More than just horse play at Hertfordshire Polo Club

PUBLISHED: 08:46 08 March 2010 | UPDATED: 14:48 20 February 2013

Polo is shaking off its elitist branding

Polo is shaking off its elitist branding

Once renowned for being the sport of princes, polo is now breaking down barriers and becoming the latest must-try activity

WHEN it comes to choosing a new sport, polo is unfortunately low on most people's lists, writes Clare Bourke. Seen as elitist, with members of the upper class or royalty riding around on ponies costing thousands of pounds and watched by ladies dressed up to the nines, it is easy to understand why. But Hertfordshire Polo Club aims to turn this view on its head - and it seems to be succeeding.
As the club's marketing director Caroline Maddocks explains, 'Polo is the fastest growing sport in the UK at the moment and the only contact sport in the world where men and women play in the same team - which makes it a unique game.
'There used to be this very elitist image but clubs like us are working very hard to open the doors and get everyone in. We have a very relaxed, friendly atmosphere. People think they have to dress up but it's actually very dress down now. Once they try it for themselves they realise what a fabulous sport it is.'
And so I decided to do just that and joined an Experience Polo Day. To start, my fellow polo trainees and I had to learn stick technique and were led away by head coach Martin State, a former professional polo player who runs the polo school, to stand on polo boxes. After being handed a full size mallet, Martin and coach Felipe Courel showed us the finer points of a forward shot before teaching us to do a backward shot. We were then passed into the care of polo instructor Ron Mees, a former professional player who still plays at the club as well as coaching, and were matched with our ponies by the grooms.

When we were safely on horseback, Ron took no prisoners. He expected us to listen and work hard as we only had 30 minutes to learn how to control our pony and change direction quickly, do a rising trot and hold four reins in our left hand - leaving the right hand free to hold a mallett.

Next up it was off to see polo instructor Dean Lines to learn the rules of the game. Dean started to go through some of the basics. While it didn't exactly all suddenly become clear, we began to understand the basics, or at least enough to kind of know what we should do once we got on the pitch.
After lunch we watched an impressive display by Dean and Felipe as they showed off their riding and polo skills so we would know what we were letting ourselves in for and then we were unleashed back on to ponies and out onto the pitch for a few practice chukkas. I was full of confidence - until I tried to hit the ball.
I felt comfortable with trotting across the field, holding the reins in my left hand, steering my pony towards the ball while clasping the stick commandingly in my right hand. And then I tried to stand up in the stirrups, reach over and strike the ball - and nothing happened. No matter how many times I tried, I just could not hit the ball. I had lost my fear factor and was happy to cling on with my legs while riding my patient pony all over the pitch but if I could not hit the ball then I was never going to make a polo player.
It was all over too soon and after I dismounted I was so exhilarated I just wanted to get back on again.

Article taken from September issue of Hertfordshire Life

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