing a weird form of golf on horse back. I think a lot of practice makes perfect with this. There are 4 types of swings that Leo showed me, forehand, backhand, neck, and tail, we focused on the forehand swing, one of the most common, (easiest out of the 4) as it was my first lesson.
He began by showing me how to hold the polo stick – you hold your right hand out straight, loop the handle over your thumb, flip your hand over, twisting the handle slightly for grip and you finish by placing the polo stick (with the number facing outward) in the palm of your hand. Bearing in mind that the end of the polo stick should lie on the end of your palm just before your wrist starts.
It is a lot to take in, trust me it took me a while to grasp it!
Once you have a good grip (always in your right hand) you must then hold the stick with the end facing upwards and with your elbow tight in by your right side. See pics below!
Side Note: You will not be able to feel your arm the next day, so beware!
In walk we began practicing hitting the ball, it is quite petrifying to begin with. You automatically get the sense of fear that you are going to fall flat on your face. I quickly realised that keeping your eye on the ball gives you a better chance of hitting it.
One thing Leo did comment on was that I began to start hitting the ball as if I was holding a tennis racket, but more practice was all I needed.
As I got the grasp of things, well being able to hit the ball and stay on the pony, we began to do this in canter. And dear Lord it was a million times harder! I did manage to hit the ball a few times, but there were times I nearly whacked the poor pony straight in the face, I honestly don’t know how they have the patience!
After 20 minutes of me trying to hit the ball, with Leo constantly hitting it around the park for me, he began to go through tackles. You kind of forget that it is a polo match and the opposite team are trying to get the ball also. The tackling part of things will take some getting used to. When Leo went in for a tackle (pushing me & my horse away from the ball, using his upper body) I literally stopped the horse dead and let out a scream! The big girl came out in me, but towards the end of doing the exercise in walk I began to get into it. Maybe a bit too much, apparently you’re not allowed use your elbows, its a foul if you do!
We finished up shortly after this, I was just about able to breath, get off the horse, feel my right hand and walk to the car! Can you tell I am slightly dramatic?
Overall it was an amazing experience, one that I will most definitely be doing again. Maybe one day in the far future you’ll see me playing my first polo match in The Phoenix park!
A big thank you to Emily & Leo, one of the best lessons I have had in a long time! Packed full of so much information, and a lot of great laughs. If anyone is interested in booking, see the email below to get in contact.
Has anyone else tried playing Polo? Give me your thoughts & tips! I do apologise if my Polo Terminology is not spot on, I am still only learning!
Want to see how my lesson really went? Check out the video below!
The All Ireland Polo Academy will start from June until the first week of September. I would highly recommend it, Leo is so informative with his lessons & no question goes unanswered, no matter how silly it may sound. Anyone interested in trying out polo for an introduction lesson or to take part in the summer polo academy located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin contact firstname.lastname@example.org