‘It’s a lot harder than it looks’: William Fox-Pitt tries his hand at polo

  • What happens when two men at the top of their respective sports swap saddles?

    William Fox-Pitt discovers there is very little cross over between eventing and polo during a masterclass by top American player Nic Roldan.

    As you’d perhaps expect from one of our very best event riders, William is good with a mallet but declares it’s a lot harder than it looks.

    “My brother tried to teach me to play polo about 25 years ago, but then he gave up and I haven’t done it since,” says William, who at 6ft4 and aboard a polo pony manages to keep his feet off the floor — just!

    Nic gets William perfecting his swing at walk before getting him hitting the ball in canter.

    “I’ve always admired the top polo players but know very little about the game,” says William.

    “They are such different sports and you use completely different aids — there is very little the same about the two disciplines.”

    Height is an obvious contrast between an event horse and a polo pony, but what else makes them different?

    “Polo ponies are very highly trained — they are sensitive and obedient,” highlights William.

    “Event horses are not so sensitive but have a lot more to take on board when it comes to their training.”

    William is putting in some practice before taking part in a charity polo match following the “Jeep Job Swap” at Cowdray Park.

    So what are Nic’s top tips to William?

    “He told me to always watch the ball and stay relaxed but that you also need enough lower body grip to stay in a good position in the saddle,” explains William.

    “Playing with someone like Nic is an absolute privilege — one of the best in the world and there is no better person to learn from.”

    ‘He doesn’t feel too enormous’

    The American polo player also had his chance to have a go at jumping — although as his girlfriend is showjumper Jessica Springsteen, you would imagine she’d given him a few handy tips beforehand.

    William has his two-star eventer Oratorio II (aka Rio) on hand for Nic to ride.

    “He actually doesn’t feel too enormous — he feels nice,” says Nic of the 17hh gelding.

    William gets Nic doing some flatwork to warm Rio up.

    “You’ve got him nice and relaxed, as well as light in the mouth,” William tells Nic and adds a canter pole into the equation.

    “We want to focus on straightness and maintaining a good rhythm,” he adds before putting up a small upright.

    “Think about getting a good stride up to the fence,” he says and Nic goes onto pop the fence well.

    The final task William has for Nic is to angle the upright — to help him he adds two “straightness” poles leading up to it.

    “I’m happy with that Nic, well done,” concludes William. “You managed to keep him in a good rhythm, which is important.” And Nic’s smile says it all.

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