The Day I Learned to Play Polo!
By : Triple Crown Insider- Julia Marrinan
Do you love sports? Do you love being around horses? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you’ve got to try polo! Polo combines the thrill of traditional sports with the incredible partnership found only in human-horse teams, as well as the camaraderie of having human teammates. On top of all that, the sheer joy that comes from hitting a ball well for the first time is, frankly, addicting.
The first time I had a shot that made it more than four feet, I was hooked. I was completely ready to tack up my 16.1hh Warmblood in a polo saddle, grab a mallet, hit the polo circuit and totally forget about dressage and eventing. Half-pass, schmaf-pass – where’s my galloping after a ball, accompanied by five other snorting ponies!? While I didn’t ultimately leave eventing behind, I had some of the most fun in my life learning how to play polo at the University of Connecticut, which has one of the largest indoor polo arenas in the Northeast. The first time I saw a game, I knew I had to learn how to play this crazy sport.
My first day playing polo was a bit of a culture shock. I dressed to impress: skullcap cover tilted jauntily, white polo tucked into belted dark breeches, tall boots shined to within an inch of their lives. I’m pretty sure the polo ponies were snickering in their stalls as the team—more appropriately attired in jeans, t-shirts, and polo boots and helmets—showed me how to tack up. Why on earth did I needed help tacking? Navigating a strange tack room takes a while in any barn, and polo horses have more pieces of tack than any other discipline I’ve experienced!
Every horse goes in wraps, tendon boots over wraps, bell boots, draw reins, standing martingale, breastplate, bridle, saddle, pad, half pad, girth, and sometimes overgirth. Then they asked if I knew how to tie up a tail. “Like, braid?” I asked, and then proceeded to put in a fairly decent hunter braid. That got me nothing but laughs. Polo ponies’ tails must be braided down and then knotted up to keep them out of the way of the mallet; I was still thinking in terms of aesthetics—Oops.
Once on the horse, I felt a little better, more in my comfort zone. The instructor asked if I knew two-point, and I showed off my prettiest jump position only to hear “No, that’s not two-point.” In order to hit the ball with maximum strength, you have to twist sideways, bracing your knee into the side of the horse and leaning your shoulders over. THAT’S two-point—Oops again.
Despite my ignorance, I had an incredible time learning how to play, and knew I had to come back. My dressage queen search for perfection means that I’ll almost certainly spend the rest of my life trying to get a good nearside shot, but that’s fine with me. As long as I’m on a polo pony, I’ll be happy to keep going. Learning how to be comfortable nearly off the horse in polo has also helped me in my other riding; there’s nothing for improving balance like swinging a mallet while hanging half off your galloping horse.
I can’t recommend polo enough for the adrenaline junkies among you. And if you’re more interested in drinking champagne and watching a game – that’s a good idea too! There are polo clubs, indoor and outdoor, all over the place. Go watch a game or take a few lessons. It will definitely result in a great day, and maybe even a lifelong passion.