Forget all your preconceived notions about the glamorous, macho world of polo – last weekend it was Britain’s school girls who took centre stage on the pitch for the first ever all-girl schools tournament – an event with its own special blend of skill and style.
The tournament, won by the Cheltenham Ladies Team, was held on 10 June at Millfield School in Somerset.
The popularity of polo as a sport for teenage boys and girls has been growing fast.
In the past 10 years, the numbers have increased five-fold, according to the Schools and Universities Polo Association (SUPA).
“There are around 30 schools taking part at the moment,” says Jenny Blake Thomas, secretaryof SUPA.
“They are mostly private at the moment, although we are hoping to encourage state schools as much as possible.
“One of the big attractions is that you don’t need to be able to ride before you take up the sport, nor do you need to be particularly good at other sports.
Also, the sport is useful for teaching hand-eye co-ordination, ball skills and teamwork.”
But is it the glamorous image which is attracting girls into the sport. David Wood, chief executive of the Hurlingham Polo Association, the sport’s governing body, thinks not.
“Many are brought into the sport through Pony Clubs,” he says.
“They get bored with riding round in circles.
And it’s often more convenient for parents who only need to spend an hour or so at a polo ground rather than a whole day at a show.”
It’s one of the rare sports where male and female can play on the same team. In theory, there is no reason why girls can’t make it to the top. But, as David points out, the world’s top players are in Argentina and there’s no opportunity for the women to compete at that level over here.
Twenty-one-year-old Rosanna Morgan-Evans, who has played at university level, says girls do have some advantages over the boys.
“Some boys are not that well co-ordinated and girls can play more tactically. Boys tend to rely on strength, whereas girls can be lighter and get the ponies moving faster. But boys can get a game going more quickly.”
For more information on SUPA visit www.SUPA.org.uk for further information about schools and university polo.