Playing Polo for the First Time

I have discovered the most amazing riding discipline. I am shocked that I never attempted this before, because it is so amazing, I am now obsessed. Clearly since I wrote it in the title of this post, we all know that I’m talking about Polo. Next time I’ll try to make it more suspenseful and dramatic.

Polo is underrated. Prior to this lesson, I knew that it existed, but I hardly thought about it. It was just there, and I knew that some British royals played it, and the pictures I had seem made it seem as thought they were all over the place on top of their horses. Now I realize this is on purpose, but before, I thought it was just because they didn’t know how to ride.

Incidentially, or maybe not, this is the first year I’ve ever seen live polo. I saw it first on the Farm Tour, and then I saw it a few weeks ago at Great Meadow, which is really how this all got started. D’Arcy knows people, and one of them is a polo player with a string of ponies. She introduced Shelby and me to him, and we talked with him about polo, and he offered to give us a lesson. We all clearly thought this was an excellent idea, so a date was set.

Polo Ponies waiting for the action.
Polo Ponies waiting for the action.

Just a few miles from Great Meadow is a another Polo arena, and we all gathered there for our lesson. As I always am, I was super jealous of this huge arena. I could have easily had a nice 80 meter galloping circle in there, but alas, the arena is only for members of the polo club, of which I am not. Maybe one day, when I end up being so good at this I have my own made for television movie about turning an unlikely string of horses into champion polo ponies.

The lesson started out in the polo cage, with a wooden horse, and a slanted floor. We each took turns getting up on the wooden horse, “Bucky”, and practicing the strange contortions of playing polo. It goes against everything that I’ve ever learned to adjust into this strange position.

polocontort
Toes out, other leg sticks out with thigh pressing against saddle. Meant to anchor the rider in while they flail their upper body out to hit the ball.

After form, we learned the how to hold the mallet, and how swing. I hadn’t been looking forward to carrying around the mallet, as it seemed like it would be exhausting, but it turns out, when it is properly held straight up, it is actually is weightless and very easy to keep up. We were warned against “hobo’ing” the mallet, but some of us had some issues following this direction.

poloswing

Once we all had a turn, it was back to the horses, to tack up, and wrap up those tails. All the leather straps are plain and flat. This is not bad, but it sticks out to me because it’s so very different from the raised, fancy stitched tack I’m used to. The stirrup bars are twice the size of normal stirrup bars, and I really do not understand why this is. Although we were shown the proper way to tie it up tails, I did the rush way – I just folded it back on itself and then used electric tape to stick it up there. Not beautiful, but it’ll work. I’ll just add tail wrapping to the list of things I need to learn.

As soon as we were mounted, we had a few minutes to adjust to the horses. All of the horses are ridden by neck reining. It felt different, but wasn’t hard to adapt to. My horse, Doc, ended up being so cool! While I puttered around getting used to everything, he was very calm and docile, but when I started moving out later, it was like driving a sports car. He could turn, stop, whip around, and/or take off on a dime. And even when he was revved up, he didn’t get crazy, just happily did his job. He is a smart guy, and he knew how this all worked.

Once we were acclimated, we practiced situational awareness and twisting around in the saddle. Our instructor rode behind us, and gave hand gestures to which way he wanted us to go. While following his instructions, we also had to remain perfectly lined up with each other.

polo(1)

After our drill team exercises, we each got time to practice hitting a ball and took turns getting individual instruction. I’d say that overall, I had a pretty high miss rate.

It's hard to time the moving horse with when I need to swing to hit the ball.
It’s hard to time the moving horse with when I need to swing the mallet.

I did get a few hits, but nothing that sent the ball a satisfactory distance away.

Just a few hundred more little wacks, I should get to the other side.
Just a few hundred more little wacks, I should get to the other side.

I also don’t think I’m getting my shoulders lined up right for the swing. The action of the hit is supposed to come from the movement of the shoulders, whereas I’m just moving my arm.

polopractice3
Another solid tap!

Once we each had some instruction, it was time for a scrimmage, the Red Team, vs. The Team That Didn’t Coordinate Shirts. We were told to just go at a walk.

polo2
Slow motion polo.

That lasted about one play.

GOOOOOOOO!!!
GOOOOOOOO!!!

The rules are a bit confusing. You have to fall into the lanes of play, which sounds okay, until you are ahead of the ball, it’s coming right for you, and you can’t go after it because you aren’t in the line of play. I ended up fouling my team by going right for the ball. Whoops. It is a safety issue though, because you don’t want players heading for you to smash right into you, and you also don’t want to be smashed into by group of horses.

But, hooking other player’s mallets, blocking their shots, and physically ramming their horse with your horse are all okay!

Trying to do a backwards hit.
Trying to do a backwards hit.

Our entire polo lesson was about 2 and a half hours, and it went by in a flash, especially when we actually started the scrimmage. It was insanely fun, and completely different from anything I have ever done on a horse. I have to do it again, there is no question about that!

I’m not quite sure how this is going to work out, but I feel like I need to train my own horses for polo. Hopefully they can do their normal jobs while also being able to do polo. Otherwise, I guess I need to start collecting more horses! (Dave, if you’re reading this, HAHA! It’s a joke, I promise. If not…time to check out CANTER!)

I started with Berry. She’s pretty laid back, but I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about having a mallet swung near her head. Since I don’t have a mallet yet, I got a broom, and swung that around her head. She seemed okay with it, especially when I helped her get some flies off her back legs with it. We’ve only done halt and walk with the broom though, because she is not ready for neck reining. Her turning radius is currently too much like a battleship.

I did work on neck reining with Pony. He’s small and agile, so I have high hopes for him. I’ve only had one session of practice, but he’s sort of getting it.

"What is happening back there..."
Even if he does seem a bit bewildered.

I haven’t done anything with Vintage yet, but I’m sure she’ll be fine. Between the three of them, I’m on my way to having a very inconsistent string of polo ponies. Now I just need to practice, and also learn the rules, because I am still very, very confused. But still – TV Movie fame, here I come!

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9 comments

  1. This looks like so much fun! You totally reminded me that I bought a groupon for polo and never used it. I played polo in college and it is, by far, the most fun equestrian sort I’ve ever done. I would do just that if I were rich enough.

    1. Yes!! It is amazing!! I’m so jealous of your college experience! Also of your groupon…I’ve never seen one with polo, but now I’ll be looking!

  2. wooo awesome! i would love to try on an actual polo pony haha. played once on my own mare and it was pretty cool, tho i almost fell off a bunch and my wrist and elbow hurt something awful after haha

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