Friday, April 8, 2016

polo 2016

On an recent detour to Palm Springs, I finally got a chance to take a polo lesson! Lots of photos, but here is a great action shot:

see, I'm a blur in orange!

OK, so that wasn't me. I wasn't a blur of motion, amazingly coordinating my horse, 4-reins, odd saddle, mallet and hitting the ball half a field. But I had fun!

The lesson required no knowledge of polo OR horses. I don't think I'd want to learn to ride and play at the same time, but many people do. I think this sport (at the highest levels)  is for people who sank their yacht and need something else to sink their money into. But they sure have fun doing it!

ponies heading for the field

equipment for the sport

The horses were ready to go when I arrived. Legs wrapped, tails done up, and manes roached off. What, no handle!? Turns out I never went fast enough to worry about that! They were all Thoroughbreds, though shorter than I expected, gleaming and healthy, with great feet and a willing attitude. I'm sure my mare would come to regret that choice later. She had an adorable question mark on her face, appropriate for her rider…

My instructor patiently showed me how to hold the mallet, and the 4 reins. The saddle put my legs way out in front of me, almost a chair seat, but you don't sit down much (again, at a higher level, not mine!) Place the ball in front and to the right, in front of the horses leg and out about two feet. Then stand up, twist torso to the right, pivot your shoulders around simultaneously, keep your chin up, bring your mallet around and hit. Sounds easy, right?

my patient instructor, teaching me how to hold and swing the mallet

adorable pony face, I look a bit more skeptical with all those reins

ready for action, but pony is now quite skeptical

First swing! Wham, into the dirt. Second swing, whoosh, air ball! Then I hit a few, and the instructor just let me wander off. Wander being the operative word here. I'd hit it, and my saintly mare would walk after the ball, she knew her job: follow the white thing. She had nice steering and knew leg commands, much nicer than some rental string horses I've ridden in the past! Because these are actual working polo horses, just the well-tempered ones for super beginners like me.

on a mission

gorgeous views are worth it

I'd get a few series of hits, maybe 3 or 4, and think I could do it at a trot. So I'd pick up a tiny, slow trot, and promptly miss. And the instructor would come over and help me. One suggestion, just keep the mallet low and work on that.

So I did. And I practiced for more than an hour. I got better, but not by much! This game takes some serious timing and skill, and hours upon hours of practice. Like any sport. At least I wasn't sore from riding, like some of the other people taking a lesson. Only one other person had much experience. He was interested to learn about endurance, because he thinks it sounds fun and a bit crazy, though he does foxhunting in Canada, which sounds crazy to me!

our lesson group

The video above is a juxtaposition of me practicing and the professional game. It's good for a laugh! It was a really fun lesson, and I followed it up by going to the professional game later in the day. Now that is some impressive riding, even more so after my ungraceful attempts earlier! Top horses thundering down the giant field at top speed, neck and neck, after the tiny ball. Tight turns and horses blocking other horses, and these guys are game and ready for action. You can certainly tell the better riders, versus the ones who are a bit harsh, just like any horses sport!

breakout chasing the ball

lovely, keen horse

milling about, at speed, with support crews and extra horses watching form the sidelines

I'm thinking of getting a polo mallet and playing around in the arena. Major is a bit tall (and not as tolerant), and might think the whole things is stupid, but it would be fun to practice. Then next year, if I go take a lesson again, I might be able to actually trot and hit the ball!


  1. How much fun it that!! Omg on the one-handed four reins, though! That mare looks like a star to her for knowing her job!

    1. She was great, and so cute and tolerant. Could have taken her home!

  2. I saw a documentary about polo in Argentina, how they start the horses. It's pretty bizarre how they get the horses used to being in close contact with each other.

    I loved the video!

    1. I'd love to see that documentary. I was most impressed at the professional game that the horses weren't all amped up, they were doing their job, at crazy speeds, but not silly. I've seen much worse behavior at endurance rides (and from my own horse!)

  3. Polo is a BLAST and if you ever want to play locally (or do another beginner's clinic) come on out to my stable :). I've done a little stick and ball off of Farley and while she will never make a polo horse (she's just not that tolerant of horses in her space for long durations), I think it's a fun little exercise to do. Before I was at this barn I used to hit around soccer balls and exercise balls with brooms. Brooms and soccer balls can be a poor man version of the game and a lot of fun too :).

    1. How fun! I don't think it will become a hobby of mine, but a longer clinic might be fun.