I was asked not to take my camera to the VIP section, but I did sneak in my iPhone, so you can have a look on my new instagram account http://instagram.com/p/aTuZiXN6Wx/ (or click on the link at the bottom of the sidebar)
Please don’t hate me for saying that I love polo. I made friends with the sport by accident, because I wanted to visit Argentina and I had no money. A friend had worked on the late Susie Barrantes’ polo ranch, and so I got her to get me a job. I spent 6 challenging, fabulous weeks working on the ranch. I got to know the fabulous Susie, famous for being the mother to the Duchess of York. And what I learnt was that polo is brilliant, very egalitarian and that the horses love the game.
The reason I love polo is that it involves gorgeous horses in perfect condition, and lovely green farms. I like to let the beautiful scene wash over me. The riding is exciting and at a match there is usually fabulous food.
It is actually not the snobby sport that people think it is. If you love horses and are nice, you will be accepted on a polo ranch. You might be the son of a chocolate baron, or from a council estate with no gcses, but you will be judged on your horsemanship, not your wallet size. Yes, many very rich people enjoy polo, but it is becoming very egalitarian. Check out Ride to Shine – a charity that helps orphans become polo players http://www.ridetoshine.org/#!about/c240r. Known historically as the sport of kings, there are early Persian miniatures that depict polo as a game played in heaven, where men and women are equal. And the skill required to control a horse and hit a ball with a kind of croquet mallet makes – in my opinion – football look like child’s play.
The horses love the game and they have a wonderful life. Roaming free on giant fields in Argentina, they live in conditions very close to wild. I observed that they seem to instinctively understand the game. My pony quickly realised that I hadn’t got a clue, and used to kick the ball for me when we played. Apparently that’s quite common, and a good pony will help with the game.
A polo match makes for an awesome date. On Saturday my lover procured free VIP tickets to the Mint Polo at the Hurlingham via his work. We got to dress up – something we have almost forgotten to do with all the diy on our new home – and drink pimms and afternoon tea in the sunshine.
If VIP tickets are not forthcoming do not fear. Polo aficionados love Cowdray Park polo, the home of polo. http://www.cowdraypolo.co.uk/index.cfm £20 will get you a ticket. Pack a picnic, don a summer dress (and a glamorous coat – let’s face it we live in England!) and take a few friends. The dress code for polo is smart casual, with flat shoes, because this is a relaxed scene. (At least that’s what Debrett’s says http://www.debretts.com/etiquette/special-occasions/event-etiquette/polo.aspx. I was in fact the only girl in the VIP enclosure NOT wearing platform heels – pretty sparkly ones though – but that was entirely by accident. But I’m pleased that I accidentally got it right. Or wrong? Oh who cares!)
I’ve watched polo in London and St Tropez. I have relatives who are considerate enough to live in St Tropez, and when I visit them (which is important to do, I feel) we watch a match. None of us really have a clue who is playing, but the setting with its misty Provencal hills and green polo pitch is sublime. The food is delicious and there’s lots of that Pink Flamingo rose which you can only drink in the French Riviera.
Polo is a brilliant family outing too. Most of the big matches have loads of stuff laid on for children and actively encourage children to attend. Argentine children learn the game from a young age with their own mini mallets, practicing ‘stick and balling’ on the ground before they are even old enough to ride.
Following a match is an art that I have never really paid much attention to. As far as I’m concerned polo is a nice atmosphere, but it can be fun to cheer a team on. They score goals by hitting the ball between the posts and over the line. The rules have recently been changed so it’s much easier to follow and much more fun. The aim of the game is to score the most goals by hitting the ball between the posts with the stick. They play 4 -6 rounds, called chukkas. Each chukka lasts 7.5 minutes and there’s a 10 minute break in the middle.
Look out for ‘riding off’, which is when two players are chasing the ball. They are not allowed to cross the path of a rider who is galloping with the ball, but have to come along side and try to push each other to the side. The horses are galloping full pelt in a dramatic battle for the ball. We had to keep ducking as they came pounding past us which made it even more fun. The Mahiki enclosure got told off for trying to push their barrier into the pitch! It’s traditional, and actually quite important, to go onto the pitch and ‘tread in the divots’. This just means checking the pitch for holes that a pony might put its foot in and injure itself. Turn them back over with those flat shoes you wore and chat to a few players while you’re at it…
So there you are. Polo for everyone. Enjoy!