A Polo Game Is Not A One Trick Pony
Like many activities representing the true spirit of Britishness, polo games (Persian noblemen are actually taking credit for inventing the game) for me have always been an amazing event to attend (Cartier Polo takes a special place in my memories as that's where I first saw Her Majesty The Queen within a hand's reach; while Polo In The Park in Hurlingham Club is hard to forget due to the near miss of the polo ball flying into me and my friend while we were sipping on Mahiki cocktails). Have I never ever though imagined myself playing the actual game. And not only because hitting a small ball while trotting on a horse (or a polo pony to be precise) seemed impossible: polo is a noble game that is not accessible for everyone. So I've heard. Until a friend introduced me to Alumni Polo.
And here I am. At Ascot Polo Club. On a pony.
Hitting the polo ball. Yep. You Are Next!
Founded in 2012 by Thijs Povel and Michael Krayenhoff , the London Alumni Polo Club is designed to help recent graduates continue playing polo and bridge the gap between University and Patron polo players. The club boasts over 400 international members aged 23- 33 who live and work in London bringing together graduates from different universities (Oxbridge, my alma mater Imperial College, UCL and LSE).
You don't have to be an existing polo player though to join the club. Regular tasterdays for young professionals who are keen to try the sport is what I joined on a sunny Saturday to put my curiosity to test. Sign up for a tasterday via members, on the website or through Facebook group, pay £50 fee, put some sunscreen and white trousers on, and you are ready to go.
With hats and beautiful ponies provided at Ascot Park Polo Club, me and the other aspiring polo players were welcomed and briefed by an amazing Robert who said that through out the many years of him teaching polo he speaks to students exactly the same way, no matter whether you are a royalty or an 'average' human being (from which I made a conclusion that Robert taught royalty - noted!).
Starting with a quick 'how to get on a pony' masterclass, we were taken through the key body movements that signal the pony to walk, turn and trot. Fighting my natural instinct to avoid kicking animals and treating them nicely instead, I had to perform kicking my already slightly lazy pony called Debola to practice walking, stopping and walking again, turning on the spot and on the go, as well as trotting and then walking and kicking the ball, followed by trotting and kicking the ball.
Beginner lessons are organized with a focus on the basics of both riding and polo, the rules and safety. For novices it is not only key to hone the swing and riding skills but also to play games in order to understand polo tactics. Novice sessions therefore are a combination of stick & ball and practice chukkas.
Having complemented the group on the polo game progress, Robert said that we were among 1-3% of the entire population of students he ever taught who learned the tricks so quickly and that 'Inna almost made it too' referring to how Debola and myself acknowledged that I am a complete beginner and therefore that my pony took advantage of this knowledge and 'took me for a ride' by not necessarily following my kicking instructions. For me the entire experience was an incredible achievement so I gave my pony a mini hug and the group made its way to the other polo field where our more experienced friends were actually playing.
Whether you take months or years to master your polo game skills depends entirely on how often you practice and how good you are with ball sports, however once you get to a great level, there are regular polo tournaments and trips to destinations such as Uganda, Mongolia, Spain and Argentina. Definitely something to look forward to and train for!
I might not have become a professional polo player following the taster session but all the chukkas, throw-ins and handicaps started making sense. Not to mention that it's a perfect way for young professionals with exciting London jobs and interests to meet like-minded individuals. And occasionally attend a polo party which would be covered by Tatler. ;)