March 12 2014 Latest news:
Sara Odeen-Isbister, Senior Reporter
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Often called the sport of kings, polo certainly conjures up images of rich folks in expensive frocks, swilling champagne.
But strip away its elite reputation, and you have an exciting, skilful and fast-paced game that you don’t need a heavy wallet to enjoy.
Londoners have the perfect chance to watch the sport up close next month when Hurlingham Park in Putney hosts its annual MINT Polo in the Park, a three day tournament between June 7 and 9.
The park held regular polo fixtures before the Second World War, but in 1939 the fields were given over to the Dig for Victory food effort and for decades not a single game was played there.
However, in 2009 City Events Ltd decided to bring the sport back to its Putney roots and since then the tournament has become a popular date in the polo calendar.
As the organisers and riders prepare for the big event myself and a few others have been invited to the park by polo school Cool Hooves to try out the sport for ourselves.
Having ridden throughout my childhood, I feel pretty comfortable on a horse but navigating my mount while hitting a ball at the same time is another thing altogether.
A quick lesson from our coach, Andrew Murray, in how to hold the stick and strike the ball confirms my suspicions that I have little in the way of hand-eye coordination. I spectacularly miss the ball on a number of occasions and we’re not even in the saddle yet.
But remaining positive I jump on my steed, a pretty chestnut coloured pony called Pedrosa, and with reigns in one hand, stick in the other, I’m ready for action.
Gone are the proper, hard polo balls we just practised with, instead we’re given special soft orange balls that are twice the size. Fine with me – they’ll be much easier to hit I think.
Sadly this isn’t the case. At one point poor Pedrosa has to circle the ball five times as I try in vain to reach it.
Before long it’s time for a match and the group is divided into two teams of four. As everyone is new to the game, most of the rules are dispensed with - just get the ball in the goal says Andrew.
Once the match starts I suddenly forget I can’t play and I’m riding up and down the field with a new-found enthusiasm and energy, chasing after the ball, pushing other riders out of the way and feeling probably a little bit too competitive for a ‘friendly’ beginner’s game.
I say chasing as I rarely actually touch the ball, but who cares? I’m a having a great time.
As I look around I see the rest of the group are too, and many have never ridden before. There’s definitely something a little comic about us all scrambling rather unsuccessfully for the ball – you can just imagine the Benny Hill music in the background. But no one seems particularly bothered about what they look like, they’re having too much fun.
The game comes to an end and as I wander exhausted out of Hurlingham Park, I ponder my future in the sport. The royal princes and I enjoying a friendly hit-around while their grandma cheers us on from the sidelines? Time to book my next lesson.