At first glance, polo may seem like a sport reserved for only astute royalty and Russian oligarchs. But at the beautiful Coworth Park, just a stone’s throw away from Ascot in Berkshire, England, I discovered polo isn’t just for those who dine on champagne-infused quail eggs for breakfast or who drink 20 year old aged scotch whiskey after dinner.
With a lesson from the charming Malcolm Borwick, both Prince Harry and William’s polo instructor, I’m here to give you a step-by-step guide of how to play polo with Prince Harry’s adventure and the Duke of Cambridge’s consistency.
1. Get the Equipment
According to Borwick, style is essential. Kitted out in white jeans, a polo shirt, a riding helmet, and boots with a heel, I’m ready for the class to begin. Kneepads are optional, I’m told, but a polo mallet is an absolute must for, well, hitting the ball. Oh, and and don’t forget your racing horse, or polo pony as they call them. If you’re Prince Harry, a half a dozen trained polo ponies worth a mere $35,000 each should do you for a full match.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
Before even hopping on my pony, Borwick takes me into a marquis and unveils a wooden horse for practicing my swing. Once I mount the 5-foot-high horse, I master the mallet with my right hand by looping my thumb through the string and wrapping it around my wrist placing my index finger along the mallet for support. Then I get into a two point position, glance at the target and then lean out over the ball and rotate the shoulders so they’re in line with the “backbone” of the practice horse. Next, making a slow controlled swing, I hit the ball and bring my mallet back into the vertical position. After 20 minutes of practicing this movement over and over again, I grow tired and am ready to upgrade from wooden horses to the real thing.
3. Get to Know the Horse
Basic riding skills are not to be underestimated in polo, says Brodwick. I hop on Satan, my appropriately named horse, I soon discover, and the riding practice begins with a rise to trot and then a canter. Fortunately, those couple of years of riding lessons in the late 90s prove valuable. And after a couple of circles around the training field we’re ready to grab our mallets and balls again. I soon learn strong forearms and the ability to stay on the horse aren’t qualities to be taken for granted. As I bring my horse into a light canter, I approach the ball, draw my mallet back and just barely tap it. But this isn’t a game of miniature golf, I remind myself. Again, I charge my horse across the field, raise my arm and swing and strike the ball, just barely missing the horse’s mouth at the end of my swing.
4. Start the Game
Finally, I’m now ready for a proper polo match. The game is made up of chukkas, which are basically mini games of polo that last for 7 minutes. Like soccer, the objective of the game is for a team to score the most goals by hitting the ball through their goal posts at the end of the 300 meter ground. My fellow novice polo players split off into two teams. As this is just a beginner’s lesson, we do two chukkas — one in which I score a goal, and the other where staying on the horse is the most I can handle. The opposite team fails to score in both chukkas, but sadly there is no trophy for my team’s victory.
5. Schmooze with Nobility
Hours later at Prince Harry’s Sentebale Polo Cup tournament that day, where he and his brother are competing for their charities, I find myself sipping champagne with Torquhil Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll. After confessing my mere success and love for the sport, he jokingly suggests elephant polo for my next endeavor. I dismiss the thought until he tells me Nepal has actually registered elephant polo as an Olympic sport and, according to the World Elephant Polo Association, it could even make the next summer Olympics. London 2012, here we come!
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