Amanda Uechi Ronan checked out a beginners polo clinic and sent us this report.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a two-hour beginners clinic at the Houston Polo Club. The experience gave me a taste of the sport and I can’t wait to go back for more.
After two weeks of near constant rainfall, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine early Saturday morning as I introduced myself to Barlee Flanders, Senior Polo and Riding Instructor, and Mark Prinsloo, RPC Manager and Senior Polo Instructor. Participants were quickly split into two groups. Matched with Barlee, my group headed straight to the covered arena where I was introduced to ‘Whitey,’ my mount for the day. Whitey looked super pumped.
Polo is based on the fundamentals of a classic, balanced seat, so Barlee ran us through our paces. A solid two-point position is also important, since that is how the bulk of the game is played. Five laps in … my thighs were burning.
Polo ponies move almost entirely off of leg pressure, so we practiced tight turns and changing directions several times using just our legs. The biggest challenge I faced was riding entirely left handed, since the polo mallet is always carried on the right. It was disorientating to carry the reins in only one hand, particularly when I had the opportunity to ride Barlee’s fabulous mare, which wore a direct rein as well as a draw rein.
Next, we headed to the hitting cage with Mark. After practicing our swing from the ground, we mounted a dummy horse. Mark did a quick check of each rider’s two-point position (Have I mentioned how important that is?) before teaching us how to lock ourselves in the saddle. Basically, you turn the top part of your thigh into the saddle and grip. If you have control with the opposite thigh, you feel confident in reaching for the ball. I felt very secure … granted I was on a welded dummy and not a live horse galloping 30 mph.
Then we practiced hitting the ball. I had trouble keeping my head still, so Mark did it for me.
After a few practice swings, everything came together. I almost looked like I knew what I was doing.
Then we headed back to the arena to put all the elements together. I was still having trouble keeping my head still, so Mark helped me out again.
Finally, I hit the ball at a full walk and made a goal! It was through a set of cones 25 ft. away, but still.
I loved the clinic. Barlee and Mark were extremely upbeat, pleasant instructors. They hinted at the more difficult aspects of the game (near side backhand shot anyone?) while keeping the environment beginner friendly and fun. I look forward to taking more lessons at the Houston Polo Club as well as attending a few of the matches this season.