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dtalbot

Polo

Well I'm back home in one piece and in answer to my question in the previous thread didn't fall off once! Wouldn't claim my riding was in least bit elegant looking but amazing how quick everything starting feeling right. Did end up accidentally without stirrups while cantering a couple of times so certainly need to work on the basics!
First off polo clubs might have a bit of a snobbish image but that certainly doesn't apply to Vale of York, arriving on the yard and it looked just like any one of hundreds of competition yards up and down the the country on a Saturday morning, livery owners turning up to exercise their ponies, the teenage kids helping out round round the yard in return for rides and tuition later.
Onto the lesson, first the form filling of disclaimers and the likes, instructor said tick the intermediate box for riding ability as I'd soon remember the basics and all the more advanced stuff I'd know way back when riding dressage would be more hindrance than help playing polo. Turned out that although I'd booked a 2 hour group lesson I was the only one there for the first hour so a private lesson for the very basics. Then it was off to practice hitting some balls. First off with hand mallet just stood on the ground learning to hit the ball straight and swing the mallet straight forehand and backhand. That was probably the oddest part, most other bat and ball games involve swinging the bat across your body but try that with polo and you are likely to end up with a very grumpy pony as you smack it on the head! Once I'd got the hang of that it was onto Woody the wooden horse to practice the same stuff again. I guess around 30 min or so of practice and I was hitting the ball pretty much where I intended pretty much every time so back to the club room for a cuppa and chat about polo, rules, how to ride in a game etc (and vulcan bombers, the club is a mile or so away from Doncaster airport where the last Vulcan flying lives and you can see the runway it takes off and lands from) while the people for the second hour turned up.
By about ten to 11 everyone had arrived so for my lesson it was me, 8 twentysomethings at the start of a hen weekend (so still sober!) and a 14 year old who'd spotted the same half price offer I had and wanted to try something different to her usual riding lessons and just to make up the numbers so we could have 3 teams (4 players on a polo team) 2 of the Saturday girls who'd started polo at the start of this year joined the lesson. Much to our later advantage the hen party wanted to stick together so they became the light and dark blue teams and me, the teenager and Saturday girls became the greens. All the others had done the ground and wooden horse stuff previously so off to find some ponies. There are 40ish ponies at the stables so easy enough for the instructor to find one suitable for everyone. Everyone in the lesson was confident round horses so the instructor just told us its name and which side of the barn its loose box was and told us to go fetch.
Horses were tacked up ready and waiting so it was a case of get it out, tighten the girth and hop on, plenty of people about if anyone needed a leg up or wasn't sure sure about adjusting the stirrups, girth etc.
Now for the next tricky bit, a) polo ponies always have a double bridle and b) you only have one hand to sort out 4 reins! Anyway I was quickly shown how to cope with the spaghetti and once everyone was on board and had collected a mallet of we head to field. Though in all honesty I have to say I think I only really used the snaffle reins today, greatly helped by the fact my pony, a very nice if slightly lazy 15.2ish strawberry rowan, had far more idea of how to play polo than I did!
First off time for some stretching while walking  as you and up twisting and turning in the saddle lots, then working on a polo trot, half seat rather like I'd usually position myself for canter. Need to get the riding muscles in my legs back fit to hold that position properly! Then some practice doing neck reined turns.
Once we'd all managed to get the pony going more or less where we intended at more or less the speed we wanted it was onto some playing exercises to focus on mallet and ball control, first off at a walk then trot doing a slalom round some hoops on the ground touching the mallet to ground in each hoop, easy on your right side (you hold the mallet in your right hand), harder when the hoop is on left. This is where I twigged onto something that will probably offend every polo player on the planet, but this posh game is actually not far off pony club games for big people! Once we'd got that sorted time to try hitting the ball from a moving pony first off at a walk, then trot. Not easy as it looks but comes with a bit of practice. After that riding in close formation to get used to being at a canter and within stirrup touching distance of your team.
After that time for the competitive bits to start, first off a team race one end of the field to the other but we had to keep it perfect line abreast, then races to score in the far goal, each player hitting the ball in turn, each player hitting twice then the next ones turn and a free for all just score as quick as you can.
By the end of that we'd all got the hang of hitting a little ball with a big stick from a moving pony so time to play some polo. First up was the two hen party teams, play rapidly headed to the far end of the pith (300yds long) so we snuck in some extra practice while they were otherwise occupied, 7 min later the light blues have won so we get to play them.
Here is where having the Saturday girls was a big help, about a minute after the start play was headed toward the blues goal, I managed my first hit of the game to send it in the right direction and one of them managed a clear run to goal to score. Then things get interesting, each goal and the sides switch ends so giving the team who has just conceded a goal an advantage, the scoring side hits it out then defends frantically (or if the teams are better than we were heads to the other end to score again!). What followed was 6 min of frantic defending, absolutely mad action till we finished as 1-0 winners.
Back to the yard where more wiling helpers were there to help everyone put their ponies away. Quick look at the watch and we'd been out there over an hour and a half, doesn't time fly when you are having fun.
Well by the end of it I hadn't fallen off or smacked myself, my pony, any other players or any other ponies with the mallet and could hit the ball pretty much every time when stationary or walking, about 2/3 or the time while trotting and every once in a while from a canter so think it was quite a successful start!
ClaireK

Well done you, glad you had a good day. When's the next one??

Claire
dtalbot

Probably two weeks today, had a very nice strawberry rowan called Pinky this time round, could have been a reincarnation of the first horse horse I ever rode for his attitude and body language, guess it one of things that help me remember how to stay on top!
emsley

A Big Well Done from me - and thanks for the great posting - a real insight
dtalbot

Didn't get any photos of my lesson but here is a set from Sheffield Uni Equestrian club when they went for the same lesson at the start of last month.
http://equestrian.union.shef.ac.uk/2011/03/polo-020311/
Only difference been they were stuck inside (presumably due to the weather, seem to remember the start of March was about the last time it rained properly round here!).
Its worth saying as well the ground was fantastic, where it is is sand and gravel country (passed 2 or 3 sand quarries on the way there) so even after several weeks of almost no rain it was still perfect springy ground to ride.
dtalbot

Oh and probably worth explaining why something 15.2 is called a pony! There is some rational behind all polo horses being called a pony I think, they really don't feel like that big a horse when it comes to manoeuvrability. Certainly Pinky who I rode and certainly was a schoolmaster polo pony didn't feel like anything as big as he was, when we got to playing a chukka it was like being on a zippy little games pony.
lizzie44

Glad you had fun. Ive always fancied having a go myself. Love Lizzie
dtalbot

lizzie44 wrote:
Glad you had fun. Ive always fancied having a go myself. Love Lizzie


Go for it Lizzie, http://www.norfolkpolo.co.uk/learn.asp?menu=3 looks to be your local one according to the listing on http://www.hpa-polo.co.uk/default.asp or if you don't mind travelling Vale of York look to be about 20% cheaper.
lilwitedogs

That sounds like so much fun!
dtalbot

Yep a fantastic way to get back on horse.
lizzie44

Funnily enough there was an article about the Langley group in a mag in the docs surgery. It does look like fun. Love Lizzie
dtalbot

Oh and forgot to say the old jods on saddle super glue still seems to work! Bit of a spinning round and going sideways incident when the teenagers sister who was stood by us chatting to sis decided to put her brolly up!
sapphire

Glad you had a brilliant day!!! & happy to hear you didnt come off!
dtalbot

Well lesson 2 is booked for Saturday morning, can't wait for some more fun!
dtalbot

Back from lesson 2 now, it gets more fun by the minute.
I obviously convinced the instructor I could at least sort of ride last time as I was on a far more more lively pony today not that there was anything wrong with Pinkie but to carry on the mounted games analogy this was like moving from an excited riding school pony in the games to a really good games pony.
Only 3 of us in the lesson today, the other two thirtysomething chaps had done an hour on Woody the wooden horse before I arrived so time for a quick cuppa when they came back to the yard then onto the ponies. The other two had both done a bit of riding as kids but nothing serious and nothing since
Onto the lesson, even walking down to the field from the yard I could tell I was in for a fun ride today. Start off at a walk for some stretching exercises again, don't think you'd survive the lesson without pulled muscles if you skipped them!
Must be riding better as I didn't loose my stirrups at all and still no unscheduled meetings with the floor!
Then onto ball control work, forehand and backhand, while the 2 newcomers were doing it at a walk I was getting some very good instruction (and the occasional ribbing or shouting at!) to do it all properly at a trot. Had the half seat trot much better this time, helped that I'd got my stirrups at more like a jumping than dressage length. Loads of trips up and down the field first focusing on individual ball control then team working. We finished off splitting into 2 teams, me and the better of the two first timers and Paul the instructors and the other new chap. Start at one end with a ball each, go and score in far goal, back to the starting end and score again, then first to finish go and help out their team mate. Take it your own pace says Paul, then says to me that I better do it at a canter if I wanted to make a race of it! Well better give it a go! Must say it is very satisfying to connect properly with the ball at a canter and send it 40 or 50m down the field!
Well we just lost the race as I managed to miss the goal with the last ball but by the end of today had it up to hitting every time in walk, nearly every time in trot and well over half the time in canter.
Back for more in a couple of weeks no doubt!

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