Hello! If you’ve read my last blog post you’ll know that the 100th horse I rode was a polo pony. I told you that I had a lot of exciting stories to tell you, and one of them is that I’ve started learning polo!!!
So far I’ve only had a few lessons, but it’s amazing how fast everyone’s progressed! The other new riders and I are nothing compared to the riders who have been playing several years, but already we’re managing to play chukkas in walk – and score goals!!
Polo, in case you don’t already know, is a game played on horseback that has been described as a bit like hockey. Usually there are four players on each team, and they all have a wooden mallet with which they have to hit a small white ball. As with most ball games, the aim is to hit the ball into the opposing team’s goal. This is easier said than done!
I thought I’d share with you some of the thing I’ve learnt in my first few polo lessons, as it’s great fun and very different to ‘normal’ riding.
Forget What You’ve Learnt
Polo needs a different riding style to regular dressage/showjumping, and polo ponies are trained to understand different signals. It’s similar in many ways so it won’t take long to pick up the basics, but if you try steering with the reins in two hands (even just to get out the way of the mounting block when you’ve got on) your pony won’t understand! Apart from having the reins in one hand and neck-reining, you have to hold the reins in a completely different way. It’s very strange to start with, so you almost need to forget what you’ve already learnt.
There’s an Art to Holding a Mallet
This is another thing that’s very confusing, even after several lessons. You can’t just grip the mallet – you have to make sure it’s facing the right way, try to remember how to wrap the ribbon at the end round your hand, and then position your fingers in the right place. This is very important as your arm is going to get tired from hitting the ball and it’s easiest if you’re holding the mallet correctly.
It Makes ‘Normal’ Riding Feel Over-Complicated
Once you get over the strangeness of polo riding you begin to wonder why you ever rode any differently!! The lightest pressure on the reins (even with them just in one hand!) will steer a polo pony much more easily than all those arguments you use to have with nappy riding school ponies. Polo ponies are trained to be forward and sensitive, but it’s also a more natural riding style.
Keep Your Eye on the Ball
The advice that’s probably equally applicable for all ball games is to keep your eye on the ball. Being on speedy polo ponies, you need to be aware of your surroundings, but stay focused on the ball. If you let yourself get distracted by what other people are doing, chances are you’re going to miss it.
Just Go For It
Polo is something best learnt by doing and learning by experience. Practise makes perfect after all!! Get out there. Hit the ball. Try a faster place. Don’t hold back. The worst that can happen is that you’ll miss the ball, and at the end of the day polo is a competitive sport!
Get Over the Ball
When you’re about to hit the ball you’re suppose to get out the saddle into a sort of light seat. However, it’s different from your typical jumping light seat in that you need to be actually over the ball. To get a better polo position, it help to think about getting your head actually above the ball, as this will help you lean out the saddle properly to hit the ball
Your Pony Will Help You
Polo ponies are generally very well trained! They’ve learnt what you’re trying to do and will automatically follow the ball to some extent. Sometimes they kick the ball themselves, which may be helpful or unhelpful. Even if you miss, your pony may help you and kick it along! Also, it’s important to remember to trust your pony! Polo ponies know what to do and will help you if you ride properly!!
Polo Is a Team Sport
One of the main things that makes polo so much fun is that it is a team sport! It relies on both individual partnerships with your pony and a collective team spirit, the combination of which makes it unlike many other sports. Possibly one of, if not the most important thing, is to back each other up, support, and communicate. Different people have different skills and it is only by supporting each other that you can succeed – meaning polo is automatically more sociable than ‘normal’ riding can sometimes be!!
Polo is a fast-moving sport (when you’re ready for the speed!) and requires you to keep moving forwards. Don’t stop on the ball, just keep moving, and when you’re ready to up the pace a bit, go for it!!
Polo requires a whole new skill set compared to regular riding, but it also feels very familiar. At the end of the day, it’s still horse riding and if you already ride you will feel surprisingly at home in the saddle. Polo isn’t as intimidating as you might expect!
If you get the opportunity to learn polo take it!!! It’s the most amazing fun, and there’s something very satisfying about the clunk of your mallet hitting the ball!
Keep loving horses,
Horse Daydreamer xxx