If you are interested in learning how to play polo, you may be pleased to hear you don’t need to don designer clothes to sip champagne in a glossy pavilion, nor does it involve jetting off around the world with several strings of ponies. It is possible to play polo on a budget, with one horse, and thoroughly enjoy both the game and the social life.
I had never considered playing polo until I went to university; it hadn’t occurred to me that it was something I could take up as a beginner, even less as a student. The university club arranged weekly lessons at our local polo grounds for just £35, the same cost as a dressage lesson. I wish I had known that starting out in polo was so easy — simply find your local club on the Hurlingham Polo Association website, and book a lesson, horse hire included.
There is no requirement to join a club in order to have lessons and you don’t need to have ridden before; riders of all levels are welcome. It’s fun to get a group of friends together and it provides the opportunity to play chukkas (a match) against each other at the end of the session. Some clubs offer a day course as an intensive introduction to the game, at around £140 for the day [Rugby Polo Club].
If you decide after a few lessons that polo is for you, you may want to join a club. Check out the club’s focus — does it encourage grassroots players, is it a welcoming atmosphere? While you may aspire to be the next Adolfo Cambiaso (10 goal Argentinean player, ranked world number 1), there is little point in spending thousands on membership while your basic game develops. Membership at grassroots clubs will be between £300 and £600 for the season.
More by accident than design, I bought a cheap 20-year-old ex-high goal mare. Aside from the general costs of keeping a horse, DIY livery at the club is £25 a week. With my own horse, I can usually play a half slot in a tournament with someone else, meaning we share the four match chukkas between us. Entry to play all four chukkas is £75, making a half slot £37.50. On average, I can play polo on £175 a month, and I don’t miss out on a single thing.
If buying a pony isn’t on the cards, you can still be just as involved, if not more so because you can just hand your pony to the groom when you’re finished. Horse hire rates depend on your level and the tournament, and when weighed up with general ‘horse costs’, amounts to roughly the same cost as keeping your own.
Grassroots polo is growing; chukkas and tournaments are well attended, relaxed and friendly, but with good quality of play. Why not have a go? You could discover a love for a new sport and great social life, for less than you might expect.
For our high-goal polo preview, where we look at the six England test matches to watch, see the 16 May issue of H&H