To some, it may seem that to play polo, or indeed to be a good polo player all you need is to have long hair, be able to swish back some champers and have an affinity to white jeans. Well, anyone who knows anything about the King of Games, knows that all that could not be further from the truth.
Most people who are in the sport are there for the love of horses and the game, have made a lifestyle choice and are trying to ilk out a living just like everyone else. Anyone starting polo, trying to improve their game or to be the perfect polo player might find the following five points helpful.
1: Horse Riding Ability
All too often you see polo players bumping along, pulling on the pony’s mouth and giving the poor beast conflicting instructions. We tend to focus so much on the stick and ball aspect (generally only 5 % of ones game is spent on the ball) when in fact being a good rider is far more important. Comparing those players that have entered the game from other riding disciplines to the ‘new to horse riding player’ and you will notice how much easier it is for those with riding ability. The polo pony is a finely tuned animal athlete trained to understand certain commands. A good rider knows how to execute those commands whilst a bad rider does not, therefore confusing the pony and creating a tough time all round. So, put down your mallets and get some more riding lessons.
3: Having The Right Ponies
It is widely agreed that the polo pony is the most important athlete on the field. They say that the pony contributes 75% to the game and the player only 25%. Speak to any professional and they will tell you that generally the difference from an 8 goaler and a 10 goaler is ponies. However, when starting out it is vital that one matches one’s ability to the right pony. There is no point trying to jump into a Ferrari if you don’t know how to drive one! It is the same with polo. A -2 goaler needs a ‘Steady Eddie’ of a pony and not a high goal pony. As one progresses in the sport then so should the abilities of your ponies. So don’t get side tracked with the desire of owning the best but rather concentrate on having the appropriate level pony.
3: Keeping a Cool Head
In a contact sport like polo, it is so easy to get riled up by an opponent, a badly behaving pony or simple frustrations. Being able to keep a cool head is imperative. Look at the best players in the world (ignoring their appealing or pretending to be injured) and you will see that they remain calm under fire and stress. There is a polo term, “quick to the ball, slow on the ball”. Always knowing where the other 7 players are is very important. Quick pony changes and effective communication with fellow players is also important. None of these things can happen unless you can keep a cool head!
If you were to line up the 10 best polo players in the world you will notice a common theme, they are all relatively slim, agile and in good physical shape. High goal teams employ trainers, physios and yoga teachers these days. Why? Simply because it gives you a competitive edge. Are there exceptions? Yes of course as in all sports. But it’s a lot easier to hook sticks, ride off and be out of the saddle if you don’t have half a cow around your waist. Being in good shape with good core body strength also makes it easier on your ponies. It also adds to keeping a cool head as you have less to contend with. So, put down that pie and head to the gym as this is polo, not snooker.
5: A Competitive Nature
This is a hugely competitive sport with lots of different types of people playing and an equal number of egos to deal with too. If you are not a competitive type then being the perfect player or just trying to be good at polo is not going to be possible. However, this is not to be confused with an aggressive nature. There are so many different aspects to the game, one has to really want win to get there. If you just want to ‘take part and have fun’ then that is all fine and groovy, come on down. However, if you want to succeed and take home the silverware, then you need to have a competitive nature.