On the yard: polo trainer’s top tips

  • Leg protection

    Polo ponies are bandaged all round, with boots on top, when they are playing. They have open-fronted tendon boots with Kevlar strike pads in front, plus overreach boots. On their hindlegs we use long skid boots that reach from hoof to hock.

    At home, we always bandage the ponies’ front legs to support the tendons when they start trot and canter work. You have to bandage correctly because we bandage straight on to the legs to give direct support to the tendons.


    We have 24 ponies in training, plus hunters and a 38-year-old 11hh pony. Bailey’s feeds are our mainstay and we couldn’t manage without “our” nutritionist Lorna Jowett, who knows all the ponies and can advise on an individual basis.

    The biggest risk for polo ponies is azoturia because logistics mean it’s difficult to warm-up properly and they go almost straight into 7min of hard work. But last season, we didn’t have a single case.

    Everything is fed on a base of Topline Conditioning Cubes, which give high energy but low fizz. Anything that comes in needing extra goes on to Ultimate Finish, which is expensive but is brilliant for putting weight on.


    All the tack and equipment is to protect or assist the ponies. For instance, standing martingales are standard. When ponies go from 35mph straight to a stop and turn, it helps their balance.

    Good players often have reins like washing lines: 98% of it’s down to balance and the sheer brilliance of the ponies. That’s why the gag snaffles and pelhams that are usually used aren’t severe.

    We tend to use loose-ring gags with big rings; the bigger the rings, the lighter the bit. The mouthpieces are copper, to encourage the horse to salivate.

    Polo saddles are close-contact, with overgirths: when I win the Lottery, I’m going to design my own. Stirrup leathers are rawhide for extra strength because most of the rider’s weight is on the stirrups. The irons have four bars on the tread instead of two, to give a wider platform.

    We have to be very careful to look after the ponies’ backs and our osteopath comes every week.

    I’m also a great believer in Bioflow magnetic rugs, which I first used after one horse fractured a hock and another was badly cut in a freak accident. The mare with the fracture played high-goal polo nine weeks later and the other was playing high-goal after six weeks. I’m positive the magnetic rugs helped.

    I like Horseware Ireland’s walker rugs for roadwork — they’re cut back at the shoulder to use on a horse walker or when riding, so you get warmth without rubs — and Thermatex rugs to keep muscles warm after work or when travelling.

  • This “on the yard” feature was first published in Horse & Hound (5 May, ’05)

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