Most of my #PoloLife posts so far include high-goal tournaments with glamourous parties where champagne is poured by the liters and divot-stomping is more of a picture-moment than an actual spectator “job”. Most matches I have watched the horses are brought out by the many grooms all tacked up and ready to play and they get taken away after to get cleaned and un-tacked somewhere else. These are the privileges of playing polo in Dubai or having a large operation. But for most people who play polo as a hobby it is a totally different story and a lot of hard work (which they have to do themselves).
Last weekend I was in the UK visiting some friends and I joined them at Binfield Heath Polo Club to watch them play in a 2-goal tournament between friends. Most polo players will tell you that you are only as good as the amount of tournaments you have played, polo takes a lot of practice and the more experience you have the better you can get. So to improve your game it is important to play tournaments as often as possible, even if just for fun between friends with nothing but your pride at stake.
My friends Sam and Tom invited me out to the countryside to watch their 2-goal game, Sam has an outdoor handicap of 0 and in the new official women’s handicap she is a 3 and Tom is playing at an outdoor handicap of -1. For more info on the handicaps click here
I was keen to go and see how a low-goal tournament goes. I have been very lucky to sit sideline to some of the most amazing matches, ranging from the Dubai Gold Cups to the US Open final and my polo passion actually started with the Palermo Open Final (kind of hard to top that one). I love watching high-goal polo, but I also know it is far from any reality I will experience in my own polo game, so it was quite enlightening and actually quite special to be up close and by the pony lines (the truck) for a low-goal match.
I made my way out there and as the car was going down those winding little roads with lots of green everywhere it was as if my heart got bigger and my eyes as well, trying to take in all the beauty of the British countryside. There in the middle of the forest was Binfield Heath Polo Club and a polo pitch with lots of action. I arrived a little late unfortunately because of the immense traffic getting out of London and was therefore even happier to be in such a peaceful place after the hectic London roads.
The game was already in full play and the shouting in a mix of English and Spanish from the field made me feel right at home.
I quickly found Martín (Sam’s groom) by the pony lines and wanted to help him out, but everything was already sorted, they had done it all (together, Sam, Tom and Martín) before the game started, so all I could help with was just hold ponies and go for a walk with them once they were done playing (and of course take selfies with them).
They had brought down 10 horses for their match of 4 chukkers; 5 for Sam and 5 for Tom. For those not familiar with polo rules, you must change horses every chukker, so they don’t get too tired and it’s always good to have a spare, for more polo rules click here.
For a match starting at 1.45 pm they had started preparing at 9 am! So first getting all the gear ready: saddles, saddle pads, bridles, wraps, mallets etc. There are so many things that go along with riding and even more with polo (I know because I helped put it all back in the car). Once all of that was loaded it was time to get all the horses in the truck and drive for about 45-60 minutes to the polo club, then get all the horses out, give them a good brush, tack them up (wraps, saddle pads, saddles, bridles… times 10) and then play polo.
During the game Martín makes sure to have the right horse at the front so Sam and Tom could change horses quickly and then after we walked them around to cool off he gave them a nice little refreshing shower.
As Martín bathed each horse after the chukkers at the end they were pretty much ready to go home, but then all the gear had to go back in the car as well and the horses back in the truck and we all went back to their home.
After the match we all had refreshments, mate and some delicious brownies and chilled for a bit talking about the tournament and what was coming next.
All the gear gets unloaded and about 10 loads of washing has to be done, the horses get fed and by 6 or 7 pm we could all relax at the local pub. Keeping in mind that there would be chores such as cleaning the bridles and doing all of those loads in the machine and several other things throughout the week.
So anyone who thought that polo is all about the fancy-schmancy parties and that polo people are lazy is very mistaken! It takes a lot of hard work, on and off the field to play polo, even at low goal and as a hobby, maybe even especially at low goal and as a hobby.