Well I made it to week two of this journey. And I’m pleased to report that I have yet to fall off a horse… though I immediately regret typing those words as tempting fate is never a wise decision. Oh, well.
Here’s where I am so far
Over the past week I have had a total of three lessons, all of which have been focused on riding. Don’t get me wrong, I always carry a mallet while riding, but overall the focus is on posture, control, stopping, and making sure I feel comfortable and confident with the horses that I’m riding.
Fortunately for me, the horses at this particular facility are incredibly well trained. And while they aren’t all Argentinian polo ponies, they are all well trained horses that are comfortable on the polo field in fierce competition with mallets and balls flying through the air. So good start.
What I’ve learned so far
Well it seems that each time I get back on a horse, I lose 20-30% of what I learned the time prior. So It’s very much a five steps forward two steps back kind of scenario. While frustrating, it’s progress, so I’ll take it.
In addition to my regular polo lessons, which typically last up to 45 mins, I am also going to be starting one on one riding lessons next week. My teachers all agree that hand eye isn’t going to be my problem, riding is.
So I’m taking it upon myself to step up the lessons and get into a better stride with the horse. This will include as much time in the saddle as I can muster… which really means as much time in the saddle as my wife will allow.
The Surprises So Far
There are many things that have come up over the past two weeks that I didn’t expect. For now here are the three that surprised me the most.
1. Not all horses are the same
To seasoned riders, this statement probably sounds ridiculous, but for me it was a surprise. Even as I write this, I think of how absurd it sounds to think that horses didn’t have their own personalities and that they would all react the same.
Right from the moment you approach a horse, the way you mount them, ride them, even get them to turn on the gas, each one is different. And if you find yourself in a position where you can consistently ride the same horses over and over again, consider yourself lucky.
The lesson here is to approach each new horse for the first time, get to know them, ask the teacher for the specific cues for that horse, and ask if there is anything important you should know before riding.
2. Speed doesn’t matter…yet
If you learn to ride properly and have decent hand eye coordination, connecting with the ball will come naturally. In other words, if you’re at full gallop with a horse between your legs and can hit the ball, you won’t have any problem achieving distance. It will eventually just happen.
So when starting out, don’t worry about swinging the mallet. Stay focused on your riding, and when you’re stick and balling just try to connect properly, not with power but with accuracy.
3. Polo is a sport of rules
When watching polo in the past, I never had the impression that polo had a hard set of rules that the players were following. Afterall, it basically looks like ice hockey on horseback where players are free to push and fight as much as they want.
Likewise, with the horses tearing across the field, it’s hard to imagine that the referees were able to identify any meaningful penalties that would result in the match being postponed.
Well, if you thought like that, you’d be wrong… as I was.
Polo has a very specific set of rules, and if you’re like me and just getting started, they won’t apply to you for the next few months. But if you can start absorbing those rules on your on time, you will find yourself naturally developing a much better understanding of the game as you start watching it on TV and in person.
I’m sure that’s just the start of the surprises that I will face when it comes to learning how to play polo. But, at least in the case of the first two surprises, it’s more about personal reminders than anything else.
As for understanding the rules and preparing to play the game with other people, one of the best things that I have discovered is watching instructional videos online that share the core concepts and fundamental rules for beginners like you and me.
In an upcoming post, I’ll share the top ten videos that I found, which have helped me better understand the fundamentals of polo as a beginner.
Until next time!
To read Part 3 in the Learning to Play series from Michael click here.