Luke Tomlinson: Making a polo pony [H&H VIP]

  • Mid-June is always action packed.

    There’s the Royal Windsor, the Archie David, Queen’s Cup final weekend, Polo in the Park, Prince of Wales 22-goal tournament at the Berkshire, the 12-goal tournament at the Beaufort, the Warwickshire Cup at Cirencester — the list goes on.

    The Queen’s Cup was the highlight of last weekend, with a great final. Talandracas put up a good fight, but went a few goals down and struggled to get back into the game until the last chukka.

    The pony power of the Zacara squad, Facundo Pieres’ amazing individual talent and the ability to get the best out of his teammates were the deciding factors.

    Talandracas have been a great team to watch as well and the combination of Polito Pieres and Juan Martin Nero has been pretty incredible.

    Polito has had some amazing games, pulling his team out of tricky situations with impressive interceptions and counter-attacks. His short riding style is particularly interesting and seems to work for him to get the extra speed out of his horses.

    Watching the horses and getting to know the strings of some of the top players are the most interesting parts of the sport.

    It would be fair to say that many of the world’s top players are better mounted in the UK than they are anywhere else in the world. Some may reserve better horses for Argentina, but the quality of the horses in the UK at 22-goal has reached a higher level than ever before.

    It is interesting to look briefly at the making of the polo pony. Normally after being broken in or bought off the track, they are schooled and ridden out for a year, stick and balled and introduced to slow chukkas.

    They then have another year playing practice chukkas, building up the speed.

    In their third year playing, they are usually ready to play matches at a higher level and be put under pressure — this tends to be at the age of seven, although it can be a year earlier or later.

    Ideally, the younger horses being “made” are in for two-month periods and then have two months off, thereby never putting too much stress on them either physically or mentally.

    The polo pony has to be schooled to sprint, move laterally, stop fast, ride-off, accept the stick and the ball and accept other horses charging towards it — and have a good temperament and be steady to hit off.

    Balancing the fine line between keeping the horses’ psyche right and improving the schooling and speed of movement are the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of making the polo pony.

    The high-goal season is now halfway through and the Gold Cup is due to start on 24 June. It promises some of the highest quality polo and the best atmosphere for games in the northern hemisphere.

    There are three additions to this tournament that did not take part in the Queen’s Cup.

    They are Halcyon Gallery, with James Beim, Mark Tomlinson, James Harper and George Hanbury; El Rosario based around Salvador Ulloa, Rob Archibald and Fran Elizalde; as well as Harold Link’s Thai Polo, which is almost the same team as Sifani in the Queen’s Cup.

    It is interesting to see some of the teams being shared by sponsors for the season, with one doing the Queen’s Cup and the other doing the Gold Cup.

    It’s a good way to share the budget, and the players and sponsors can still produce a competitive team for the season.