Learning to Play Polo: Part 3
Here we are at week three of my journey to learn how to play polo. As a quick recap, my first two weeks of lessons focused on being on the horse, understanding the basic concepts of how to swing while riding, training my hand-eye for a mounted swing, and of course more time on the horse.
If you’re just joining me, feel free to click here to jump back to Learning To Play Polo: Part 1, where it all began!
How I’m feeling:
As I’ve mentioned before, every time I get on the horse I feel like I’m taking a step backwards, but I’m also taking plenty of steps forward, so progress is being made.
Over the past week, my comfort on the horse and around the horse has increased dramatically, though I’m still not 100% sure if the horses I’m riding love me or hate me. Time will tell.
The biggest change of the past week was the fact that I introduced a private riding lesson into the mix. This is in addition to the three polo lessons that I have been taking throughout the week. While getting time in the saddle with the mallet is great, I can’t stress enough how much better I feel while riding after only one lesson.
Here are the top 5 takeaways from my lesson:
1. Posture is everything:
I am listing this as the #1 takeaway, because it really can’t be stressed enough. Your posture while riding, position in the saddle, is key to everything that you want to do in polo. In addition to dictating how you feel while riding, it’s also going to impact the way the horse feels. Too far back and you’re sitting on their kidneys. Too far forward, you’re sitting on their neck. You want to find that goldilocks position, where you feel comfortable and in control, but you’re still giving the horse enough room to move naturally.
2. Gripping the saddle:
Finding your grip in the saddle is obviously related to your posture and how you sit on the horse, but it’s an important enough lesson that it should have it’s own spot on this list.
So far, I’ve been struggling to get myself into the half seat, which is the position required to take a good clean shot at the ball. I’m going to be spending a lot more time working on getting a “grip” and holding myself in the correct position.
3. Getting the horse to move:
Ten horses, ten personalities. This is something I have finally started to learn. And when thinking about the horses that I have been riding over the last few weeks, I can honestly say that each of them are so incredibly different. But the one thing in particular that I have found so surprising is how different each of them can be. And when it comes to getting them moving, I’ve found that the techniques you use for each individual horse will take you a moment to get used to.
With this in mind, I realize how important it is to have a well trained horse, ride the same horses as often as possible, and take a minute to understand the horse before you get started with a match or training session.
4. Turning the horse:
For anyone just learning to ride, I’m sure you had the same reaction as I did when first learning to turn the horse… “wow, it’s that easy?”
After this first riding lesson, I feel like I have gained so much insight on turning and pivoting techniques. Turning a polo pony is a combination of body weight, foot placement, and the reins. And when using all of them correctly together, in the most simple and gentle fashion, turning a polo pony becomes incredibly easy!
When it comes to stopping, it’s probably one of the most impressive traits of a polo pony. Their ability to go from a full gallop to a near dead stop, in such a short distance, is truly impressive. But how, as a beginner, are you able to get them to do that?
Well, after one riding lesson, I can honestly say that it takes almost no effort. Here’s the basics: sit back, relax, and lightly pull back on the reins. Seriously, that’s it. And it works.
If you’re like me and you didn’t grow up on a farm or around horses, you’re probably going to need to learn how to ride before you start playing in a polo tournament. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s okay. In fact, I’m here to tell you that’s great. Playing polo is one thing, but if you’re able to improve your riding skills before getting out on the polo field, you’ll be much better off. And, you’ll be a much more enjoyable to play with in the eyes of the other players.
So don’t hesitate to put down the mallet and get riding lessons before trying to learn the sport. I, for one, will be continuing my riding lessons and can’t wait to put what I’ve learned to work on the polo field.
To read Part 4 in the Learning to Play series from Michael click here.