Throw your D-test out of the window: welcome to the mind-boggling world of polo

  • The polo season is now in full swing, with excitement building for the start of the Queen’s Cup at Guards tomorrow (23 May 2017). Cue champagne, Ferrari-like ponies and and an influx of glamorous Argentines. But for the uninitiated, polo can be a mind-boggling sport.

    Here are nine things your regular equestrian might struggle to get their head around:

    1. Ponies v horses

    You don’t need to have your Pony Club D-test to know that ponies are 14.2hh and under, and those ‘ponies’ racing up the field by no means fit that size bracket.

    2. What happened to a correct dismount?

    Talking of our D-test, we spent a long time aged eight showing a terrifying Pony Club DC that we knew how to mount and dismount correctly and safely. And then you spy the world’s top polo players leaping from pony to pony mid-chukka without touching the ground. It’s like we were conned — all in the name of a piece of yellow felt.

    3. Up, down, up, down…

    When did rising canter become a thing? And what happened to trotting?

    4. Scoring issues

    Get your maths hat on. If you thought that goals only came in the form of whole numbers, you were wrong. Welcome to the world of the half goals. For teams with differing total handicaps, the difference in the teams’ handicaps is usually multiplied by the number of chukkas to be played and then divided by six. And fractions count as half a goal.

    5. Know your Tomlinson from your Tomlinson…

    …And while you’re at it, you’d better know your Pieres from your Pieres. And your Novillo Astrada from your Novillo Astrada. Oh so many players with the same name. It’s a family thing.

    6. Waterproof woes

    Look around at your average British horse trials and it’s the closest you’ll get to being in a Musto warehouse — a sea of well-prepared spectators with full waterproofs, sun cream, wellies, trainers, a bum bag… Do the same at a high-profile polo match and it’s like waterproofs were confiscated at the gate. They’re a hardy bunch polo spectators: a glamorous floral ensemble at all times. Gale or no gale.

    7. Head over heels?

    Ah the dilemma of treading in… When you’re donning stiletto heels. You can’t help thinking that it makes the groundsmen wince…

    8. On the subject of footwear…

    …Don’t look too shocked when you see the grooms warming up ponies in espadrille shoes — or trainers at best.

    9. What have we been worrying about?

    Trainers, rope halters, no plaits, one-handed riding… It’s like the Pony Club Manual has been ripped up. But go to any polo match and you’ll see eight gleaming ponies in peak condition on the pitch, with lines of equally gleaming ponies waiting in the wings. So maybe it’s time we all took a leaf out of the Argentines’ book and ¡Baja un cambio! (that’s ‘chill out!’, for those of us without Google translate…)

    Don’t miss our first polo report of the season, from the Prince of Wales Trophy final, in this Thursday’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (25 May 2017)



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