Polo for All

The sport of Kings ? well Princes and Kings-in-waiting. The public image of polo gives you the impression that it's for 'other' people, the people you read about in glossy publications, that upper-circle, that higher etalon, the one that is all about class. The public image does not reflect the facts - although the image is used by the sport to ensure sponsorship of the big events. The USA has led the charge towards polo for people - opening it's arms to anyone with the passion - and it is a passion bordering on obsession - that afflicts those who slip into it's gravitational pull. In the US there are clubs dotted all around the country, ranging from country club to just plain country! There is even a special variety of polo that only requires a single pony in order to participate, reducing the initial financial outlay. Unfortunately, the UK still suffers outwardly from the old perceptions.

If you go to the world-famous Cartier Match at Guards Polo club, you would be forgiven for thinking that the old guard, old money and celebrity still rule the roost. The truth is, a lot of the grass roots polo players forego the Cartier in favour of the Queens Cup or the Gold Cup at Cowdray, as the polo played at these other tournaments tends to be for the polo purist. The Cartier is good for meeting old friends, but the polo can feel a little like a display match put on for people more interested in seeing and being seen - assuming they actually venture outside of the corporate hospitality tent.If you are interested in playing polo in the UK, let me just give you a word of warning - they do say that you only get out of polo broke or in a box - from my experience, being broke rarely stops anybody, though a persistent spouse has been known to break the spell.

If you want to learn polo, may I suggest Kirtlington Park Polo club, one of the biggest in the UK. Set in classically beautiful English countryside and run by an Australian, Will Keen. Located in Oxfordshire, this is a probably one of the friendliest polo club in the UK, so don't hover around the edges feeling embarrassed, march right into the bar and chat with someone, tell them you are interested in playing or just watching, they're quite human really! The club is aimed at the starter to middle ability polo players ? which covers all but the most talented players. There are lots of low goal (beginner) tournaments and the club encourages senior members to share their experience with the newbie's.

Polo is unique in that a beginner has the potential to play in a team with a world-class player. The community is relatively small. The top players travel around the world, following the summer and are available to play in teams made up for a single weekend or weeklong tournament, at a price of course! This is the equivalent to a Sunday league soccer player, running out with David Beckham.

Another interesting thing about polo, aside from the high goal, teams are not static; players can find themselves playing for one team, one week and the opposition the next. The team of four is commonly made up of an amateur patron, a professional and another two amateur players usually friends or a fellow club members. A patron is generally the person who pays the tournament entry fee and picks up the professional's fees.

Not all tournaments require the involvement of a paid professional, some UK clubs like Kirtlington, run tournaments to encourage all levels of competition, with minimal financial outlay. The club encourages local businesses, like Kirtlington's web site sponsor, Life Pro Life Insurance to sponsor tournaments or fun events for the mutual benefit of club, business and of course, local charities.So you have decided you wish to give polo a try. Start by contacting one of the many polo schools attached to the club of choice. Feel free to try a couple of different schools, it's important you like your teacher, have a confidence-giving pony and get good value for money. Be wary of those schools that appear unwilling to disclose prices! Many are surprised to learn that an existing ability to ride is not necessary, in fact it has often been said that knowing how to ride can be a handicap.

Whilst this is not strictly true, experienced non-polo riders can find the change in riding style quite challenging. In those early days, a standard riding hat and rubber boots will suffice - don't be tempted to rush out and buy all the specialised polo equipment until your first chukkas are looming. Pupils can progress quickly to Instructional Chukkas within a very few lessons. When you engage in your first "live" chukkas, I would suggest you advise the other players at the throw in/line up of your limited experience. This should ensure that the other players cut you some slack. To impress your fellow players, be courteous, avoid any kind of dangerous play and don't chase the ball!.

At Kirtlington, as with many of the country polo clubs in the UK, you are likely to run into players from all walks of life; maybe a landed gent, a nurse, a pilot, an OAP, a farmer, a student, a life insurance broker, a computer geek, a famous musician (for some reason drummers excel at the sport), a cosmetic surgeon, a journalist? well you get the picture, it's a real melting pot ? the thread that runs through them all though, is the love of polo ? that's the real entry qualification. To quote a sentiment I once heard expressed by one of the senior members?. ".if they turn up in a fur coat and a Porsche, we try to discourage them.".


General Polo Information & UK polo club listing http://www.uk-polo.co.uk/.Kirtlington Park Polo Club http://www.kirtlingtonparkpolo.

co.uk.Club Web Site Sponsors: http://www.lifepro.co.uk/lifeinsuranceuk.


By: Pippa Read

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