Polo Lessons at Dubai Polo Academy
Driving towards the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club I had butterflies in my tummy, I have spent countless hours at that club when I was living in Dubai, but I was always on the sidelines watching my friends play and divot-stomping in high heels.
But on that glorious Thursday afternoon I was invited to the Dubai Polo Academy as a polo player (in the making) for a lesson. I had my kit bag ready with all the right things, cause “you gotta fake it till you make it” so it’s important to at least look the part 😉
I met my new instructor Steve Thompson, and after making fun of my very new/clean/stiff boots, we were out on the polo ponies and I felt the exhilaration going through my body.
My polo lessons have been very inconsistent due to my flying schedule and I was learning to ride at a showjumping school in Bahrain, so I was really confused about the entire thing. I agreed with Steve that we should take it back to basics and start from the very beginning. I told him “Let’s pretend I have never been on a horse before.” Which was a reality merely one year ago.
First things first Steve needed to see exactly how much (or little) I knew. So at a stand still I showed him my seat and my swing. Steve immediately realized how stirrup dependent I am (even after #NoStirrupsNovember !) and that is the first thing we had to work on, so he took away my stirrups (and I walked very funny the next day). He also immediately noticed that my riding was much more general practice riding, which essentially has very little to do with polo riding;
He was pleasantly surprised by my swing though. He said I had some natural talent in there (yay! This comment just made my day), but I needed some guidance to be more aware of the physics of it and then not think too much about it. “Don’t try to hit the ball, the mallet is an extension of your arm, which you are letting fall in a pendulum motion, the ball just happens to be in the way.”
All my teachers have said this before and they will probably say it a million times again;
So basically learn the motion not the action and then just do it, without thinking about it. As soon as I start thinking about it, I mess up. Why? Because I tense, my eyes see the distance to the ground and the speed of the horse’s canter, my brain then thinks “Oh S**T I will fall” and then my body tenses up trying to hang on to the horse and then everything gets messed up; the horse slows down, I lose my balance and feel terrible about the whole situation. So it really is one of the hardest things, but I need to stop thinking too much about every little thing and just go with the flow and the motion of the horse. When swinging apparently the trick is to not think about where the mallet is going, but rather how my torso is twisted and having my arm as straight as it can possibly be.
I finally learned how my legs should be positioned when setting up for a shot. I have seen pictures like this one below where the polo player’s leg is seemingly out in the air and I always though
“How the heck do they not fall off?!?!?”
Well I now have the answer to that, whilst in equestrian sports you use your thighs AND your lower legs to hold on, in polo it’s all about the thighs and the more movement you have in the lower part of your leg, the better. What is technically going on in this position is that the left thigh/groin is pushing in towards the saddle, the leg is out applying pressure against the stirrup and balancing the weight of the polo player as he/she sets up their shot. It seemed so complicated and so many details to think of, but once I got on the horse and did it, I understood (and again, don’t think about it).
We were out on the field for about an hour and 20 minutes, time flew because I was having so much fun learning polo techniques and because Steve has an amazing sense of humor.
After my lesson Steve showed me some exercises and ways of practicing at home with my foot mallet, he has a special mat for it. I will just have to imagine it at home (or maybe just make my own… hmm DIY project on the way!)
Then it was time to walk around for a cool-down and to say hi to all the other lovely ponies and explore the grounds.
I have been learning to play polo in three different continents so far, from my first lessons in Florida, my next ones in the UK, my first chukker in the UK and now learning it all again in Dubai, because my stewardess brain forgot most of it. The traveling makes it very hard to be consistent with my learning experience, but at least it makes for great adventures! Stay tuned for my next ones! Make sure to subscribe in the little box to the right.