Chestertons Polo in the Park is one of the most exciting British sporting events of the summer. If you don’t know about it, Polo in the Park is now in its seventh year and takes place at Hurlingham, in Fulham. It promises a weekend of exciting sporting action, summer cocktails and an unbeatable party vibe. Plus, it will be the first time England take on an international match at the event, going head to head with Team South America on the Friday night. (The first international since 1939).
For someone who’s a complete equestrian novice and hasn’t got on a horse since I was unexpectedly bolted across a field during a pony trekking day a few years back, the invitation to attend Ham Polo Club for a polo lesson got me laughing nervously. But I did it. I ACTUALLY got back on the saddle and hit a ball, and I really enjoyed it.
Here’s how it went….
I know, riding a horse isn’t the most ground breaking news for you, but as I say, the last time I got on a horse, the pony bolted across the field and I was hanging on for dear life, trying to stop it without being flung off like a prop in a Buckaroo game. For a novice like me, that is terrifying.
But as this year is the first time I’ll be attending London’s Polo in the Park (which I’m SO excited about), I was thrilled to be offered the chance to attend a beginner’s polo lesson at the beautiful Ham Polo Club in Richmond, the last remaining polo club in Greater London in fact.
AND with none other than top England polo player Malcolm Borwick.
Polo enthusiasts among you will probably know, Malcolm’s polo career with the England national team has spanned over more than 10 years and includes more than 50 matches for the team, plus two world cups. He’s played in more than 30 countries worldwide and is basically, up there with the top dogs of British polo.
It would be an understatement to say that polo has an aristocratic reputation, traditionally associated with the Royals and the most affluent (a bit of research tells me Malcolm is good friends with Prince Harry). But as they explained in the lesson, they’re trying at least, to make it more accessible to the masses. Which is good news for we ‘normal’ folk.
Politics aside, (there’s been enough of that this week), the sport is genuinely fascinating. And as our class revealed, there’s an incredible amount of skill involved in this British sport.
In my Polo in the Park lesson, I was joined by (from left) Monica Chong of Cutler & Gross sunglasses designers, singer and actor Jules Knight, Gabrielle Rowley who writes for the Racing Post, Romy van den Broeke of Absolutely magazines and Jen Maser (behind Malcolm) of the Fulham Resident,
Before we got started with any polo action, we put on our stylish polo T-shirts provided by La Martina and Malcolm gave us a quick history lesson in the origins of this equestrian sport.
In a nutshell;
- Noone really knows where polo originated from, but what we do know is it was played in Persia, Central Asia and as far east as Japan, more than 2,000 years ago.
- The word polo derives from the Tibetan word ‘pulu’, meaning ball.
- John Watson was one of the founders of English polo and brought the game over from India, as he was based there with the military.
- The first polo match was played in the 1860s and was often referred to ‘Hockey on Horseback’.
Speaking of hockey, I definitely felt like I was going back to my school PE lessons when we started the lesson by perfecting our shots on foot. Once we’d learned how to hold the mallet properly with the rope wrapped correctly around your hand (believe me, it takes some getting used to), we were walloping the polo balls up and down the field, and dodging them as fellow novices whacked them back, so as not to get hit in the ankles. Owchy.
Polo mallet swings
There are around seven different mallet swings in polo (and experts here will correct me if I’m in any way wrong) but the main ones I believe we learned were:
- The near side forehand (hitting the ball forwards with arm immediately beside the horse).
- The off side forehand (hitting the ball forwards, across the body).
- The off side backhand (hitting the ball backwards across the body).
- The nearside backhand (hitting the ball backwards with arm immediately beside the horse.
Once we’d ‘mastered’ these four shots, that’s when this happened….
..we enjoyed a hockey-like game and ran around a little bit like screaming headless chickens, which was very amusing and extremely fun.
Here’s me and Hollie Bostock of Revolutions Sports trying to fight it out while laughing quite uncontrollably..
Our competitive streaks start to appear…
Each shot has its difficulties and there are many things you have to get right to really master the basics, from maintaining a straight arm and allow the mallet to fully swing (without of course whacking the horse in the face).
It’s one thing doing it on foot, hockey-style. But it’s another thing to then incorporate the horse into the equation.
Cue the next stage of the lesson: the wooden horse…
This part may look a bit comical but this is where it begins to get ‘real’. The mallet is now much longer (and heavier) and so you really feel it in your arms. Plus, you’re balancing on a ‘horse’, with the key aim of hitting the ball with force, while not hitting the pony, and gaining control of your swing.
Malcolm was brilliant in coaching us to really hone our technique here. It was at this stage I actually surprised myself in that my nearside backhand proved particularly strong. It’s also at this point, you figure that the mallet is so heavy, you need to rest it on your shoulder in between shots.
I was starting to feel rather pleased with myself.
The next challenge though, is of course, getting on a real horse. It doesn’t matter how good you are at swinging a mallet, if you ain’t got the coordination and control of the horse, you ain’t going anywhere mate. That was the ultimate challenge for me that day.
After a few rounds of the field with Malcolm directing the horse, I was eventually confident enough to go it alone. The key was to keep the pony moving at a steady speed. But my irrational fear here, after previous experiences, was that the horse would speed off too quickly and I wouldn’t be able to control it.
After some time though, I got into a rhythm and managed to hit a few balls across the field. With time, the horse became a bit more confident in me, but I think he still sensed my fear that I would knock him, so he did tend to halt a bit when I came to practice my swing.
But with time, I started to really enjoy it. The freedom of being back in the saddle felt great. The sun was shining, I was hitting balls – in the direction I intended – and I was overcoming a slight fear that I never thought possible.
OK, so my posture wasn’t the best, and I didn’t get much quicker than a little trot, but baby steps, right?
With our feet firmly back on the ground, we enjoyed a little certificate presenting ceremony for our achievements.
We were then spoilt to a well-deserved miniature bottle of pink Lanson champagne, along with these gorgeous desserts…
…which we enjoyed out in the sunshine. Here I am feeling rather pleased with myself, with Gabrielle and Romy who each picked up an additional trophy for their particularly amazing efforts in the lesson!
We also took home some fantastic hampers filled with tonics and soft drinks by Fentimans Ltd.
The Discover Day was an amazing experience and has got me even more excited about Polo in the Park this year. Over the three days, teams from Abu Dhabi, Lagos, Bangkok, New York and Moscow will all play the London team. And with a Champagne Lanson Garden Bar, cocktails by Mahiki, wine by Cape London and plenty of entertainment for families with little ones, it’s set to be a brilliant weekend for everyone.
One of the most exciting nights is the first, dubbed ‘Chukka Friday’, followed by Ladies Day on Saturday. Hopefully, I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one with Made in Chelsea gang. Perhaps…
Until next time x
Huge thank you to Chestertons Polo in the Park for inviting me to the polo lesson at Ham Polo Club as part of this post. All views here are my own. Buy tickets to the tournament here. The event takes place on 5-7th June at Hurlingham Park, Fulham and tickets are priced from £10 (after 5pm).
Find Polo in the Park on Facebook