Swinging in the Saddle at Longdole Polo Club
It's not often that you get to live out a cliche, but Longdole Polo Club gave me a chance.
During a recent media trip through the wilds of rural England to visit Ellenborough Park, reporters had the very rare opportunity to give Polo a chance at the rugged grounds of Longdole. It's not a sport one picks up quickly and casually. You need to learn on the go how to hit a ball with a long mallet while atop a few hundred pounds of moving horse.
Fortunately, the supportive, helpful and endlessly patient staff at Longdole eased their visitors into their saddles, providing their best behaved and most mellow steeds. Once atop my horse, I got reacquainted with riding. I've been horses a lot in my life, but it'd been a while. With toes high in the stirrups, I took to a few slow practice hits of the ball while my horse trotted across the dirt pitch.
Our coach explained the broad strokes of the game. Teammates pass the ball between each other, all in a quest to put the biscuit in the basket — or to put the ball into the wooden goal.
Once in control of the ball and moving toward the goal, the horse and rider can't be directly obstructed or confronted head on by another rider. The opponent must nudge or push the rider with the ball off that lone to take control of the ball. Alternately, one player can use the mallet to hook the opponents swing — preventing a shot.
To hit the ball for a pass or a shot, the rider has to counterweight to one side and lean with the mallet to the other. After the few minutes it took me to come to terms with my horse, my teammate and I took control of the ball. Off a nice pass from him, I scored my first (and possibly last) goal of my very modest Polo career.
That was a high, but the fast paced, powerful game also provides a few lows. After scoring that goal, I got cocky and started swinging a little too aggressively. I lost my balance and grabbed the reigns too tightly. I essentially told the horse to stop and rear up mid-trot. She did — and she threw me hard to the turf.
My shoulder took a hard hit, but I was too embarrassed and angry with myself to feel it. So, remember that cliche? Well, "I fell off a horse — and I got right back on."
I had to finish what seemed like a once in a lifetime experience — my one chukka at Longdole.