Polo is a strange beast. It suffers from stereotyping in most societies; scenes from Pretty Woman come to mind - large hats, champagne flutes, roaring super cars and men attempting to ride ponies of which they are unable to tell the front end from the back. However, what is so often overlooked in polo is the super power us mere spectators are witnessing at the high end of the sport: speed, skill and a will to go into battle comparable to that of the New Zealand All Blacks, all whilst the players are having to control a 500 kilogram animal beneath them.
The best polo players in the world have not simply picked up the sport; polo is bred into them through their families and culture, in South America especially. This upbringing engrains fearlessness of speed into every individual. From then on it is about building on their skill. Let alone their ease of hitting and controlling the ball with uncompromised precision, the players also have to have the ability to read the game and have the will to fight for every stride of ground, whilst travelling at speeds of 40mph and above, on some of the most coveted and well bred animals in the world.
"Speed, skill and a will to go into battle comparable to that of the New Zealand All Blacks, all whilst the players are having to control a 500 kilogram animal..."
The highest level of polo, that which is truly thrilling, is a seasonal sport played by a handful of highly skilled professionals. The players follow the sport across the world beginning in Florida in January, coming to England in May, going in search of the Mediterranean air of Sotogrande and Saint Tropez in August, before returning to its unofficial home of Argentina to finish for three of the most important tournaments of the year.
Last weekend one of England’s most prestigious polo clubs, Guards - in Windsor Castle's Great Park, held the final to the Cartier Queen’s Cup. The tournament this year proved to be more thrilling and shocking than one would ever have expected. The well seasoned and previously victorious team of Ali Albwardy's, Dubai, with two of polo’s most formidable players, Adolfo Cambiaso and Juan Martin Nero, faced Michael Bickford’s inspiring team, La Indiana, comprising of the exciting young speed-merchants Nic Roldan and Julian de Lusarreta. The match was gripping and contentious until the final seconds of the last chukka after La Indiana had come through with four ferociously fast goals to draw with Dubai. It was up to arguably the greatest player ever to live, Adolfo Cambiaso, to bring victory to Dubai, with a golden-goal in extra time.
The increased streaming coverage of polo through vehicles such as Polo Channel, making it accessible to watch from wherever you are around the world, is testament to the growing awareness of how more people are turning to polo to get their fix on speed as they follow the mesmerising ponies take flight down the field to goal. Next on their agenda will be the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup at Cowdray Park.