OK – so you thought that polo was only for rich toffs in Windsor Great Park – but let me put you right….. You don’t need a string of ponies and posse of grooms. A polo session will not cost you much more than a hacking session, you need neither experience nor a pony – and you could do it in Docklands! And if you had been on Hampstead Heath a couple of weekends ago you could have seen members of the Silver Leys Polo Club demonstrating how it is done.
For those of you who are as ignorant about polo as I was – it is all very fast and furious. You only have four players in each team, the field is really quite small given that you have eight horses charging up and down (300 yards x 200) and a match consists of four seven minute ‘chukkas’. The object is, obviously, to score as many goals as possible, after each of which the teams change ends to even up ground or weather disadvantages. You have to hit the ball with your right hand which makes for some tricky manoeuvring with that long stick. (In the picture above the front rider has just hit the ball behind him, having twisted across himself to do it!)
You can ‘bump’ your opponents off the ball, or ‘ride them off it’ – or you can hook (or at least try to hook) your opponent’s stick when he or she is trying to hit the ball – all of which seems rather unnerving when you are going at a full gallop!
As in golf, each player has a handicap which means that players with unequal skills can play together – along as they have a mathematical genius with them to workout the scoring. Once you starting factoring in the handicaps, this becomes extremely complicated. However, it does mean that if you play polo, as long as you have a handicap you can play anywhere with any team.
Anyhow, the lovely guys from Silver Leys Polo Club not only played a match for us….
…but they treated us to some tricks – standing, somewhat precariously, on the saddle…
…and giving the little kids brief rides on their very lovely and patient ponies. This small boy looked seriously unconvinced…
But this little girl, if you can see her under her massive hat, was obviously very excited.
And to encourage budding polo players to sign up for some sessions, this is Alfie who is only 13 and who only started playing last summer – and is now part of the team and very much holding his own!
If you want to know more – check in either to the Silver Leys site or to mhfpolo.com. Silver Leys run courses at their home in Hertfordshire, at Moor Farm in Essex and at their school in docklands. An individual polo riding lesson, to include the horse hire and coaching, will cost you £50 but you could join a group (the best way to learn they say) for £35 for an hour. And no riding experience is required!
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