School of Hard Knocks, Lesson #1: Stay on the Horse

Amanda’s heading back to school!

My journey into polo started back in March when I attended the Beginner’s Clinic at the Houston Polo Club. Then I had the amazing opportunity to check out high-goal polo in Wellington. So now I’m taking the plunge and attending a full 8-week polo school.

Polo school kicked off right where my beginner’s clinic ended. Barlee took us through our paces on the flat and we got a chance to hit some balls in the hitting cage with Mark.

The second day was a rainout, but that gave us the opportunity to learn the basic rules of the game. As a person who has never played a team sport, learning strategy is probably the most daunting element of the school. Horsemanship is important, but so is the ability to have “situational awareness.” I’m going to have to learn to predict my opponents’ as well as teammates’ every move. There are dozens of amazing tutorials on PoloSkilz, but I love this one by Major Hugh Dawnay. #brony

On the third day we were refreshed on our two-point position, stopping a horse and emergency procedures for a runaway steed. Mark also checked that our heels were down and toes in. In polo, correct body position has the very real-world application of keeping you on the horse when people run into you. One by one, Mark gripped our right hands and attempted to pull us out of the saddle, critiquing our form if we budged even a centimeter.

The one thing I noticed with my particular horse was that he preferred very little contact from the reins. It reminded me more of western riding, with more looseness in the reins and almost all of my communication going through my seat and legs. With the gag bit being the most popular style bit in polo, though, that makes sense.

Once we felt comfortable, we began the more complicated work of actually handling the mallet. Mark had us lean over holding the mallet head flush with the ground from the stop, walk and trot to gain an understanding of our distance to the ball. To get an idea on how to hold a mallet correctly, check out this fantastic video my instructor Mark Prinsloo made for PoloSkilz.

As we circled in two-point, bent at the waist and carrying a mallet, I began to understand the physical requirements of the sport. After just a few laps my right arm, unaccustomed to the weight, began to tire and while I’m used to working in a two-point position, I’m not familiar with being slightly twisted to the right. As I write this the morning after, my right calf and left oblique are sore. It will take hundreds of hours to gain proper muscle memory, no doubt.

Next, we began doing a half swing from the stop, walk and trot. Check out another video to learn about all the basic swings:

It was around this time that I truly began to admire my leased polo pony. While I was busy swinging a mallet, targeting an imaginary ball and trying to stay balanced, Max just trotted on without a care in the world. He has a light mouth and sensitive steering via my seat and legs, so it was easy for me to maneuver around other riders. #ILoveMax

Participants then were paired up and asked to play a relay game of hitting the ball with a half swing from one set of goal posts to another. Ideally you want to strike the ball exactly where the shaft meets the head, but that’s easier said than done. With slow, often sideways, progress, my partner and I made it down the field and back. By the end of the session, I was able to tap the ball forward at a slow trot. Even though my arm felt like it was about to fall off, I was completely happy and ready for more.

Have you ever wanted to try the sport of kings? Shout out in the comments section!

All of these videos and many more can be found at Polo Skilz. You are required to plug in your name and email, but there is no ‘registration’ required. All the videos are free to watch and many could be applied to other disciplines beyond polo.

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