A beginner’s guide to polo by Ebe Sievwright
Polo is one the world’s oldest and most graceful sports. It is played in over 80 clubs in the UK and more than 60 countries. As well as the sprawling lawns of Coworth Park and Windsor Great Park, it is played on frozen lakes in the Alps, on beaches from Miami to Dorset, and in some countries on elephants! However, it is not always the easiest sport to figure out and although it may be exciting and beautiful to watch, the game and the world around it can need some explaining.
Polo is played between two teams, each consisting of four people. They play in time periods of seven and a half minutes, called chukkas. A chukka is the ancient Indian word for a round, as in a round of boxing or golf. They can play between four and six of these depending on the level of polo and after each chukka the players have to change horses. These days they can change horses during the chukka as well, as there are no limits on how many they bring – some players bring up to ten horses to high level games and only play on each for a few minutes at a time!
Three things to remember when watching polo
• The teams change ends after each goal
• Players can only use their right hands to hold a polo mallet
• When a player hits a ball no other player may cross in front of him to take it from him, but he can ‘hook’ his mallet or barge him sideways and then take it
Players come from around the globe, both amateurs and professionals. The main importer of professionals today is Argentina, which could field 15 national teams before the next country could produce a team that would beat them. Other countries competing at the higher levels are England, USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. World centres for polo championships include Dubai, Dominican Republic, Sotogrande in Spain and Chantilly in France.
Every year in May, HRH The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry compete in a charity day at Coworth Park, together with Hollywood notables and England team players, to raise awareness for charities close to the princes’ hearts including Sentebale, Tusk, WellChild and The Royal Marsden cancer charity.
Coworth Park is also home to the world’s number one polo school – Guards Polo Academy. Catering to total beginners who may have never ridden a horse before or seasoned polo travellers who wish to brush up their skills, the academy provides a full five-star service. Alternatively, you can take a week’s intensive course while enjoying a luxurious stay at Coworth Park.
By Ebe Sievwright, Manager and Head Coach at Guards Polo Academy, August 2016.