What a glamorous lifestyle

April Kent from Ireland tells about the little known sport of polo. About glamour, hard work and a never ending challenge.

What a glamorous lifestyle
Photo: All Over Press

Polo in Ireland is a little known sport. I myself with an equestrian background had no idea it existed really until I was about 18 years of age and a friend asked me to help her to exercise her polo ponies. I began playing competitively three years later.
When I say to people that I’m a polo player they think and say one thing…
“What a glamorous lifestyle!”

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I can tell you that for all the glamour that is associated with it there is a huge amount of work that goes with it. Polo is a sport and way of life that is labour intensive with it’s early mornings, late nights and whatever nature throws at you in terms of the weather. Polo is traditionally played in the sunshine. In Ireland we have a reputation for playing whatever the weather! We still do it because polo truly is one of the most incredible sports ever invented. What is key in polo are the horses.
Polo horses are elite athletes. Good horses are finely tuned to be sensitive to the slightest of their riders body movements.
“A polo pony has got to have the speed of a race horse, the tough, quick response of a cow pony and the agility of a show jumper. Then he’s got to have more stamina than any of them,” as Cecil Smith, one of all times famous polo players (1904-99, ed.), tells us.

Not just hitting the ball

It truly is incredible the bond between a polo horse and their rider. Your horsemanship and how you ride is a major part of being a polo player too. I’ve been riding all my life but there is still a huge amount to learn. This is why I love this sport… The challenges are never ending. There are so many different aspects to the game. It’s not necessarily about hitting the ball (everyone wants the ball, ed.), it’s about your positioning on the field, creating pressure by your position and riding off, which is when you are side by side to an opposing player and you try to push them off the line of the ball.
Playing polo is like driving a car on the road. The line of the ball is the track of the ball that has been hit. Players can’t cross that line. That’s the basics of it! There is a whole book of rules which are interpreted during matches by umpires. Fouls are given accordingly. They can be spot hits, hits from the centre of the pitch, 60 yard, 40 yard or 30 yard shots at goal.

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You need ideally four horses per match. There are four quarters in a polo match. (In the faster polo matches you normally have eight chukkas so that means a lot more horses, ed.). Each of these quarters is called chukkas and each are 7.5 minutes long. If you think of the amount of time that it takes to prepare, feed, shoe, exercise your horses, it takes up a huge amount of time and effort. Most people have grooms to help with their horses because of this aspect of the sport.
Therefore polo is a small sport; also in Ireland! We have about seven operating clubs in Ireland. And a few of the players are women. But it’s a incredible sport…

Thank you to Sharon Hutchinson for the article. Check their website out.

LEARN MORE ABOUT POLO

APRIL KENT

APRIL KENT

THIS ARTICLE IS BY APRIL KENT

WOMEN IN POLO

WOMEN IN POLO

Women have always been handicapped under the same system as the men until recently. The highest a woman has ever reached in men’s handicaps is five goals and the current best female polo player in the world is a lady called Nina Clarkin who has a handicap of four goals. The highest handicap a man has ever reached is a ten goaler. It’s like pitting a champion female sprinter against Usain Bolt. Women are physically different to men, have slower reaction speeds, less strength etc. So women have to work twice as hard to achieve the same handicap statuses as men. Will there ever be a woman ten goaler? A new women’s handicapping system was launched in Argentina and the USA that allowed women to have their own separate handicaps that would be solely used for women’s tournaments. Nina Clarkin is nine goals in this system. To date there has been no woman who has reached ten goals in women’s handicaps.

HANDICAP SYSTEM AND SCORING

Women’s polo is growing all over the world with more and more women taking up the sport. In Ireland we have only a couple of women who travel for international women’s tournaments. The first tournament myself and another Irish player Siobhan Herbst travelled to and played together in was in France in 2012 for the 1st French Ladies Open tournament. We came 3rd that year, losing in the semi-final and winning the subsidiary final. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to play in Spain, Malaysia, Germany and Australia with both women’s and men’s teams. I spent winter 2014 in New Zealand working on a polo farm with young polo ponies which was an excellent experience. I for one would love to see more girls and women playing polo. As we know Irish women in sport have skills. Look at our fantastic camogie players, the Irish Women’s rugby team etc. and what has been achieved by Irish sportwomen throughout the decades.