First task was for Paul to teach us how to hit the ball with the mallet. So, while stood on the ground and with short mallets we started getting used to how to hit the ball and how not to hit our imaginary horse! Paul was very good at getting us hitting the balls in the right direction, all the time giving us a history lesson on polo, for its origins in Persia where they used the head of a king as the first polo ball! Then the emergence of the modern game in India where the ball was bade from Pulu wood which was a tough wood that didnt split when hit (giving it the name of Polo). And that Polo was used to train riders to be able to carry and fight with a sword whilst on horseback without killing your horse!
After a while we all were pretty much making the ball head in the direction we wanted it to. So after a quick cup of coffee to warm up we got assigned our polo ponies. I was to ride Matilda who was a 12yo Australian thoroughbred. The first obvious difference was that the horses had double reins and you ride one handed with the reins in your left hand, the right hand obviously holds the mallet (left handed riders have to ride with the mallet in the right hand for safety reasons so all players are the same).
We first walked our horses up the huge pitch (a polo pitch is 10 acres) and got used to holding the mallet in the default upright position against the right shoulder. Then we had a few swings of the mallet to get used to how it felt.
Next came trotting, which was ridden in what can best be described as a half forwards seat “if you are rising to trot you'll never hit the ball” Paul tells us. Now feeling comfortable with horse and mallet control we were let loose with the balls! I actually didn’t find hitting the ball as hard as I was expecting, although the ball often went more to the left than I wanted it to. We were soon trotting while hitting the ball. One very important thing we had to remember was that you always turned away from the ball, so if the ball is on your right and you miss it you must turn to your left straight away, and you must never ever ever stop your horse while playing polo!
All too soon it was nearing the end of the lesson, we had just one competition to finish with. We got into teams and the idea was just to get the ball from one end of the pitch to the other and score a goal whichever team did it first was crowned the winner. Soon we were in the swing of it, each rider in turn getting the ball closer to the goal, we had soon caught the other team up but it was close. I even managed to score the winning goal, it was great fun and I found I performed a lot better under pressure and didn't miss the ball as much!!
All in all it was a great experience and I would recommend any rider to give it a go, Paul and the polo ponies at the Vale of York Polo Club looked after us well and I think we all felt we would, if we got the opportunity, be more than happy to play polo again!