Laura Tomlinson: Dressage can learn from polo *H&H VIP*

Opinion

Last weekend I had an abnormally social weekend. The Beaufort Polo Club hosted a charity lunch for the Alzheimer’s Society, a worthy cause that is close to the Tomlinsons’, and my own family’s, hearts. My husband Mark managed to provide the entertainment by spontaneously having his head shaved, and this alone raised over £5,000!

Our two older children were watching, with the eldest, Annalisa, thinking it was hilarious, and two-year-old Wilfred looking on a little worried. My heart sank too when I remembered that we were to attend a posh lunch the following day at the final of the Queen’s Cup polo.

Mark had gone from having rather long and greasy polo/surfer hair to the other extreme — skinhead! The celeb-filled Cartier-sponsored event is enough to make anyone who spends their life in breeches feel self-conscious. Being surrounded by supermodels and actors — including Poldark’s Demelza — I wasn’t sure if it made it better or worse that I was walking in with Mark the skinhead.

The diversity of horses

I haven’t watched much polo this season so it was great to see two Englishmen, James Beim and James Harper, win the Queen’s Cup after having won the Gold Cup last year. It was also a real reminder of what horses are capable of and their diversity.

In dressage, a lot of us get in the habit of wrapping up our horses in cotton wool, trying to take care of every step they take and every move they make. But these animals can be so robust. I am not suggesting we stick them all on a lorry together with no travel boots or partitions, or that we start riding each other off for the diagonal in the warm-up  arena, but I do think that sometimes we forget to let them just be horses.

Polo capitalises on the horses’ herd instinct; they do everything as a group, from exercising, playing, travelling and turnout, and they are never on their own, which is why they put up with so much more than a lot of our dressage horses would. Our horses often get stressed over far smaller things because they have to deal with everything as individuals, which is less natural to them.

I am not suggesting either approach is right or wrong but we always say dressage and polo are different worlds, and they are in many ways, but horses are horses. It is always interesting seeing how the same animal can do such very different things, and with good, yet totally different, management are able to perform at top level sometimes to a very good age.

We must try not to be snobby and always keep our minds open to learning from other sports. My take-home point from the polo would be reminding myself what is natural to the horse underneath me and, when I am teaching the horse to do what I want, thinking how I can use its natural instincts to my advantage.

Ref Horse & Hound; 27 June 2019