As we barrel into the Summer months, the balmy May sunshine proved to be exceedingly kind to us. I for one am always looking for new and exciting ways to get out into the great British countryside, enjoying sunny afternoons, sipping delicious summer thirst-quenchers and revelling in all things country. If you’re looking for an afternoon’s activity that will whet the whistle of any sporting or social enthusiast, then polo may be the answer.
Image sourced from Royalty Free site, Pixabay.
Since time began, polo has been played the world over, initially as a form of training for cavalry members looking to hone their equine and team skills; but these days, this ‘royal sport’ is open to the masses looking to take a dip in Jilly Cooper’s pool.
‘Polo is a treat for the eyes – the perfect example of synergy between human and horse, and luckily is not a sport you have to play to enjoy.’
Across the UK every weekend during the Summer months, polo ponies are packed into tack-laden horse boxes accompanied by their expertly trained. teams of grooms and jockeys, ready and raring for the day’s activities. With over 70 clubs across the country, there will be a polo field just waiting to host your afternoon picnic (with the integral glass of Pimm’s or Prosecco). Fast and furious, polo is a treat for the eyes, the perfect example of synergy between human and horse, and luckily is not a sport you have to play to enjoy.
The rules are simple:
1. There are four players on each time, as well as two mounted umpired, and two goal-judges (one at either end).
2. Each player is awarded a handicap related to their level of skill. The handicaps range from -2 for beginners, to the top notch 10, and the teams combined handicaps make up the level of the tournament they can play in, I.e, a 20 goal tournament, 6 goal tournament, 40 goal… you get the gist!
3. Matches are divided into four equally timed parts called ‘chukkas’. Each chukka is seven minutes long, with 30 seconds of extra time. If a goal is scored, or a foul caused in this 30 seconds, the chukka finishes early.
4. The most important rule of them all is the ‘right of way’. Once a player is moving across the field with the ball they create the ‘line of the ball’, an invisible trajectory that cannot be crossed by another player. Imagine if you’re driving down a motorway and someone joins the carriageway off the slip road. This driver can’t fly across your line of travel without becoming a danger, therefore the lines are in place to stop this and they have to join in the same direction as everyone else. An opposing player can use his horse to ‘ride-off’ the player in the possession of the ball or hook his/her opponent’s stick.
5. At half-time, spectators are welcomed onto the field to ‘tread-in’, replacing the divots caused by the ponies’ rapid changes of direction.
Image credit J Ridley Art & Photography
For those perhaps looking to make the move from pitch-side to centre field, clubs across the country welcome players of all abilities and ages to test the polo water for themselves. For as little as the cost of a Sunday lunch, you could be re-enacting your own Jilly Cooper fantasy, with coaches who are famous for having novice riders hitting the ball with ease by the end of the hour.
You would be hard-pressed to find a group of more sportcentric, friendly and downright enthusiastic individuals than those you find cheering on their favourite teams on the local club’s deckchairs. There is no dress code (other than for specific events) and with a trusty picnic basket and tartan rug, you’ll be ready to take in this thrilling sight.
Want a taste of the action? Open your diaries and make room for the creme de la crème of polo prowess:
The King Power Gold Cup Final, Cowdray Park Polo Club. Held on the 21st July. Tickets available here – https://cowdraypolo.yourticketbooking.com/events/GoldCup
The International Day, Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club, Windsor. Held on Saturday 27th July 2019, 9am – 6pm. Tickets available here – https://www.seetickets.com/event/the-international-day-polo/royal-county-of-berkshire-polo-club-windsor/1313441